The Farmer and The Fox — And One Glorious Meal
As I sit down to the most incredible popovers of my life, it’s hard to believe I once rifled around to score discounted clothing and purses in this very same spot.
Yes, the buildings that make up the long-closed St. Helena Outlet Mall, which once housed Escada, DKNY, Coach and Brooks Brothers, have been redeveloped into decidedly new enterprises that surprisingly look like they were there all along.
Cairdean Estate now owns the property,which is lighted by strings of white lights and a glowing circular, tiered fountain. The buildings have been repurposed to include a wine tasting room, a mercantile (to open in the next few months), Butterscots Bakery, and The Farmer and The Fox. It is the latter that has drawn me to visit. Opened in June, this elegant riff on an English pub is headed by Chef Joseph Humphrey, formerly of the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Murray Circle in Sausalito and Dixie in San Francisco.
Humphrey, who earned two Michelin stars at Meadowood, was cooking at a special event off-site on the November evening I was invited as a guest to try the restaurant. But you wouldn’t have known, because the food was still exceptional.
The 84-seat dining room has a clubby feel with its warm, dark wood, black and white tile floors, and high-backed booths. Library lamps on top of the bar add to the Old World appeal.
Enjoy a selection from the artful back-lit wine cellar, including Cairdean wines or take in a cocktail such as the Countess of Carrack ($12), a blend of aquavit, lemon, fennel bitters, fennel pollen, egg whites and beet juice that gives it a holiday hue.
Those popovers? They are a must-order ($9). They are baked fresh every half hour, so it may take a few minutes for them to get to your table. But they are so worth the wait. They arrive warm from the oven, deeply browned with airy, crisp, buttery layers not unlike a croissant. I’ve had popovers before that were fine, but more one-dimensional in texture. These are incredibly flaky, shattering in flakes when you bite into them, then giving way to pillowy interiors. A crock of apple-ginger butter comes alongside. You will not want to stop eating them. Any leftovers should be taken to-go. Do not even think about leaving them behind. They hold up pretty well for breakfast the next day.
While you wait for your popovers, enjoy the Scotch egg ($8). It’s breaded, then fried to a crisp. Inside is a perfect, oozy orange yolk. A dusting of horseradish adds the perfect sharp bite.
Smoked duck wings ($9) glam up the usual chicken ones. These have a backbone of smoke and meat so tender. A dice of celery and a sprinkle of blue cheese garnish the dish, along with a little chili oil to amp up the spiciness.
Game pie ($15) is beautiful to behold — a perfect golden round with fork-crimped edges. The flaky pastry holds a coarse, dense mixture of venison, squab and boar on this night — almost like a country pate in texture.
It’s not often you find beef Wellington on a menu these days, let alone a rabbit version ($22). Here, it’s done up with slow cooked carrots, maitakes and red wine sauce. The flaky pastry encases moist, mild tasting rabbit — a lighter version of the old-school Wellington.
There’s always a “Nightly Roast.” That evening, it was a succulent Marin Suns Farm lamb saddle that boasted a layer of mahogany crisp skin, something I’d never encountered in a lamb dish before.Â A persimmon mostardo was rubbed on the lamb, but I barely tasted it, and probably wouldn’t have known it was even there unless the server had told me. The roast comes with two sauces: a traditional gravy enriched with bread and — my favorite — barrel-aged worcestershire that’s a smooth taste of sweet, fruity and savory with a hint of vanilla.
For dessert, we enjoyed the butterscotch mousse cake ($8), an ethereal spongecake roll wrapped around creamy mousse. A ball of coconut ice cream paired nicely. Blackberry compote added a pop of color, but I don’t know if it was needed, as it tended to overtake the lovely butterscotch flavor.
On that Thursday in November, the restaurant had few diners, which is a shame. Here’s hoping more visitors come by — not for bargain shopping, but for a meal worth the detour.
Other St. Helena Restaurants to Try: Press
And: Bar Terra