I love it when a meal surprises you — flat out knocks you out with its originality yet the Chef executes the flavours of each dish perfectly. These are the kinds of meals that leave me wondering, how soon can I eat here again? After my first meal on a very crowded Friday night at Manhattan Chinese bistro RedFarm, the answer for me was easy — the very next morning for brunch. To say RedFarm is a Chinese restaurant is a slight disservice; this is inventive, playful, modern, farm-to-table food that just happens to be fashioned by one of New York City’s best Chinese chefs Joe Ng and the very successful Chinese restaurateur Ed Schoenfield. The pedigree between these two is immense. Since it opened last year, RedFarm has won many accolades, including being named best Chinese by Zagat, in the same year that Danny Bowien also opened up his stellar Mission Chinese Food in the Lower East Side. Unlike Mission though, RedFarm is not trying to knock you over the head with hip hop, 90’s kitsch and Szechaun heat, it would rather take a more subtle and refined approach both with its environment and what is on the plate.
My first night I am squeezed in at the bar and I am practically in the lap of strangers, such is the casual nature of the space. The seating consists of two long communal tables where you can enjoy the wonderment of your meal amongst new friends; or, if you wish for date-like intimacy, there are tables for two along the one wall. The décor has a rustic charm with plenty of wood and potted plants hanging everywhere that gives one the feeling of relaxing in an outdoor garden. There is not a blinding neon light in sight nor any annoyingly large round banquet tables–stylistically speaking RedFarm is long way from Chinatown. And so is my first drink, a Yuzu Caipirinha; seriously, a Brazilian cocktail to wash down dim sum dumplings? Yet somehow it all makes sense in this era where everyone is looking for new experiences that will make us sprint to our laptop and jump on yelp and proclaim, I have found it, the best new restaurant in town! As the food hits the table you see patrons scrambling to their phone in order to make all their Instagram followers hungry with envy. RedFarm is the rare restaurant that makes all manner of contradictions work together–with an easy charm.
I start my first night with one of the most delicious bites I have tasted in a long time and also among the most beautifully presented. A scallop ceviche, its meat still nestled in its shell floating in blood orange juice and adorned with a touch of caviar. It is such a devastatingly brilliant dish that I feel like high-fiving anyone in sight. My next visit I begin with something almost as good, Kumamoto Oysters, with Meyer lemon and Yuzu. In a city where oysters are incredibly popular summer starter, I highly doubt you will find any better, yet somehow the dish actually looks even better than it tastes. Then I attack with much enthusiasm their dim sum menu. It contained two hits for me, the Katz Pastrami Egg Roll, which is a crowd favourite and something you could only ever find in Manhattan: Jewish New York deli meets a greasy take out Chinese food staple. And then there is the soft shell crab and duck dumplings that actually have beady eyes attached to it making it look like an animated character from a Miyazaki film. The taste is an excellent soulful interpretation of a dim sum standard.
Finally, onto the main course which is just as stellar. In another surprise, RedFarm also makes what many consider to be the best rib eye steak in town. It is marinated overnight in a bath of soy sauce, ginger, and papaya juice, served with just-picked-from-the-farm asparagus. How classic is that? But the showstopper for me is a decidedly decadent whole lobster with scrambled egg and chopped pork. This one is done completely straight up, no whimsy here, like it would be found in the best Chinese restaurants, sautéed in black bean sauce. It immediately goes to the top of dishes I would eat for my last meal. On the last night of my trip to New York, I once again find myself back at RedFarm. It is a quiet Tuesday night in the West Village, yet it is packed. There are two couples on either side of me, and as the food comes to their table, I see their faces light with joy, photos are taken, oysters slurped. The conversation jumps around from work, to their favourite places to eat, and then to me. “Where are you from,” one couple asks? “Sadly a city that has no restaurant like RedFarm,” I quickly respond. They nod with a smile, acknowledging there could only be just one RedFarm and then bite the Pac Man eyes off of a shrimp dumpling.