Farmstead: something to aspire to

Farmstead La Laiterie

Those of you who know me and my restaurant preferences in Providence, you know I’m a huge fan of Farmstead’s restaurant, La Laiterie. This will not be a full review of the restaurant, but I felt like creating a post about why I like the experience of dining there so much, and what it manages to get right that so many other restaurants can’t seem to do themselves.

Farmstead is a cheese store in Wayland Square in Providence (186 Wayland Avenue to be precise) that sells all kinds of cheeses from all over the world. I started going to the cheese store my freshman year, met the lovely and incredibly kind owners, Matt and Kate, and became a frequent patron. Soon after, a new venture was begun: a rustic, artisan restaurant that revolved around gourmet cheeses, wines, and beers. And lo, La Laiterie was born.

La Laiterie can best be described as a cozy bistro: it’s immediately adjacent (and connected to) the Farmstead cheese store, and so it is limited in space. It’s somewhat long and narrow, and at the far end is the bar. I’ll spare you a more detailed description than that and move straight onto three reasons why I love La Laiterie (these are certainly not all of the reasons, but an important selection nonetheless):

1) The menu is local, seasonal, and constantly rotating

I don’t like the idea of having a huge, static, seasonally-neutral menu. It strikes me as not in the spirit of a true restaurateur, and not a compelling reason to keep returning. Personally, local versus non-local food isn’t such a huge draw for me–if Rhode Island doesn’t happen to have good foie gras, then I really don’t mind having it from California or Oregon. It’s a nice thought and more important for some, but not the biggest draw of their menu for me. I do like, however, being greeted with foods that are seasonally appropriate–it makes me feel like the ingredients are fresher and more care is put into their selection.

The highpoint of Farmstead’s menu is its brevity: only 4-5 appetizers, 4-5 small plates, and 3-4 main courses. The key, though, is that they rotate: you only get the freshest choices and next week you may have brand new options. This keeps me coming back. Quality over quantity is always the right choice.

2) The wait staff and owners are friendly, knowledgeable, and invested

It goes without saying that in any restaurant, the more friendly the wait staff, the better. Beyond that, the more they know about the choices and can speak to individual preferences, the more helpful they are as sources of knowledge. The wait staff at La Laiterie get checks in both of those boxes. The shining point of La Laiterie, though, goes beyond simple training: the wait staff is invested in the success of the restaurant and the enjoyment of each meal.

When reviewing Cafe Nuovo, I was asked by the waitress whether I was “reviewing the food or the service.” I was disappointed at the very premise of the question: why should it matter? In my mind, they both reflect the restaurant equally, and if I find the food of poor quality, she should care as a member of the restaurant community as much as if I found her demeanor unhelpful or unkind. Perhaps it’s because La Laiterie is new, but when I’m dining there for those 2 brief hours, I get a warm feeling because I’ve become a member of a community where everyone is equally passionate about the overall success of the venture, not just their personal competence.

3) The food is genuinely creative and often risky

Why would someone pay $16 for a burger, or $14 for a grilled cheese sandwich? What if in the grilled cheese, there were four different kinds of artisan cheeses from around the world, and the bread was fresh toasted baguette, and the entire dish was garnished with mesclun salad, home made apple butter, and delicious polenta fries (hopefully accompanied with Sir Kensington’s soon enough)? Now it sounds a bit more interesting, right? Not only does the menu keep changing, but it extending into dishes, combinations, and concoctions that are rare to find in New York, let alone Providence. Want to try foie gras with a mini waffle and organic maple syrup? That’s just one example, and I applaud the risk Matt and Kate take in testing new combinations.

No, of course they won’t all be successes, but what’s the fun in turning out standard foie gras pates and penne bolognaise dishes every night? It’s not fun for them, and it’s certainly not exciting for us. As for the ingredients themselves, La Laiterie does a fantastic job of melding aspects of fine dining with classic American dishes, like the gourmet burger or 5-cheese macaroni, for example. It proves that there need not be clear distinctions between high-end and low-end dining, whatever those terms mean. Why not have foie gras, fries, and a glass of Orval in the same meal? Above all else, I believe true culinary creativity and a thirst for gastronomic innovation are what make restaurants lasting successes, and La Laiterie is well on its way to achieving that distinction.

Mark posted this on March 12, 2008 and is filed under Providence, Restaurants.

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