We dig in, carefully scooping from the bottom of the delicate shell, then swoon as we encounter not just the expected cooked egg and cream but a spark from Spanish anchovies and sweetness from golden raisins. The topper — a suggestion of hollandaise sprinkled with espelette pepper — also adds smoky richness to the dish, which uses eggs gathered nearby just hours earlier.
Considerable talent has replaced big shoes at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Va., where Vincent Badiee in November replaced Tarver King, who is planning to open a restaurant on a 17-acre farm some 10 miles south. Any concerns I had about a successor were erased by a July dinner consisting of nine small courses that seemed to channel much of the new chef’s résumé. Badiee, 33, has cooked at Gravitas, Cranes and Fiola — three different but impressive Washington restaurants — and in New York at such notable brands as Eleven Madison Park and Maison Premiere.
“I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant on a farm,” says Badiee, the fourth chef since the venue opened in 2004. His family background supports the sound bite. The chef grew up in Spotsylvania, Va., near where his family ran a diner and one of his grandmothers watched over a small farm where “pigs that misbehaved didn’t last long,” Badiee says with a laugh.
The setting at Patowmack Farm — 40 acres owned by Beverly Morton Billand — is beautiful and practical. Throughout the year, the organic soil provides much of the makings for meals: lettuces, shishito peppers and cardoons along with frost grapes, wild chamomile and pawpaw, native to North America but with a tropical flavor that suggests a cross between a banana and a mango. On days the restaurant isn’t open, Badiee and colleagues help tend the farm. Most recently, they plucked wild blueberries, which the chef plans to pickle and use like capers, and built a chicken coop. (Baby turkeys are expected to be ready for holiday menus come November.) The owner’s “earth-to-table” philosophy is based in part on her wide-open pantry. “I want to be the change,” she says.
Meals at Patowmack Farm underscore why chefs have always come to her, rather than the other way around. The call of the wild is compelling, for staff and guests alike.
A big glass conservatory welcomes diners in the event of bad weather. Otherwise, you’re apt to be led inside the white tent on a stone terrace, where drink selections are presented on a framed list, a pandemic-inspired detail that allows for easier cleaning than a binder. (For $100, up to eight people can book the more intimate gazebo a few yards away.) As in King’s time, a meal starts with nubby flaxseed crackers offered with an ever-changing spread, one night feta cheese, creme fraiche and red pepper. On my visit, the farm egg with its unseen tweaks followed. “I like to hide a lot of things,” Badiee says of his sleight of hand.
Tomato salad is a given this time of year. The chef delivers five or so varieties, including black tomato for dramatic effect. Then he makes the salad his own, introducing shiso and hyssop and briefly marinating the tomatoes in sherry vinegar and dashi. Vegetables also star in an enlightened take on minestrone, which starts with a bowl of basmati rice — a nod to the chef’s Persian heritage — scattered with sliced green beans, yellow squash and black-eyed peas. A server pours a stream of broth, tinted with carrots and tomatoes, over the contents of the bowl. The liquid captures the flavors of a garden and a hint of fresh ginger. The course is vegan, and lovely.
Every other chef seems to be stuffing pasta with sweet corn right now. Badiee places crowns of ravioli on a pool of cream, gently flavored with pine needles, and finds room in the center of the plate for sweet crab and sauteed chanterelle mushrooms, another ode to the season. A meat course comes next. A couple slices of strip loin from Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton are seasoned with little more than sea salt and cracked pepper and propped up with grilled shishito peppers. Will the shishitos reveal heat or won’t they? You never know until you bite. The certainty nearby is a comet of mustard-laced Diane sauce made with red wine instead of the customary cognac.
The food is brought out by young servers whose good cheer plays well with a setting by Mother Nature. A light wind carries smells of cooking from the nearby kitchen; Saturday night might find the smoker occupied with brisket for Sunday brunch. As the light fades, the sound of crickets joins the soft piped-in music. The food is complemented by the view. “It looks like a painting,” my companion says.
Some tasting menus are designed with a chef’s ego in mind. Others, like Badiee’s “progression” menu, are a parade of courses, including a couple fine desserts, that leave recipients sated but not stuffed. The portion sizes and the flavor combinations conspire to surprise and delight rather than make you feel hostage to the kitchen’s whims. An icy ode to melon — pink watermelon “pebbles,” pale orange compressed cantaloupe, a whiff of lemon verbena in the creme fraiche base — might lead to a loose garland of fruit, cake and chantilly cream that make up the “blackberry forest” experience. Like other restaurants of its caliber, Patowmack Farm sends visitors home with treats for tomorrow, in my case, a little sack of housemade granola and moist slices of zucchini bread.
I’ll be honest. They never made it past midnight. My memories of Patowmack Farm, on the other hand? Badiee and friends are making some lasting ones.
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Unrated during the pandemic
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm 42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville, Va. 540-822-9017. patowmackfarm.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Prices: Tasting menu $125 a person; brunch entrees $26 to $36; family-style Sunday supper $95 a person. Accessibility: Flat sidewalks lead to the dining areas and ramps lead to the ADA-compliant restrooms.