On a recent Saturday night, I could hardly wait to get to Princeton to dine at Harrington Farm. Friends and family have recommended it to me for years but somehow I had never managed to get there. The website recommends reservations, so I made one for two at 8pm. We arrived a few minutes late after having a bit of trouble navigating the country roads of Princeton and following the small signs to the Farm in the dark. Upon entering the dining entrance (they also have a function hall for weddings), I was surprised to find that we were the only guests for dinner. The hostess, who was also our server, greeted us and offered us our choice of table. We chose one in a small side room which completed the mood I was hoping for with a fireplace, candles, and soft music. The dining area of The Farm is a series of charming rooms on the first floor of what used to be a farm house.
First we ordered cocktails, my husband a Gibson and I a Manhattan. The server brought a Gimlet instead, took it back to be corrected, but then returned to relay that they had no cocktail onions (the trademark of a Gibson). Hubby settled for olives and we toasted to our date night out. We perused the menu and were impressed with the use of fresh ingredients and herbs, as well as the creative preparations of many dishes. We made our appetizer selection of the two offerings that night (the menu changes daily), but then were told they were out of it. After the drink episode and then being out of the appetizer, the server seemed a bit flustered but we all smiled and moved on.
I am not a big fan of banana, but I took the servers suggestion and ordered the banana gnocchi with toasted walnut molasses jus and vanilla foam. My husband ordered the lobster corn chowder with chili oil and tarragon. Hubby has perfected his own lobster bisque and therefore is always curious of others’ preparations. We were celebrating the anniversary of our first date (yes, we’re total romantics), so we ordered two glasses of champagne to accompany our appetizers. The champagne was a bit flat, but we find this happens more than we’d like when ordering bubbly by the glass. I was pleasantly surprised by the banana gnocchi – it was light with just a touch of caramelized banana flavor. The vanilla foam was both classy and whimsical. I was delighted that I was adventurous with this dish as it was not something I typically would have chosen. The lobster corn chowder was equally delicious, the chili oil and tarragon adding a complex combination of flavors.
For our next course we both enjoyed the hearts of romaine salad. I love salad of all kinds, the more unusual the better, and I am always a sucker for homemade dressing. This was one of my favorite salads in recent months. The crisp romaine hearts were tossed with shaved pecorino, spicy croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers and a homemade buttermilk dressing. My favorite part being the crispy fried onion strings set atop the salad which were both tasty and fun. By this point in our meal, our server had settled in to having us as guests and everything was going just fine. She was just the right amount of attentive – leaving us alone to enjoy the romantic dining experience but right there if we needed anything.
Despite the fact that we regularly enjoy lamb at home, we were both drawn to the herb and mustard crusted New Zealand rack of lamb for our entrees. We also typically have a rule against ordering the same thing, but on this occasion decided to break that rule. We had so much interest and confidence in the Chef now that we wanted to try his version of lamb. The attractive presentation included a full rack of fancy Frenched chops accompanied by fondant potatoes and snap peas, with a mustard jus emulsion sauce. As many times as we have had lamb, we absolutely loved this dish. The meat was perfectly cooked to medium-rare with a tangy, sweet mustard crust. We savored every last bite, accompanied by a Pinot Noir, all the while still enjoying the quiet dining room, candle light and music.
As if we had not eaten enough, no fine meal is complete without dessert. Relying again upon the recommendation of our server, we decided to share the chef special dessert of the evening which was a fancy puff pastry layered with maple sauce, nuts, honey and warm gooey sweetness. Also not something I would normally have chosen (I usually go the way of chocolate to end my meal), but I was delighted that I was adventurous a second time. It was the perfect ending to our superb meal.
My husband and I are amateur chefs and so it’s only fair to say that we can be tough critics when we dine out. At the same time, because we are “foodies”, we can appreciate an unusual preparation, a secret ingredient, or a taste that is challenging to our taste buds to figure out. Chef/Owner John Bomba has clearly mastered his craft and created a very special gastronomic experience at The Harrington Farm. And he doesn’t even want to keep secrets. During our meal I raved to our server about the mustard emulsion that was served with the lamb, and the next thing I know she came out of the kitchen with a handwritten recipe for it. That was a personal touch I was surely not expecting!
I was very sorry for this meal and evening to come to an end. I was even sorrier that there was no one else there enjoying this special place on this particular Saturday night. The next time you are looking for a special night out, I hope you will think of The Harrington Farm. I promise that you will not be disappointed.
by Michelle Taupier – Lantern Restaurant Reviewer