Red Farm is a Chinese restaurant that fries up shrimp jalapeno poppers and pastrami egg rolls, making you wonder whether it’s really a TGI Friday’s.
Those fusion follies taste like accidents from a shopping mall food court. The pastrami has the greasiness and cardboard flavor of a heat-lamp appetizer, while the bland, boring poppers taste of supermarket shrimp.
Things don’t look promising. Then something odd happens.
You see Anne Burrell, an accomplished Italian chef, eating away at this cramped little West Village spot.
You see Gramercy Tavern’s Danny Meyer, improbably, at a packed communal table, while plebeians relax in small, comfortable booths. He tweets: “Red Farm is even more than it’s cracked up to be. A gift to New Yorkers who bemoan lack of awesome Chinese.”
Then you order the jasmine chicken, a credible, $24 cousin of Pekin Duck. Sweet smoke perfumes the moist fowl; remove the crispy skin to enjoy it by itself.
Red Farm is an ambitious work in progress, a frequently maddening effort to refine Cantonese-American cuisine using seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors.
The experiment comes courtesy of owner Ed Schoenfeld, a Brooklyn guy who’s to blame for the pastrami egg rolls. With a white beard and red glasses he looks like a well-groomed Santa Claus. He works the loud, crowded room and has said that Red Farm is New York’s best Chinese restaurant. It’s not.
The wait for three is 90 minutes. No reservations.
Schoenfeld doesn’t aim for authenticity. Hence the duck wrap: Buttery Indian-style flatbread with bits of fatty bird and puckery apple, the classic sweet-sour-savory flavors of Cantonese cooking, in a $12 taco.
It’s all affordable enough; Schoenfeld avoids the pricey pitfalls of Shang and Wakiya, New York’s famously failed attempts at high-end Chinese with their $16 coleslaws and hip hotel locations. Most of Red Farm’s dishes are well below $30.
There are expensive exceptions. A $39 Creekstone rib eye, ruined by a saccharine marinade. A $65 Dungeness crab is a lot of work for just a little bit of flavor and stringy meat in a bland sauce.
Crispy beef tastes like fried jerky coated with barbecue sauce. Yuzu shrimp poorly mimics textured soy protein.
Chef Joe Ng is one of the city’s consummate practitioners of dim sum, so order “Pac Man” dumplings ($12 for four). The gossamer creations defy the laws of physics; the encased shrimp manage to be shockingly hot yet barely cooked through.
Soup dumplings are also fine. Bite off the tips, inhale the porky contents, then dip the remnants in chili sauce.
Few Chinese spots have as good a wine list. Two rieslings by the glass, Salmon Run from New York and S.A. Prum from Germany, balance sugar and acid with aplomb. Drink them with curried tofu. With your wok-seared Manila clams, a flowery Gewurztraminer is the right call.
Oyster lovers will appreciate plump Kumamotos, with Meyer lemon and yuzu standing in for mignonette. Lobster with chopped pork and eggs ($36) could be consumed for breakfast every day. Both dishes beg for Champagne, though the only bottle available is Laurent Perrier Brut, not worth $100.
Ng doesn’t compete with Oriental Garden by offering steamed bass with ginger scallion sauce, one of the city’s greatest dishes. Instead, he fries the fish, delicately infusing it with lemongrass -- a better than credible variation.
Then fried rice with dried scallops arrives with desiccated grains and none of the deep, rich flavors it should boast. So move onto diced lamb with broccoli and white asparagus. Finish with rich chocolate pudding. Rating: * 1/2
The Bloomberg Question
Price: Most dishes under $30.
Sound Level: Loud, often over 80.
Date Place: No.
Inside Tip: Go early or late for short waits.
Special feature: Tasty filet mignon sliders.
Back on My Own Dime? Yes, for the steamed dumplings.
Red Farm is at 529 Hudson Street. Information: +1-212-792-9700 or http://www.redfarmnyc.com.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)