The ideal pre-hike meal probably wouldn’t involve a visit to Farmshop, the months-old, market-driven concept at Brentwood Country Mart from Thomas Keller protegee Jeff Cerciello and business partner Michel Darmon. Well, maybe if you have restraint, but that certainly wasn’t the case during my initial visit with Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang prior to scaling nearby Westridge Trail. Though the stop didn’t exactly motivate movement, it turned out to be a very good idea. Our meal was expensive (partly because we overindulged), so it’s not a meal I’d have often, but the FarmShop crew may very well produce L.A.’s best brunch.
Cerciello spent 16 years working in the Napa Valley, initially at The French Laundry, and most recently, as Thomas Keller’s culinary director for Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc. However, the native Angeleno, who was born in Torrance and Raised in Laguna Beach, couldn’t resist Brentwood Country Mart founder Jim Rosenfield’s offer to return home.
The former City Bakery space now has an open kitchen, banquette and communal seating, vintage black-and-white photos of farmers on the walls and an unconventional “chandelier” in the center of the room involving railings and ropes that resemble DNA helixes.
Pastry Chef and Head Baker Brittainy Turnquist previously demonstrated her abilities at Murray Circle, Della Fattoria. Each day, she fills the countertop near the entrance with dozens of tempting options, including muffins capped with glistening blueberries, fat slabs of brownie and double chocolate cookies that could potentially cover manholes.
To lead the savory side, Cerciello hired Executive Chef Joshua Drew, who worked with him at Ad Hoc and Bouchon and previously spent time in the kitchens of Vetri and Quince. This trip, we avoided all of the menu’s sweet options, including French toast with pear marmalade, raisins and Hobbs’ bacon; and the oatmeal with dried sour cherries, muscovado sugar and buttermilk.
Our meal began in earnest with a hearty cup of Chicken Liver ($12), which was coarsely chopped and cleverly plated to provide a pair of complementary experiences. Sliced grapes contributed sweet acidity and jumbo caper berries packed more tangy punch (and crunch). The toasted sourdough from nearby Tavern had just enough give and served as a good vessel for the liver. It just would have been good to have more than three slices of of bread.
Pastrami & Eggs ($20) was the plate I was most excited to try, since it featured house-made pastrami. Prior to the opening, Drew said they were still looking to get it right, and though the spiced, fat-rimmed brisket tasted good, it didn’t have the intensity of flavor of a vanguard version like Langer’s. The portion size also could have been more generous. Still, the dish was well-balanced with green tomato ketchup, buttery fingerling potatoes and a trio of roasted mushrooms – oyster, beach and maitake – plus sunny-side up eggs that looked like they were ready to post for Bon Appetit and some good rye toast.
Kang opted for a Frittata ($22), which was dense, buttery and plenty flavorful thanks to a generous helping of Hobbs’ bacon chunks, which were basically lardons. Up top, the disc supported a healthy dollop of creamy burrata, chanterelle mushrooms, squash and greens. On the side, he received more of that good rye toast.
$45 per person, including tax and tip, is a pretty extreme price to pay for brunch, but there are reasons to pay more for a meal every now and then. One is the premium ingredients, which were definitely in evidence, and the other is service, which was warm and welcoming. It’s funny. They actually had an anti-technology edict at the bottom of the menu: “Cell phones, tweeting and e-mailing have been proved harmful to other diners’ appetites. Please refrain.” Other than my camera, we actually stuck to that script. FarmShop provided such a relaxing environment that it was even able to tame a pair of techno-addicts, well, at least for an hour. That may have been worth the price of admission.
It will be good to return when FarmShop eventually debuts dinner, probably for the fried chicken that Cerciello helped to make famous at Ad Hoc. By spring, a temporary peek-through wall will also come down and a complementary market will feature a bakery, butcher shop, charcuterie, cheese, prepared foods, beer, wine, Heath ceramics and a larder.