Farmers + Distillers brings quantity, but not service, to DC's Chinatown
PHOTO: Farmers + Distillers' Ribeye (c) Sery Kim
Left mostly untouched in the explosive growth of restaurants in D.C.’s golden triangle of Mt. Vernon, Shaw and Bloomingdale is the awkwardly monikered Chinatown which has a decided dearth of Chinese restaurants or shops. With a few notable exceptions – Del Campo and Daikaya Izakaya to be exact – it’s just so much easier to head towards 7th Street for Kinship, Metier, The Dabney and The Columbia Room for top-quality drinks. Also, for those who don’t really understand the grid of D.C.’s official Chinatown (that would be me), D.C. considers the apex of Chinatown to be a ridiculous arch at 7th and H street. This Wiki map is slightly more helpful, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown_(Washington,_D.C.)#/media/File:WDC_chinatown.png, however, it still doesn’t help hungry folks looking for a great bite to eat.
Perhaps the lack of options is the reason why the entry of Farmers + Distillers has been so heralded by friends and foodies alike. I have, literally, heard nothing but breathless gasps of "How good the food is (insert exclamation point)!" and "How much you will enjoy it Sery." But after a recent weeknight visit to Farmers + Distillers I would have to say it is the desperation for food, rather than the service, which would lead anyone to come and visit.
Farmers + Distillers is the third of three restaurants owned by Mike Vucurevich and Dan Simons, the other two being Georgetown's brunch hotspot Farmers, Fishers Bakers and the Downtown power lunch spot Founding Farmers. This third restaurant was brought to life in conjunction with the more than 42,000 farmers that make up North Dakota Farmers Union, led by Mark Watne, Vucurevich and Simons' farmer partner.
PHOTO: A "Whimsical" Cocktail (c) Sery Kim
Upon entering the restaurant, the fairly cavernous space was absolutely packed on a Tuesday night. I attributed this to the primacy of the location, within walking distance to Mount Vernon Square and Chinatown Metro stop, yet it was notable how few tourists actually seemed to be in the space and instead was filled with the typical DC types in their typically ugly and ill-fitting suits. The entire bar was full, the main dining room was full and the bar dining area was full so, if I were feeling charitable, I would say the restaurant did not have the staff to manage the expectations of the diners. However, I am not feeling charitable because my entire dining service experience was a fail.
I dressed down for the occasion because, when I find myself at a "touristy" restaurant, I like to see how I am judged by my appearance. At Farmers + Distillers, I was severely judged. No one smiled at me. No one greeted me. I was barely tolerated before I was seated in the bustling bar dining area rather than the main dining area, despite the fact I had a reservation. In fact, my waitress did not greet me with a smile either. Then, on top of this extreme casualness, I had to wait 30 -- count it THIRTY -- minutes before I received a single drink, including water. In fact, I think if I did not remind the waitress I had a drink not once but twice, I would never have received my drink.
Perhaps it would have been better not to receive it as my "Whimsical" Cocktail was not very tasty at all. Lacking any discernible taste, neither sweet nor salty nor savory, the Constitution Royale Whimsical Cocktail (FF Gin, infused with blueberry, chamomile & ginger, FS blueberry bitters, lemon, Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut) was bland. An additional fault was also in the presentation as the drink did not come prepared but instead I had to self-prepare it at the table.
If I wanted to self-prepare anything, I would have stayed at home.
PHOTO: Donut dessert and the best apple pie in the city (c) Sery Kim
The only redeeming grace about the restaurant was the food itself. Covering a range of options, everything from pizza to salads to sandwiches to steaks to British food and to Chinese food (noting the heritage of the area), Farmers + Distillers delivers when it comes to the food. I very much enjoyed my perfectly cooked Ribeye which arrived oozing with flavor and so gentle to cut. It was evident to me how organic the ingredients in the food were -- owning to the moniker of the restaurant as well as the strong farm partnership -- and the strong vegetarian section of the menu revealed beautiful food as well.
I can't really say a whole lot about the food because the server failed to bring any of our appetizers. REALLY. How terrible is the service are Farmers + Distillers?!? It's truly that terrible.
As for dessert (always my favorite part of the menu) it goes without saying, as the above photo caption notes, how delicious I found the Apple Pie. I don't even like pies and I enjoyed the Farmers + Distillers' pie immensely for its flaky density. Now, many in D.C. love the charm of the Blue Duck Tavern Apple Pie; however, I can say without equivocation, the Farmers + Distillers one is vastly superior in texture, taste, density as well as in its presentation. Truly a delight.
Now, if only the restaurant could get the service and cocktails up to speed, I think I would return -- or even recommend a return -- to the restaurant. Until then, you have been forewarned. Head to Farmers + Distillers for a tasty, comfort meal but definitely know the service will be bad.