Red Farm (New York City): Crowds flock to a West Village brownstone for chef Joe Ng’s clean, green and unconventional modern Chinese cuisine

Red Farm prides itself on serving “inauthentic” Chinese fare; dishes are inspired by everything from foreign cuisines to New York deli favorites.  Photo courtesy of Red Farm

New York Photographer Tom decided we must try Red Farm, the impossibly popular West Village dim sum darling.  Red Farm doesn’t take reservations.  So, like paparazzi on assignment, Photographer Tom and his best guy Matt arrived two hours earlier than our scheduled 9:00 p.m. meet-up time.  Then they put our names on the lengthy waiting list and patiently staked out our table until it was ready.

Fortunately for Photographer Tom and Matt — and ultimately, the Husband and me — Red Farm has a corner tavern and a cheesy wine bar for neighbors; both were great vantage points for keeping our table under close surveillance.  At 9:30 p.m., the call came in, and we were down the street faster than you can say “Suri Cruise.”

And, yes, there was a payoff for our dogged persistence.

Chef Joe Ng is known for is playful, artful and tasty Chinese-inspired fare.  Photo courtesy of Red Farm

New Yorkers haven’t been lining up for the past year for nothing.  They’ve come in droves to this little Hudson Street townhouse to sample chef Joe Ng’s rollicking takes on Chinese fare.  And to talk with — and over — each other at in this farmhouse fun house created by New York Chinese food maven Ed Schoenfeld.

The restaurant serves what Schoenfeld calls “clean Chinese food.”  There’s a strong (but imperfect) effort to banish ingredients such as sugar and oil that indeed make Chinese food craveable, “but kind of dirty,” Schoenfeld says.

So the Red Farm gang adopted the whole seasonal, local, green and clean ideology.  And Ng incorporated it into his famed artful, outré dim sum (spring rolls that look like wacky palm trees, dumplings that resemble Pac-Man ghosts) and his thoroughly modern twists on classic Chinese dishes.

“We feel no need to adhere to tradition,” Schoenfeld says.  And speaking on behalf of our group, I say, “Tradition be damned,” as we had a blast working our way through Ng’s “starters,” “dim sum” and “mains” that appear on both the eatery’s regular and daily menus.

Ng often creates “head turners” — dishes that get diners talking.  Photo courtesy of Red Farm

Schoenfeld describes Ng’s creations as “head turners,” compelling creations diners see as these dishes make their way to other tables.  Instead of craning our necks, our now-relaxed quartet decided to let our waiter, Phillip, take command.  Pulling from both menus, Phillip put together a meal fit for A-list celebs.

Kowloon filet-mignon tarts ($10 for two) featured dollops of curried vegetables nestled in delicate pastry cups and topped with butter-soft nuggets of soy-ginger marinated beef.  Avocado and mango summer rolls ($12) offered cooling bites on a hot August night.  And double-savory chicken dumplings with basil ($12) were amped up by a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.  And those were just our starters.

Then it was on to dim sum, where Phillip steered us toward the restaurant’s signature Pac-Man shrimp dumplings ($12.50 for four).  Here, a batter-dipped and fried sweet potato circle is cut to look like Mr. Pac-Man himself.  And “ghost” dumplings plumped with chopped shrimp take their respective colors — pink, yellow, blue and white — from lobster, yellow leeks, blue crab and bamboo shoots. Yes, the dish is adorable.  But it also tastes mighty fine (particularly with a cold glass or two of 2010 NoCo Chardonnay).

Pac-Man shrimp dumplings are one of the restaurant’s most talked-about dishes; the adorable “ghosts” get their coloring from ingredients ranging from lobster to yellow leeks.  Photo courtesy of Red Farm

Phillip also picked Katz’s pastrami egg roll ($7.50), another Red Farm dish that has garnered much attention.  Looking at reviews, the deli-meat-stuffed roll has both fans and detractors.  Our group fell into the former camp, finding this Reuben-in-an-eggroll with mustard dipping sauce a clever change-up on the quintessential Chinese-American appetizer.

But the best was yet to come.  Culled from the specials menu’s “mains” section, seared sea bass with miso sauce and asparagus ($27) had a wonderful texture and a clean, light flavor.

And then there was the grilled Creekstone prime rib steak ($39.95), a large piece of to-die-for beef, which Phillip rightly calculated would amply serve our nearly-sated party.

Red Farm specializes in dim sum, but delicious and carefully prepared “mains” should not be overlooked.  Photo courtesy of Red Farm

“Skip right to this,” say my notes of this papaya-garlic-soy-marinated wonder, which Ng plates with crisp asparagus spears.

Craving something a little sweet, we ordered up a round of desserts ($7 each).  As you might have guessed, there were no cardboard fortune cookies to cap off our meals.  Instead, we enjoyed the most purposefully inauthentic Chinese-American desserts around:  a fresh fruit plate; lemon-ginger panna cotta; and a dense Mexican-style chocolate pudding laced with a touch of cinnamon.

By the time our deliriously happy party of four stumbled out of Red Farm sometime past midnight, the crowds had dissipated.  And had there been any paparazzi lying in wait — perhaps for a solo Tom or Katie siting — they too had gone home for the night.

Red Farm
529 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014

RedFarm on Urbanspoon

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