Event - Dinner at Farm House Kitchen

"We're committed to utilizing local produce, meat and fish wherever possible. Local purveyors we use include Nikolau Family Farms, La Bahn Farms, Old Town Baking Company, Temecula Olive Oil Company, Cros Pass Farms, Heavenly Produce, Sage Mountain Farms and Vintage Natural Beef."

[UPDATED: Farm House Kitchen has had a name change. It is now Cork | Fire Kitchen.] Our venture to dinner at Farm House Kitchen involved a full day prior of waking up early to drive out to Temecula, visiting a motivational farm called Primal Pastures, and spending hours exploring all the nooks and crannies of Old Town Temecula. Understandably, we were a bit tired but after checking in to the welcoming Temecula Creek Inn on whose property the restaurant lies, we were rejuvenated by our environment. The sun had already fallen and the surrounding trees left a bit of comfortable romance in the warm evening air. We dolled up a little and made our way toward the strings of inviting light, toward the farmhouse-inspired establishment built upon a dedication to sourcing as local (or "farm to table" as some would call it) as possible. On less faithful days, they say their stock of ingredients is only about 60% local but they strive for the 70:30 ratio or higher; after all, it is difficult sometimes for small-time farmers to supply enough crop for a full restaurant's coffers. The visit and stay were appreciatively via invitation but we absolutely look forward to coming back again.

What used to be Temet Grill at the Temecula Creek Inn was no more after a 3 million dollar renovation transformed it into the modern rustic giant we were inside that evening. Led by Executive Chef Igor Krichmar who joined in spring of 2013, Farm House Kitchen incorporates an upscale farm feel in interior (think of polo players coming in to dine) and menu. Krichmar came from working all over the country including stints in New York and Vegas working with the likes of Thomas Keller and Alex Strada.  Inspired by all of his experiences and taking what lessons he learned with every chef he worked with, he revamped the dishes as they were revamping the space. We enjoyed the dimly lit but intimate space that was made lively by the murmur of conversation and the thoughtful choices of decor. The high ceiling in the main dining room showed barn-like rafters and farm-inspired hangings.

I could not help admiring the creative chandelier made from a wooden wheel spoke and rusty silverware that hung out front before the entrance. Wrought iron wheel-like fixtures hung as candleholders in the dining room, and dark stressed metal cowbells covered individual bulbs in the center. Even the wall fixtures hearkened to this theme. Despite being busy that night, the restaurant room temperature managed to not feel stifled and the noise level was low enough for audible conversations at the table. It was quiet enough for us to hear Chef Krichmar speak upon first introduction about something he was proud of - his biscuits. Housemade and fresh every morning, these biscuits are served at every table in the morning with heavy cream and seasonal housemade jams (the best seller is their strawberry basil but we had their tasty blueberry lemon). Pity it was not available in the night, though we got a taste the next morning too!

Where there is dinner, there is most likely bread and the helping we received was addictive. Though this crusty baguette came with a pat of butter, its own beauty shone through and needed not the fatty ornament. Imported from a family-owned French Canadian bakery whose goal is to make the same kinds of breads their ancestors made, the breads at Farm House Kitchen are gorgeously crusty and soft. We browsed the wine list and drinks menu as we crunched on slices and saw a wide range of libations from wines (as befitting the town) to cocktails to beers to whiskeys. Curiously enough, they also had wines on tap which supposedly create a fresher and crisper taste, having been poured from stainless steel barrels. The food on the menu itself is a blend of comfortable, familiar dishes and out-of-the-box designs. Based on the demographic that does make it out to the inn, Chef Krichmar confessed that he didn't want to "frustrate people" but also wanted to open palates a little. For the clientele in the mornings and afternoons, everything is a bit more standard so take a whirl at this restaurant during the dinner service if you wish.

We opt for a Dutch Mule ($12 - Nolet's silver and ginger beer in a Burgundy wine glass) and Spell Bound Petite Sirah ($9 / $17 / $34 - California) on tap. There were three other wines on tap that guests could choose from. We were both greatly impressed by the skillful balance with which the cocktail was made. It was smooth and floral on the tongue and nose, allowing one to taste every part and enjoy every side of its simple complexity. Stunning, really. The wine was fruity and lighter than expected. It did seem a tad crisper as well so perhaps there was method to the wine-on-tap madness.

It was 3 for 3 already that evening, and we hadn't even started on the food. Their menu featured a rotating single sheet menu in addition to their main one which was divided into sections titled Grazing Boards, Sandwiches, Starters, Entrees, Flatbreads, Bar Plates, and Right Hands. Almost immediately did we both spot our choices for starters - he the Beef Carpaccio ($17 - truffle aioli, crispy capers, arugula salad, Parmigiano Reggiano, hard boiled egg, grilled baguette) and I the Burrata Heirloom Tomato Salad ($11 - balsamic reduction, Temecula Olive Oil Company EVOO, micro basil). Both were homeruns. The beef came from Vintage Ranch whose animals are processed younger so the meat is more tender (Chef Krichmar noted that they only have Choice and Prime products). Sliced thin but with substantial heft, the beef was dressed with accompaniments, the most surprising being crispy capers. We loved how it seemingly melted in the mouth from being so soft and was balanced by the umami of a truffle aioli, saltiness of capers, and slight bitterness from arugula. The salad itself was one of the chef's own favorites and used the full natural beauty of choice local heirloom tomatoes procured from the Old Town Temecula Farmer's Market itself. This was understandably on the rotating single sheet menu based on availability, and it seemed that we had one of the last bits of the bunch. The burrata was creamy and sweetened by the juicy tomato slices; the balsamic was thick enough just to marry everything together. I could have finished happily with just these two.

However, the entrees were still to come. I opted for their Pan Roasted Diver Scallops ($26 - pinenut and golden raisin puree, roasted asparagus, pomegranate emulsion, pea tendrils) and Duc the Columbia River Salmon ($26 - celery root puree, poached then roasted salmon, truffle buerre blanc). I did not expect to get a plate of art though nor did I plan to once again choose the chef's favorite. The scallops sat expectantly upon fried rice risotto cakes and were garnished with delicate tendrils, Massachusett U10s (no local market exists for these said the chef) waiting for me to gorge on them. The pinenut and golden raisin puree was a pleasant and sweet surprise, and the asparagus were some of the better ones I've ever tasted. I would attribute their deliciousness to being fresh and just right in season. By recommendation, Duc had chosen the salmon dish which Chef Krichmar explained to be King salmon caught wild by Native Americans. Its presentation was simple but the ingredients luxurious. An arugula pesto heightened the taste, and each layer of the plate could be seen right away. It was clean and purposeful; the salmon's sear beckoned. From where I sat, my eyes a few feet away from the plate, I could see the striations of each fleshy layer as Duc gently tore off pieces with his fork. Full of flavor and excellence, it was obvious the quality of the salmon and the cooking.

Even with such reasonable portions for starters and entrees, we still found ourselves feeling quite sated. However, it was hard to say no when a fancifully arranged dessert trio plate came out featuring bites of a Raspberry Shortcake with Housemade Maple Gelato, Frozen Sauvignon with Berry Coulis in semifreddo fashion, and FHK Bread Pudding with Macerated Apples and Caramel Sauce. Easily was the shortcake my favorite (butter, flour, and sugar, c'mon) and the sweet-dessert-desiring Duc favored the bread pudding but the semifreddo was masterful in itself. Ice cold on the outside and slightly melty on the inside, this experimental mound was an eye and mouthful. Our thanks go out to our helpful and friendly server Roy (find him Thursdays-Sundays!), Chef Krichmar for his time, and Temecula Creek Inn for having us. We are already talking about our next trip back! You can read about the rest of our stay by clicking here and seeing both breakfast and the hotel property.

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

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