Recently, I enjoyed one the most amazing dinner experiences. Truthfully, I don’t go out to eat often, and it’s even more rare I eat gourmet, but I have sat in enough restaurants to know that last night’s meal was something special.
There are a handful of farm-to-table restaurants that purchase produce from the farm. The Farmhouse Restaurant at The Top of the World in Lake George is one of them.
Each year, chef Kevin London creates a seven-course, family-style dinner, featuring the best of what the farm has to offer. Last night, I got to experience one of those meals for the first time.
My husband, Dan, and I arrived at the top of Lockhart Mountain shortly after 7 p.m. Not quite sure exactly where we were supposed to go, we walked around the restaurant, before realizing we parked right in front of the entrance. That was OK; it gave us the chance to take in the view of Lake George.
Inside, we were seated with Dr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick, their daughter, Angela; a family friend; and a couple who are restaurant regulars. Those who hadn’t met got acquainted, then Keith, KFF’s produce manager, spoke briefly to everyone about the farm, and soon the first course was served.
Watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, basil and ricotta salada drizzled with fine olive oil got us started. It was a perfect example of how the right combination of fresh ingredients creates a simple, yet amazing, dish. Never would I have thought to put tomato and watermelon on the same plate, but they were quite happy together. What amazed me about this dish almost as much as the watermelon-tomato union was the variety of tomatoes. I saw at least three different cherry tomato varieties, plus slices of green zebra, Cherokee purple and yellow brandywine.
Sadly, I remembered to take a picture only after nearly all of it was gone.
Next came beets, red and chiogga; caramelized onions and goat cheese. My husband regularly insists he doesn’t like beets, but he did his share in making sure the serving plate was empty before returning to the kitchen.
During the beet course, the power went out. You might think that would turn dinner into a disaster, and I’m sure it challenged the kitchen staff, but everything continued running smoothly – at least it appeared that way. I think at some point, someone came to apologize for a delay, but I never noticed a delay. We were too busy enjoying our food, our company and guessing the ingredients in each dish.
By candlelight, we were served carrot salad, which was my favorite of the seven courses. Shaved carrots were topped with a mix of micro greens known as Keith’s blend – micro carrots, beets and arugula. There was a light dressing mixed with the greens and carrots, and surrounding the salad there was something similar to tahini and at least one other paste I wish I could identify. It was simply amazing.
Between courses, Dr. Kilpatrick would sometimes ask what we thought was the next course. He didn’t have any inside information, but it was fun to anticipate what could come next based on what we knew to be growing on the farm.
The fourth course was leeks and potatoes. The potatoes were served like little cakes and surrounded on the plate by charred leeks that had been sliced lengthwise. Here is my single piece of criticism of the entire meal: if you are going to serve leeks left long, please provide your diners with knives that will cut them into bite-sized pieces. A steak knife or something else very sharp would be ideal. Some of us were glad for the dimly lit room during this course, as there didn’t seem to be a polite way to eat those leeks. Despite the awkwardness of eating them, they were tasty, and, again, the serving plate went back to the kitchen empty.
Then, the lights came back on. More than the lights, we were thankful to have the air conditioning back. And, I know the staff was relieved to be able to see us as they served.
For our fifth course, we had our first meat of the evening: pork with butternut squash. It also happened to be the first butternut squash of the season. For some, it had been even longer since enjoying winter squash, as the farm’s squash was one of the victims of last year’s flooding.
Finally, the chicken was served. I had very little advance knowledge of the night’s menu, but one thing I knew was there would be chicken, and I was waiting. At home, roasted KFF chicken is our favorite meal, so I was excited to see how the restaurant would prepare it. For the sixth course in a row, there was no disappointment. It was even more tender and juicy than my own version.
To add a little fun to the course, we were asked to compare two breeds of chicken. The first plate served to each table had a Freedom Ranger, a heritage breed of chicken the farm is raising for the first time this year. We were asked to note any differences between that and the Cornish Cross, which is the standard chicken most farms raise for meat. Most at our table seem to agree there was a difference, but there was no consensus on which was tastier.
When Dr. Kilpatrick asked what we thought dessert would be, he and I came to the conclusion it would certainly include raspberries. One of our table companions was surprised raspberries were available at this time in the season, so he explained the difference between summer and fall raspberries. To get fall raspberries, Michael cuts the canes each season, which makes the berries ripen later in the year. After our lesson, it came as no surprise that our final course was raspberries and cream.
A delightful way to end an amazing meal.
There are times during a three-and-a-half-hour dinner when you just have to sit back and absorb everything around you. Between the fourth and fifth courses, as I took my personal break from conversation and listened, I thought about the food I had just been served. At that point in the meal, I had eaten at least 10 different vegetables grown by people I know. Even with my CSA, that might be more variety than I generally eat in a week! (And, I think my family eats quite a lot of vegetables.) By the end of the meal, I added at least a couple more veggies, plus chicken and berries.
I left dinner feeling incredibly lucky to have experienced such a wonderful meal. The people who grew the food, those who prepared each exquisite dish, and those with whom I shared the meal, all made it a night to remember.