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August 24, 2012

Grazing: A Fact-finding Mission to SoLo Farm & Table

Solo_eggplantIn the September 2012 issue of Bon Appetit, Andrew Knowlton anointed his "50 Best New Restaurant Nominees." One Vermont restaurant landed on the list: SoLo Farm & Table in South Londonderry.

Miles and mountain ranges mean that no one in our office had yet visited SoLo, despite heady rumors that have floated north. BA's nomination was a call to action. This week, with the gravest of intentions, I drove down, wandered into the restaurant's warren of rooms, and unfurled my napkin.

It's easy to get caught up in the Burlington restaurant scene and forget that southern Vermont is a magnet for urban chefs and eaters who co-create an eclectic, polished dining culture. So it is with SoLo, opened last summer by chef Wesley Genovart and his wife, Chloe — who both have some formidable NYC restaurant chops, including stints at Per Se and the running of the much-feted East Village restaurant Degustation. (For Chloe — originally from Vermont — SoLo is a sort of homecoming). 

Though chef Wesley hails from Spain and labels his own fare Mediterranean, many dishes at SoLo during my visit had an Asian sensibility — such as the moody soy-lime mignonette that punched up some delicate Cape Cod oysters. Gazpacho here was not just gazpacho, but a vegetal sea poured over a white bowl adorned with paper-thin radishes, cucumber, dill, tiny, pink flowers and crumbled, crispy jamon. It was like drinking an August garden, punctuated by crunchy nubs of fat and salt.

Artful, too, was a plate of spicy greens arranged with seared and tempuraed fresh zucchini, all of it cooled by a smear of fresh house ricotta and sweetened by a hint of grape reduction, half of a poached quail egg adding a top note of... well, fat.

The plates range from apps to "mid courses" to entreés, and it was so hard to decide between them. Among the mid-sized plates — which ranged from $24 to $25 — I caved to shards of pink rabbit confit atop floppy, housemade pappardelle, blended with more of that house ricotta, hen-of-the-wood mushrooms and what appeared to be edamame. The Maine lobster atop a lobster risotto was so fresh it wanted to walk off the plate, though the risotto itself was a touch undercooked — the only misstep we encountered.

At this point I had no room left. No. Room. Left. Still, here came the sturgeon — a moist, seared hunk of fish on which the server poured a warm "fish fumé" — a briny broth with Japanese undertones. And my quail — two tiny birds broken into tinier pieces — was herb-crusted and glistening with brown sear and juice, bristling against a hillock of bright green, herb-laden quinoa. It was earthy in the extreme, but still managed to be light. "Some people who come in here, it's all they order," said our server. 

The wine list, both glass and bottle, is eclectic and excellent; so, too, is the all-American beer and cider list, but we didn't make it that far. We floated from fish and quail to an almost caramelized bread pudding alongside sharp, palate-cleansing grapefruit sorbet. Sips of strong coffee were a little unwelcome after a two-hour-long float through a sea of broth, flesh, flowers and brine.

SoLo didn't make the final cut of Bon Appetit's 10-best list, losing out to restos from Brooklyn, Portland, D.C. and San Francisco. More for us? Save your pennies and tread the miles; you won't regret it.

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