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The New Yorker, November 28, 2016

The Fantasy of Farm to Table Gramercy Farmer & the Fish

What does the proliferation of farm-to-table restaurants say about city folks’ perverse predilection for eating how most of us don’t live? Judging from the number of Blue Hill devotees, it seems that, as much as New Yorkers are creatures of cosmopolitan convenience, we might also, on occasion, wish to play country mouse, romanticizing a relationship to food we did not grow ourselves by cultivating a quiet, pastoral fantasy on the surrounding slabs of concrete.

Gramercy Farmer & the Fish is one of the latest articulations of the theme, and a counterpart to Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish, which the chef Michael Kaphan opened, five years ago, in Westchester, along with his partner and fishmonger, Edward Taylor. The pair manage a five-acre terraced farm in the Hudson Valley, where most of the restaurants’ produce is harvested, insuring that patrons, as stated on the menu, “eat what the ground serves up rather than what is frozen and flown across the sea.”

The locovore methodology certainly has its advantages. Frisée salad comes with farm-fresh fingerling potatoes that don’t require much more than salt to temper their earthy sweetness. The “farmers sushi,” which initially resembles the Japanese variety—with generous slices of bigeye tuna—arrives not on rice but on rectangles of pressed carrot and turnip accented with the tiniest pinch of vinegar. The vegetables cut the fishiness and make you wonder why all sushi isn’t offered with this healthier, lighter option.

For those attached to their carbs, there is the “chowdah potpie.” The crusted perfection is filled with Long Island littlenecks, thickened with fennel, celery, and onions into something redolent of your Yankee grandmother’s harvest dinner. Memories of Kaphan’s own grandmother, a Jewish matriarch of Eastern European heritage whom the chef fondly refers to as Bubby, are manifest in the Ashkenazi-style chopped liver, sautéed in chicken fat and mixed with herbs and hard-boiled egg white; it’s luxuriant enough to be the main event, instead of its traditional billing as a side dish.

Not everything lands as one might wish. The bone-in sole, which came recommended by the waitstaff on two occasions, was so sparingly seasoned that one patron told a companion of her plan to dress the fish with lemon, peppers, and perhaps tomato once she got back home. Some minutes passed, and the aspiring chef had a change of heart, procured some hot sauce, and polished off the sole. Whatever the fish’s deficiencies, she explained, eating it was still better than trying to cook in her shoe-box-size kitchen. (Entrées $21-$42.)

Written by Jiayang Fan on November 28, 2016
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