I am a big fan of the show Top Chef on Bravo. One of the contestants, Stefan, was on the show for 2 seasons – most recently this past season that just ended. He has a restaurant in Santa Monica called Stefan’s at LA Farm and we decided to go there with some friends. Here’s my review.
Menu needed more focus. It was kind of all over the place with things like corn dogs and mini burgers and sashimi. I have a theory that places that offer too many things on the menu can’t do everything well, and his starter menu was extensive. Let’s talk nightly specials. Or lack thereof. I don’t know how any artist can make (or in Stefan’s case, promote) the same creation over and over again and not get bored. I was disappointed in the fact that there were no specials.
Apps and Starters
We shared three appetizers: 1) Sashimi with a yuzu vinaigrette – good, nothing earth shattering. Teeny tiny portion. We each got one tiny bite. 2) Meatballs in a mushroom sauce. 3 tiny meatballs, to be exact. They kind of tasted like my mom’s Swedish meatballs, but with a richer gravy. Tasty but tiny. 3) Gefilte fish with smoked salmon and horseradish. To my surprise, this was my favorite thing I ate all night. I thought the flavors were bold and the texture was perfect, soft, but not mushy. The smoked salmon and horseradish complimented each other perfectly.
I was looking forward to ordering the squid ink risotto, but it wasn’t on the menu anymore! I panicked and went for the duck and pork cheek risotto just because I wanted to try a unique protein. The dish was full of flavor. However, the rice was slightly undercooked and it was sitting in a very thin sauce. Kind of wish I’d went for the goulash and spaetzle.
My husband’s entrée
He ordered the Linguini Cacio Peppe. The hubs tends to go for simple things and I knew he was going to pick this. It was very tasty – pasta with cheese, butter, and pepper. Portion was very small for the price.
We ordered 2 apple beignets. Basically they were apple fritters. It was fine, but it seemed very pedestrian to me – something that could easily be made at home.
I’m pretty sure our waiter was stoned the entire time we were there. And we were there for 3 ½ hours. He was really laid back with not the most positive attitude. Our apps took awhile to get to us. Then our entrees took awhile to get to us. Then, 3 of us got served our entrees, but one was missing because it went to the wrong table. Dessert seemed like it was never coming, and when it finally did they told us it was on the house because it was so late.
At some point I asked if we could meet Stefan, who was working the room the entire time we were there. Stefan sat at the table with us and we were able to chat about the show. I told him that he came across as a much nicer guy this past season he was on. He said it was all in the editing and that during the first season he was bawling like a baby at one point and they didn’t show any of it. It was fun to chat it up with him.
*I apologize for the lack of pictures. It was very dark in the restaurant and we were starving because we had to wait so long for our food, so we just dove right in.
To sum it up: Bad service. Small portions for the price. Good flavor, but nothing earth shattering. I think Stefan could have been much more creative and more focused with his menu. Perhaps the food would have been better if Stefan was in the kitchen and not working the room. If I go back, I’d probably just stick with the apps and starters and not get an entrée, just so that I could have tried more things. The food is only as good or bad as the company you’re with and we had a wonderful time with our friends, Edie and Ken! And our waiter and Stefan were actually very entertaining!
Ken’s Review – self described, No Cook Medium Appetite
Our visit to Stefan’s at LA Farm started with a bit of a surprise, as I was fully expecting a pretty farm-like setting. Instead it was in an office complex off Olympic Blvd. We shared a few appetizers including the yellowtail and salmon sashimi that I needed a microscope to see. It was really well prepared, but only suitable for someone with Karen Carpenter’s appetite. We also got the Gefilte Fish, which was also pretty interesting and good – though I definitely exceeded my weekly salt intake with that dish alone. The third appetizer (meatballs) was, also very good.
I had the West Coast Halibut for my main course. I am very much a Biggie (as compared to a Tupac) person, so I probably would have preferred East Coast Halibut. Still, this dish was on the money. I could not taste the Brik Dough it was supposed to be wrapped in, nor do I even know what Brik Dough is. But that did not matter, as it had smoked salmon expertly wrapped in the mix, and the entire dish was worth the east coast/west coast halibut war that is about to break out.
We shared the beignets, which were fantastic but could probably kill a diabetic.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the service got a negative 8. And Stefan owes me at least $15 towards the babysitter, as no meal outside of Melisse in LA should take almost 4 hours. In conclusion, the best parts of the night were watching Stefan work the room, and of course the company of Tiny Cook, her husband and of course my wife. The food was solid, but I was expecting more after hearing and reading so many excellent reviews.
Let me first say this: I have never watched an episode of Top Chef. In fact, before Tracy mentioned the restaurant, I had never even heard of Stefan. I came into things with large expectations. And that is a good thing. For first impressions, it was a tie between the bizarre inadequate parking, perplexing name change and weird office park exterior. It kind of felt like we’d hit the Bermuda Triangle. Our waiter proved that theory true … At several points of the evening, he seemed to mysteriously disappear. Probably more likely due to a great strain of weed than the Triangle itself though.
So, enough about all that. Let’s dish on the food! For starters, we shared the gefilte fish, duet of Cali crudo [Tracy, is this right?] and the meatballs. I’m Jewish and have been eating gefilte fish at Passover and assorted other Jewish holidays my whole life. It is a pretty huge statement for a gourmet to put gefilte fish anywhere near his restaurant, let alone his menu. I must take pause now and give credit to our otherwise stoned waiter because he did warn us not to get this new menu item. We were curious though — I for how this German-raised chef felt he could improve upon gefilte, and Tracy for conquering her gefilte virginity. I’d say Tracy left that plate more satisfied than I. Other than the overpowering horseradish, it didn’t feel like that much of a step up from what I’m used to. The sushi crudo was fine, nothing to write home about, but basically good. The meatballs were good, and these were especially popular with the men.
I decided to leave my entree fate in the hands of our waiter, and I’m actually happy to report this worked out in my favor. I was debating between the scallops and the tafel spitz, and he recommended the scallops. They were, as Tiny Cook pointed out, perfectly seared. They were a delicate consistency served with a corn purée and pumpkin seed oil. They honestly melted in your mouth. While we’re on the subject of the main course, I’d like to point out that one of our four entrees did not arrive with the other three. The waiter let us know – after an uncomfortable wait, all four of us anxiously glancing around for the fourth plate, that Peter’s dish had been served to the wrong table. And around that time, Stefan popped over to meet his big fan- tiny cook! He did a fine job of ironing out the awkwardly of the dish gone missing by guzzling his cocktail and chumming it up. That is until he had to move on to the table with the Good Day LA anchor!
For dessert, we chose the apple fritters, basically beignets. For the length of time our waiter was gone, it is entirely possible that he flew directly to the French Quarter for these puppies — also possible given how delicious they were! Still, it was entirely odd that once again, we had incomplete course service; only one of the two desserts was served for a pretty good length of time.
All in all, I’d say that Stefan’s at LA Farm was an eventful night filled with great company, interesting stories and pretty good food, just not quite enough stars to match the price tags in my humble opinion.