When I told an old scriptwriter pal of mine to meet me at Fish and Farm, the new little restaurant in the Mark Twain Hotel, he shot back an ecstatic e-mail.
"Surf ‘n’ turf at last! Dry martinis, juicy steak and lobster dipped in butter. Mama!"
"Better start visualizing organic cocktails, sablefish with Brussels sprouts and ‘duo of naturally fed beef,’" I told him, "but, it’s really good. I promise."
So we met at Fish and Farm one Thursday night. Actually four of us did, cooling our heels at an intimate,marble-topped bar for 40 minutes beyond our reservation time, an inconvenience ignored by the host.
The bar room, separate from the 39-seat dining room, kept our looming presence out of sight, and apparently out of mind. The host dismissed our imploring scout 30 minutes into overtime with a breeziness that wasn’t empathetic.
Finally seated at a table in a dining room painted nautical blue and decorated with oars and farmhouse cabinets, the situation improved radically. The exuberant cooking of two young chefs with some experience in notable high-end kitchens is delicious, especially when it doesn’t try too hard.
They make lovely country paté ($10), moist and bright in flavor, served with barely pickled baby carrots.
Oxtail soup ($9) turns out to be fabulous beet borscht with a beef stock underpinning and lots of flavorful boned oxtail tidbits. Crisp-fried oysters ($10) perch on mounds of celery root remoulade — nice — but the Meyer lemon marmalade on top adds up to one idea too many.
A rare, juicy, grilled squab ($29), a little smoky and very tender, couldn’t have been better, especially with a black trumpet mushroom-infused risotto.
I loved sautéed sablefish ($23), pristine Alaskan black cod with voluptuous texture, strewn with pearl onions and Brussels sprouts. Thin, crunchy filets of cracker crusted petrale sole ($28) were a pleasure to eat with sweet baby fennel and turnips.
I liked the long-cooked short rib on the beef duo ($28), but the grilled steak seemed tough in such close juxtaposition.
The star of the dessert list is a winter citrus parfait ($8) in a small mason jar with layers of mascarpone, lime curd and blood orange filets — refreshing and divine.
Somewhat like the menu, which trumpets the kitchen’s dedication to local, sustainably raised ingredients, the wine list offers wines made with the same principles but draws from all over the world.
Fish and Farm is an odd bird. Its chefs have learned enough technique to turn out sophisticated food, but some of their creations need editing. But, despite the ineptitude at the door, the place is endearing.
One of the partners is John Duggan, University of San Francisco basketball star and son of the family that has owned the beloved Original Joe’s, a few blocks away on Taylor, which alas, is currently closed and trying to rebuild after a fire.
The 6-foot-7-inch tall Duggan is a dream boat; he actually works on the floor along with the sweet, professional wait staff.
Some advice? Put John on the door. Hire a spell checker for the menu and wine list, and put some signage on the street so people will be able to find the restaurant.
Fish and Farm is one of a handful of places near Union Square and the theater district that I can recommend. The kitchen’s guiding light — its focus on honest ingredients — keeps this sometimes rocky boat on an even keel.