Restaurant Review

Farm2Bistro

The term bistro has been so abused it’s easy to forget its original meaning—a small, casual dining spot (originally in France) where locals can eat, drink, socialize, and perhaps enjoy entertainment.

Aside from being a BYO, Farm2Bistro in Nutley (which has live entertainment most nights) embodies bistro-ness. Chef-owner Michael Madigan, a CIA grad, also pays attention to the first part of the restaurant’s name, using fresh, local meat and produce wherever possible.

Two picnic tables placed end to end in the center of the dining room form a communal table at Farm2Bistro, which occupies a small storefront on Franklin Avenue. Farm implements adorn the walls—it’s like coming to eat at the local Grange Hall. Jasper Johns prints and a faux thatched-roof awning (left from when this was a Mexican restaurant) add an amiable eclecticism. It’s a friendly place. When we sat down, two patrons playing chess at a nearby table offered greetings. When we began perusing the large menu, they cheerfully recommended some of their favorite dishes.

Madigan looks for ingredients produced within a 200-mile radius of the restaurant. That includes, depending on season, scallops from Viking Village in Barnegat Light; spinach and arugula grown by Dan Graiff near Newfield, in Gloucester County; poultry from Delaware; and occasional produce from home-gardeners Dave and Diane Wilson in Nutley. The Chop-Chop salad, simple and deftly prepared, combines young frisée and other crisp greens from the Hudson Valley with grape tomatoes, chick peas, croutons, and olives tossed with a lemon vinaigrette that possessed a slight sweetness (from local honey).

A Portobello mushroom and spinach salad, on the other hand, needed restraint. Three large roasted mushroom caps filled with melted cheese (predominantly domestic gorgonzola) sat on a bed of wilted spinach. Crisp strips of fried potato contrasted nicely with the mushrooms and spinach, but the salad was distractingly overembroidered with grape tomatoes, diced red pepper, cucumber, and—weirdly—cherries.
Befitting a bistro with a rustic theme, the menu usually includes ten soups. Roasted-garlic and pumpkin bisque showcased the pumpkin’s mild sweetness but unfortunately hid any hints of roasted garlic. Happily, carrot and ginger soup delivered the needed balance of sweet and spicy.

Appetizers were generous but uneven. Fresh calamari was deftly fried and accompanied by tasty tomato sauce and a chipotle aioli. Sushi-quality ahi tuna, seared rare, was sliced and placed on crisp spinach tossed with a well-balanced lemon aioli. Sad to say, the delicate flavor of crab cakes was masked by a heavy dose of an Old Bay-like seasoning.

Among entrées, pumpkin-seed chicken showed the chef’s less-is-more sensibility at its best. The sautéed chicken breast retained moisture and flavor under a crisp pumpkin-seed crust, enhanced by a honey-lime mojo (a type of Cuban marinade). Overcooking robbed a good size pork chop of juiciness, though the meat was still flavorful. The chop’s potato crust lost its crispness to a mound of leaky vegetables plunked on top. An herb-rubbed ribeye steak, cooked medium rare as ordered, had rich beefy flavor and a delectable smokiness from the grill. Accompanied by addictive beer batter onion rings, this ribeye could hold its own in many a steakhouse.

The work of local dessert professionals populate the sweet side of the menu. A fudgy molten brownie provided intense hits of caramel and deep chocolate flavor, but its sweetness went stratospheric. The apple slices in the excellent Mama’s apple pie retained a pleasing bite and were minimally heightened with sugar and cinnamon, allowing the flavor of the fruit to shine through.

From Malak’s Pastry in Butler came a homespun masterpiece—moist coconut layer cake with fluffy buttercream full of coconut flavor, a blue-ribbon winner at any state fair.

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