In the Marine Corps we had a phrase: "Remember there is always 10 percent who don't get the word." Never thought we'd apply it to a restaurant critic.
Farmstead is doing really well. We opened the outdoor bar earlier in the week and our dining patio for the first time on Friday. We have enjoyed a rousing reception from the local community.
As the weather improves the trajectory is clearly up. And, the 'buzz' has been really great. We have had numerous positive references in print, online, and on-air media. We have moved into the top 10 of "Most Booked in Wine Country" on Open Table.
Most importantly, we have been very highly rated by our guests. We strive to respond objectively and professionally to comments and criticism. So, we look hard at the facts. Consider this: over 125 diners (an ample sample size) who made their reservation through Open Table have written a review of Farmstead.
Our Overall Rating on Open Table is four stars (out of five) and fully 76 percent of the reviewers have rated Farmstead four stars or higher. Further, Farmstead is rated fours stars in all three subcategories: Food, Ambiance, and Service. Take a look. Similarly, Yelp! has consistently rated Farmstead at four and a half stars (out of five).
Farmstead has also enjoyed repeat visits by the who's who of the local culinary community (hardly a group of hicks from a backwater). We respect their opinions and have appreciated the many compliments and occasional suggestions.
So, imagine our surprise when a food critic from the San Francisco Chronicle writes a story in today's paper that paints a substantially different picture about Farmstead's food. He writes ". . .the combinations are among the strangest I've encountered. . ." Hmmm.
Of course, we will take the story seriously and will treat it as an important piece of data. But, funny how the three dishes most criticised - the hamburger, short-rib hash, and carmelized beet salad - are the three highest selling dishes. And, funny how our customers use descriptions (documented in their reviews) like "the best burger of my life" as opposed to "screwed up." (They even understand that the substitution of cauliflower dill pickles for cucumber dill pickles is an inventive seasonal twist.)
Perhaps a city-slicker thinks "locals and tourists" (his words) lack the sophistication and broad palate exposure to understand fresh, local ingredients prepared using truly authentic American farmhouse recipes. Funny, too, how a major national magazine is doing an exclusive story on Farmstead and is setting up tomorrow for a major photo shoot over the next three days. And, after extensive tasting and research, the editors have asked to feature up to six of Sheamus Feeley's recipes.
Makes you wonder.
The only explanation is that there is always 10 percent. . .
Lady bugs and praying mantises are now available at Whiting Nursery. We think that is "really cool."
One of the biggest challenges early in the growing season is the damage that sucking insects, primarily aphids, can cause to tender new growth. For the past twenty years we have been creating habitat and fostering large populations of lady bugs to help maintain our vineyards' health.
Lady bugs, praying mantises, leafy winged scavengers, and other "beneficial insects" are a key component of our organic farming systems at Long Meadow Ranch. Mantises, in particular, are aggressive hunters and will eat a wide range of garden insects including aphids, mosquitoes, caterpillars, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, crickets, leaf hoppers, moths and many others.
Now home gardeners can get a head start by purchasing some of these beneficial insects for release in their home garden. Of course, there is no substitute for creating the right long-term habitat for the insects (otherwise they'll either just fly away or won't properly reproduce), but that is a longer story than a blog posting.
Whiting Nursery, a core element of our farm-to-table offering at Long Meadow Ranch & Farmstead in St. Helena, is now a wonderful resource for the home organic gardner and small scale grower. All of the new vegetable starter plants are organically raised, a wide array of organic fertilizers is in stock, Kevin Twohey is a rich source of horticultural knowledge, and, of course, we now have beneficial bugs. You can even buy organic chicken feed, too.
Our "big" idea is really starting to take shape. Explore, see, learn, eat, enjoy, and take-it-home. These "full cycle" experiences are all part of what we hope to provide to our community and to visitors at Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead.
Once again our olive oil is playing a sacramental role in the lives of the 150,000 members of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
We are very honored to have our olive oil blessed as Chrism. Our olive oil has been used for this special purpose since 2003.
Bishop Daniel F. Walsh consecrated our olive oil last Tuesday in a centuries-old Holy Week tradition (moved up a few days to accommodate a busy schedule for the clergy). So, this seemed to be an appropriate posting for Palm Sunday.
Laddie and Marina Costabile (family friend and new member of our LMR team) attended the Mass of the Oils at the Cathedral of St. Eugene, which was also attended by all of the clergy from the Diocese.
Throughout the Catholic Church for centuries, the bishop of each diocese has distributed oil to each member of the clergy at this annual ritual Mass. The Chrism oils are used to annoint the sick in what most laymen call "last rights" and are also used at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and other Church sacraments.
In our case, the oil will be used throughout the six-county area covered by the Diocese of Santa Rosa. The priests in all 42 parishes and 22 missions will use the sacramental oil throughout the coming year. This means our oil will potentially touch the lives of more than 150,000 people.
The opportunity to provide continuity to a centuries-old sacred tradition and to be recognized for the integrity of our traditional, sustainable approach to farming is a very special honor for our family and for our team at Long Meadow Ranch.
We feel truly blessed.
Last Saturday we won a Gold Medal with our Napa Valley Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the annual meeting of the California Olive Oil Council. We are very pleased.
While the rest of the world was focused on medal contests at the Winter Olympics, we were similarly engaged.
The California Olive Oil Council is the industry trade association for olive oil production in the United States. An annual competition was initiated last year to acknowledge the best producers in the domestic olive oil industry. The oils are judged by a jury of our most significant peers.
These same tasters apply their skills to accredit extra virgin olive oils that receive the COOC seal. And, they have received many hours of training and have tasted hundreds of oils in structured blind settings. As a result, their judgment means even more to us than a review from a "civilian" food writer or critic.
So, for us, this award is a "really big deal."
Oiive oil maker for Long Meadow Ranch, Jason Moulton, was in attendance to receive the award. (Regretably, the award ceremony overlapped with the Napa Valley Premier barrel auction which prevented Laddie and me from being there, too.) He returned home with a grin that will last for a few more days.
Napa Valley Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil is our "mixing and blending" oil made from a blend of Italian and Spanish cultivars. It is our favorite for salads, pesto, and Tuscan beans. Unfortunately, the 2010 harvest was very light because of severe weather during flower set last May. So, while we have just completed bottling, there will not be much to go around. In fact, we did not make any Prato Lungo oil for first time since 1995 because we had no crop from the historic orchards.
While the medal is not exactly "Olympic" in its importance, we are very proud to receive this recognition for our organic farming and oil production practices. Bravo to Jason, Frank, Pilo, Todd, Lauren, Sean, and all of the crew.
We're off to a great start at Farmstead with many happy guests over the long weekend. Both the menu and the by-the-glass wine list were very well received.
Call 707-963-9181 for reservations or visit www.farmsteadnapa.com. Walk-ins are welcome.
Friday was the big day for Farmstead restaurant. We opened as scheduled at 11:30 AM and we don't plan to close again until Christmas day.
We were busy up to the very last minute, including completing the lighting for the main signs and the walkway to the restrooms. But, we got it all done for an on-time launch.
Our guests raved about the food - much to Sheamus' delight - and the staff performed wonderfully. Last night the room was full of electricity. And, our strategy of limiting reservations paid off as everyone had good service and a good time. We take off the training wheels tonight and tomorrow.
Looking for a reservation?
Call 707-963-9181 or visit www.farmsteadnapa.com.
Shhh! Don't tell anyone, but Farmstead restaurant opens tomorrow (Friday, February 12th).
Tomorrow is a really big day for our family and for chef Sheamus Feeley and his team. We will open our farm-to-table restaurant for lunch and dinner at our St. Helena location at 738 Main Street.
We held an open house on Tuesday evening for the many people who have helped us with this project. Frank Borges (the general contractor) and all of the subcontractors and their crews were part of the scene. It was great to see them show off their work to family and friends. Great folks with true pride in their work.
Yesterday we did a "practice service" at lunch and dinner with family and friends serving as patrons. We served about 120 meals and, by the end of the evening, the staff had the room and kitchen working really well. The excellent practice gave everyone confidence that we could pull it off "for real" on Friday.
Today we closed for final cleaning and a "zero base" inventory.
So, here we go. No more hoopla or parties. Instead, every day wil be a "grand opening" at Farmstead.
We open the phone lines for reservations on Friday morning at 11:30 AM (707-963-9181). And, hopefully, we'll open the doors shortly thereafter.
Please come join us. Most of the seats are for the local community. So, walk-ins are welcome. Reservations are limited.
More news tomorrow.
Thank you all for your support of and contributions to the Red Wattle pig project.
As those of you who have been following the project know, we have not had much success with breeding Adam and Eve after 3 ½ years of trying. We received the piglets (aptly named Adam and Eve) in June 2006 as part of a project sponsored by Slow Food USA. The goal was to of create a viable breeding community of rare Red Wattle pigs west of the Rockies.
Unfortunately the two pigs have not been able to conceive after many months together in the Garden of Eating (the pen formerly known as the Pig Palace).
Adam has had a challenge with his back and multiple trips to UC Davis have not diagnosed the problem. This past spring we even tried artifiicial insemination using Adam's semen with the help of UC Davis vet student, Pam Coy, and Dr. David Gold. But, after a sonogram-confirmed pregnancy by Eve and three months, three weeks, and three days of waiting, we did not have the birth in August as we had hoped.
Reluctantly, we decided that we should not go forward with these two animals. Rather than continue to try to breed this, now aged, pair and carry them through an uncomfortable winter (especially for Adam), we have made the difficult decision to slaughter.
Yesterday morning they were handled very well by John Taylor right at the ranch. The excellent carcasses are now on their way to Browns Valley Market where they will be hung and then butchered.
Chef Sheamus will do something appropriately special with the pork, I am sure. And, we'll have the opportunity to confirm the reason why Red Wattle pork is so prized.
We have enjoyed hosting two St. Helena High School FFA seniors' projects (Laura White and Molly Salinger) who cared for the pigs and we have all learned a lot through the efforts of "docs" Pam and David.
We still have a dream of helping revive and protect this breed through a project that would benefit St. Helena FFA. We’ll just have to look for another opportunity in the future.
As Laddie said this morning, the Garden of Eating won’t be the same. . . But, I am confident we have made the right decision.
Posted by Ted Hall
Don't tell anyone but we are opening our tasting room today.
We are very excited about opening the Long Meadow Ranch Winery tasting room in the historic Logan-Ives House, the restored 1874 Gothic Revival farmhouse at 738 Main Street in St. Helena.
If everything goes according to plan, we'll quietly open the doors to the public at 11 AM today.
We'll be offering tastes of our five wines and two olive oils and a short tour of the property. In a few weeks, we'll be offering small plate food pairings from the kitchen.
But, in the meantime, we'll share our family's hospitality and tell our story. I might even play the 1904 upright piano.
The progress at our project site, which we call "Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead," is now very visible and friends tell us how great they feel when on the grounds.
The historic house has been restored, the landscaping is largely in place, vegetable gardens are partially planted, and the organic nursery has been remodeled. The solar project is producing "juice" and we have moved into our administrative offices upstairs in the farmhouse.
The next step will be opening of Farmstead restaurant early in the new year. But, more about that in another post.
Don't tell anyone, but we would love to have you come by.
We're open until 6 PM.
Posted by Ted Hall