Farrah Olivia (Alexandria) - review (long)
In the press, most reviews of Farrah Olivia have been fairly glowing. On this board, they’ve been a little more mixed. Here’s a new one, based on dinner there Sunday night (and thanks to Baconjen and KWynn for their advance comments):
The punch line first: Morou Ouattara’s kitchen turns out impeccably cooked and beautifully plated food. Some of the dishes are also delicious blends of flavor and texture. The problem is that for other dishes, the descriptions turn out to be more interesting than the food. We will go back, because the quality of the cooking is so high and because Ouattara offers a distinctive style well-worth exploring, but Farrah Olivia has definite room for improvement.
An example of why Farrah Olivia both enchants and falls short: We ordered an appetizer described as “Shocked escolar | wasabi pearls | pickled watermelon rind.” Served on a white rectangular plate, this was beautiful dish, reminiscent of a Paul Klee painting. Squares of just-short-of-raw escolar (an oily white fish) were fanned on the plate, accompanied by a stripe of a sticky merlot powder, a smear of something resembling a red-pepper aioli, a small mound of golden-colored pickled watermelon rind shavings, and a pyramid of pale green wasabi pearls. The “shocking,” I gather, means that the cooking of the escolar involved a very quick poach in boiling water, then immersion in an icy mixture of wine and soy, leaving a slight dark rim around the edges of the fish.
Here was the problem with the dish: The fish was lovely, as were the aioli and watermelon rind—which provided a nice punch. The merlot powder, however, added nothing, since it was too stuck to the plate to come off on the fish; and the wasabi pearls were a disappointment, with a watery flavor that was much too mild and a mushy texture that got lost. So a very good dish, a visually beautiful dish, but not, in the end, a great dish.
Similarly, we had the “Sourdough flan | romaine | fresh sardines”—essentially, a deconstructed Caesar salad. The plate was again beautiful, arranged in quarters: the flan, the romaine, the sardines, and a pile of crouton crumbs to provide a bit more salt and crunch. The flan was a beautiful creamy texture with a lovely mild flavor. The dressing on the romaine leaves, though, was not quite peppery enough, the sardines were not quite firm enough, and the crouton crumbs were not quite flavorful enough. A beautiful dish, pleasant enough, but just a tiny bit of improvement in textures and flavor would have made it a knock-out.
The best two dishes of the evening were the amuse—a fabulous bite of steak tartare—and the lamb chops. The lamb was described as “Lamb chops | palm heart bbq | plantain loaf” and was a top-notch dish by any standard. The lamb itself (a small rack) was perfectly cooked; the barbecue sauce had the right amount of sweet and punch; the plantain loaf turned out to be the texture of great hash browns; and a final perfect accompaniment was a tiny bowl of bitter greens.
Like the lamb, the duck, described as “Lemongrass duck breast | apricot | cabbage” was perfectly cooked and beautifully plated. But while it was a good dish that we enjoyed, it wasn’t very interesting. The lemongrass was undetectable, and the apricot sauce and apricot-cabbage slaw that accompanied were pleasant but unexciting.
One other caveat about Farrah Olivia: The service could be better. Our server was cordial but inattentive. Dishes showed up promptly once ordered, but wine glasses were not refilled, we waited a while to order dessert, and we had to flag her attention to order coffee.
In the end, a very nice meal, and we’ll look forward to the evolution of Morou Ouattara’s cooking (and to rooting for him on The Next Iron Chef), but Farrah Olivia is not a Top Ten. (Yet?)
I have eaten there a number of times and generally agree with your assessment. The chef sometimes get too caught up in his deconstruction and forgets that there is someone who will actually eat the dish. Plating and innovation are highly commendable but, in the end, the food is to be eaten not just admired. The chef has the potential to have a top flight restaurant and I will continue to visit in hopes that he acheives it.
I'll echo the other two posters. Excellent plating and execution, but the flavors of some of the dishes are so subtle and muted as to be almost silent. The strongest candidates are definitely the red meats; however, the server mixed-up our orders: the wife's lamb came out rare and my steak came medium well, instead of medium-well lamb and rare steak as we ordered.
Another problem I found was poor ventilation. By the time we left, the dining room was crowded and the stale odor of B.O., halitosis, and suits and dresses that badly needed laundering was almost overpowering.