“Discovery” restaurants fall into categories similar to those assigned to houses for sale.
There’s the fixer, aka that hole-in-the-wall with tasty food but a bathroom that’s off-limits. Sticky tables and cobwebs in corners tell enough of that story already.
Farmhaus, in Granite Bay, is more of a turn-key discovery. The wonderful French toast and chicken pot pie at this small restaurant inspire the same feeling of hitting upon a gem – and wanting to spread the news – that one might feel at a dive with good food. But Farmhaus, which serves well-executed dishes with quality ingredients in a whistle-clean building, is not a dive at all.
Yet it still qualifies as a find, for Sacramentans, because it’s little known outside Placer County. Owner Madeline Faeth has relied on word of mouth to populate her nearly 2-year-old restaurant, which serves upscale comfort food out of a house-like building that looks Danish outside and rural-American inside. The restaurant sits on Auburn Folsom Road, just off Douglas Boulevard – a spot that’s a little bit country, a little bit ’round-the-corner-from-the-strip mall. It once held Eight American Bistro, the first restaurant owned by N’Gina and Ian Kavookjian, of Sacramento’s South.
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Faeth, who for 15 years owned a cafe in Sunrise Mall, and before that worked as a bartender and/or manager at local restaurants including Paragary’s and 4th Street Grille, said she does not advertise because she does not want her regulars – like the older couples and young families who packed the place for brunch on a recent Sunday – to ever wait for a table in the 42-seat dining room. (There’s also patio seating available, during warmer months.)
Farmhaus is not a speakeasy that requires a secret knock. It has a website. Still, I only heard about it because I know someone from Granite Bay who recommended it. Now I am recommending it and its talented chef, Michael John, who came to Farmhaus last year from Folsom’s Back Wine Bar & Bistro.
See? It’s still word of mouth, just with more ears involved this time.
Faeth made good use of a small space. A wood-and-glass edifice between the restaurant’s tiny kitchen and small dining room creates a sense of visual flow that makes the whole space look larger.
Clapboard-looking paneling and a display of empty milk bottles add up to homey instead of corny. (As anyone who lived through the 1980s “country kitchen” trend can tell you, the difference between the two is the breadth of a blade of straw.) The music helps: Farmhaus’ sound system features such acts as the new/old country outfit Civil Wars and that melancholy one-man alternative band Bon Iver.
Farmhaus doesn’t offer bargains the way shabbier “finds” do. Especially not at dinner, when most entrees cost $30-plus. But lunch and brunch prices are more modest (most entrees cost $16 or less), and Farmhaus looks more inviting during the day, anyway, when sunlight bounces off its whitewashed walls. And daytime, specifically on Sunday, is when the restaurant serves French toast.
A thin cream/egg layer adds a rich custard flavor and softens slices of Grateful Bread baguette just enough to make them more malleable than what one expects upon seeing this type of bread served as French toast. Nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar top the toast, which is finished with light-as-air honey whipped cream. Tasty, macerated strawberries and blueberries complete the plate. All this sweetness and flavor complexity render the syrup served alongside the toast optional.
The eggs benedict’s hollandaise sauce holds the perfect amount of acidity and salt to cut the fat from the egg and slight sweetness of the sliced ham.
The hearty “farm bowl,” offered at brunch and lunch, contains chicken, black beans, brown rice and an earthy chipotle sauce that delivers a sneaky roundhouse punch of heat. It also contains corn – not an ingredient one expects to find at a Northern California restaurant called Farmhaus in December. But John said the “farm bowl” has become such a Farmhaus staple that he keeps the corn even when it’s not in season.
Other dishes we tried incorporated seasonal ingredients, from pears to root vegetables. Farmhaus also uses local ingredients when possible, Faeth said.
Farmhaus uses exquisitely tender, moist chunks of Mary’s chicken (out of the Central Valley) in its pot pie, served only at lunch. Salty, crunchy pieces of bacon counteract a slightly sweet béchamel sauce. A buttery, airy puff-pastry crust tops the dish, lending a delicate element to the robust whole.
Cream and white wine take the lead in Farmhaus’ Yukon Gold potato gnocchi before revealing other, more wholesome flavors, from the pillowy gnocchi to the roasted butternut squash, rutabaga and parsnip incorporated into the sauce.
The perfectly cooked (to medium rare) lamb chops came with a Madeira-inflected sauce for which quinoa, served on the side, acted as sponge. Healthful grains always taste best when soaked in deglazed lamb drippings.
Dinner eventually became too much of a Madeira-thon. A broth made with the wine overwhelmed the taste, in the seafood stew, of what appeared to be exceptionally fresh mussels, clams and prawns. Madeira also dominated the poached pear and sabayon dessert.
Service at Farmhaus can be slightly off. Though our servers were always friendly and attentive, they did not always seem like professional servers. One kept bringing us whole utensil roll-ups, napkins included, when we requested a clean knife or fork. Another server did not pick up on nonverbal clues, like me turning away. He hovered too near the table too often.
But I prefer these servers, who seemed genuine, to those elsewhere who give tired spiels and try too hard to charm, and only pass along the service tidbit in the chatty spirit of a word-of-mouth recommendation.
8230 Auburn Folsom Road, Granite Bay, www.farmhausfresh.com, 916-772-3276
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday
Beverage options: Northern California-centric wine list. Beers on tap include Loomis Basin Brewing Co. offerings
Vegetarian friendly: Yes
Gluten-free options: Yes
Noise level: Moderate
Ambiance: The decor is appropriately rustic for a place called “Farmhaus” without being overdone. The space is small but thoughtfully designed, with sufficient space between tables. Even when Farmhaus fills up, as it did when we visited for Sunday brunch, it felt less crowded than cozy.
It’s a charming space that, to a Sacramentan unfamiliar with Granite Bay dining options, feels like a discovery. Several dishes we tried were exceptional, though the service was not all there.
The chicken pot pie and French toast are worth the trip from Sacramento. Or Auburn. Maybe even Reno.
Service ☆☆ 1/2
A little off-kilter at times, but friendly.
Prices are much more reasonable during lunch and (Sunday-only) brunch than at dinner, when most entrees are $30 or more. As good as the lamb chops were, the $34 price tag seems at least a few dollars too high.