LISBON Josh Taillon really knows how to put a meal together.
The 30-something chef is living the dream: running his own restaurant back on his home turf. After spending 13 years in Colorado cooking at prestige restaurants, he recently opened The Kitchen at Iroquois Farm on Route 37 between Ogdensburg and Waddington.
There have been on-again-off-again restaurants at Iroquois Farm, a certified organic produce farm, for a number of years. The food has been tolerable to good. Despite access to local produce right on the property, the restaurants never seem to last.
We hope this one does. On a dark and dreary weekday night recently, we had some of the best food in St. Lawrence County.
Little of the exterior of this old farm building-turned-restaurant has changed. As we traversed the long porch, we got to peek into the extraordinarily large kitchen with three cooks at work. A chalkboard at the entryway lists the names of additional farm purveyors from around the county.
Stepping inside, the dining room still has the attractive and welcoming feel that one would expect from a farm restaurant. It appears that a second floor loft has been renovated for expanded seating.
Mismatched tables and chairs were of attractive wood, creating a relaxed atmosphere that was pleasant and appropriate.
The menu was compact six salads, eight small plates and eight large plates but virtually every dish showed thought and creativity. There were also two homemade soups, a chicken vegetable and a vegetable minestrone, but we had to pass on them this trip.
We also sailed over the salad offerings, although the variety and descriptions were impressive: roasted local beet salad with organic mixed greens, orchard apples, pickled onion, candied walnuts and maple mustard vinaigrette. Organic spinach salad with cherry tomatoes, garden cucumbers, avocado, housemade bacon, hard-cooked egg and smoked blue cheese dressing. Napa cabbage salad with bok choy, fennel, carrot, red onion, peanuts, sprouts, basil and chili ginger vinaigrette.
With their liquor license pending, we were satisfied with one of the chefs own soda concoctions, Moroccan ginger ale with ginger, sugar, mint and spices. It was a bit short on fizz, but the flavor was wonderful.
Small plates were a terrific start: roasted garden Brussels sprouts ($4), grilled flatbread ($7), cabbage noodles ($5) and crispy frog legs ($7).
The Brussels sprouts arrived first, hand-chopped and sautéed with caramelized onions and bacon that was brined and smoked on site. The bacon could rule the world all by itself, but the large pieces in this plentiful dish gave it a real wow factor.
The grilled flatbread also was excellent a nice chew to the dough, generously adorned with caramelized leeks, roasted mushrooms, dollops of ricotta, sage and truffle oil. This was a thing of beauty to the eye, but more so to the palate.
Cabbage noodles also were nicely done, homemade flat noodles with caramelized onions and braised cabbage. The noodles were firm, tasty and beautifully augmented by the cabbage and onions.
Finally, a throwback to the past: frog legs. Not something you see on restaurant menus these days. They were breaded (the crumbs could have used more seasoning) and lightly deep-fried, served over subtle saffron rice that was surrounded by a dark gumbo sauce laden with green pepper.
We found ourselves nibbling on two small loaves of olive bread that was brought to the table earlier, obviously made from scratch on the premises. The bread was warm and doughy and wonderful but, for our tastes, could have used more oil-cured olives.
For large plates, we ordered grilled flank steak ($16), fish and chips ($16), pumpkin risotto ($14) and grilled bone-in pork chop ($16).
The flank steak was great marinated, probably rubbed, and grilled to a perfect medium with flavors that charmed the palate. It was sliced and placed over an artistic pile of salt potatoes, creamed spinach, smoked blue cheese and fried onions surrounded by a tasty red wine reduction.
Lots of flavors going on here, and they all worked well together.
Fish and chips consisted of a nice piece of cod with a lovely thin beer batter, decent hand-cut fries and house-made coleslaw with just enough bite to make you take notice.
The grilled pork chop may have been the most impressive presentation of the night. It was 1½ inches thick and sat on a bed of creamy, bright-orange mashed sweet potatoes surrounded by braised green cabbage and topped with dark spiced cranberry chutney.
Without asking our doneness preference, the chef cooked it to exactly medium, just the way we would have ordered it, rendering it just slightly pink and ever so juicy.
No one at our table would have willingly ordered the pumpkin risotto. Too many carnivores including me. But the place offers a good amount of vegetarian options, so in the interest of fair and accurate reporting, I went for it.
It was a generous portion, served in a large rimmed soup bowl. It was a little soupier than we expect risotto to be and was full of the flavor of leek and Parmesan but not much pumpkin, which by itself doesnt have much flavor anyway.
It came topped with a healthy handful of crispy kale kale that had been quickly dunked in fryer oil. A nice, creative touch.
Desserts were homemade, of course. Chocolate chiffon pie ($4) and pumpkin bread pudding ($5) were both outstanding.
The creamy, smooth chocolate chiffon had a nice crust and a flavor that tantalized us. Was it mint? Was it lemon?
The bread pudding was clearly a winner, an excellent creation, cut into cubes, served warm with crème anglaise and cranberry gastrique arranged between the cubes.
Dinner for four four small plates, four large and two desserts came to $100.58 before tip.
The chefs partner, Kelly, was our server. She did a fine job of handling five or six tables in the good-sized dining room by herself. And she was clearly an engaged server. She knew plenty about everything on the menu (it was lemon in the chocolate chiffon), and its a menu thats going to change often depending on the availability of ingredients from local producers and Joshs whim.
The preparations, the portions and prices were spot-on. The food is, without a doubt, some of the best around. Josh and his crew best be ready for some busy nights when the word gets out.
But dont expect to be walking into a posh restaurant. Its a funky, drafty, yet charming old farmhouse. The plates and silverware are mismatched. Not to say that those are bad things.
And since we visited The Kitchen two weeks ago, we have learned that they now have their liquor license and are serving beer and wine.
We plan to return to The Kitchen really soon off the clock, of course. See you there?
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kitchen at Iroquois Farm
10951 Route 37
A new restaurant dedicated to using locally produced ingredients.
HOURS: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday for brunch
SMALL PLATE PICKS: Brussels sprouts with house-made bacon and caramelized onion; grilled flatbread with mushrooms, leeks, ricotta, sage and truffle oil
LARGE PLATE PICKS: Grilled pork chop over mashed sweet potatoes and braised cabbage with spiced cranberry chutney; grilled flank steak with salt potatoes, creamed spinach, smoked blue cheese, fried onions and red wine reduction
Note: The menu changes often, so the dishes we enjoyed may not be there when you arrive. Rest assured, whatever Chef Josh offers will be interesting and appetizing.