Thursday, September 25, 2014

Agricola, Princeton New Jersey

Midsummer I had the opportunity to lunch at Agricola, a relatively new farm-to-table restaurant in Princeton, NJ.


I'm not generally a fan of farm-to-table, as it is the restaurant manifestation of the humane meat myth, i.e., bullshit that makes people feel better about doing the wrong thing.  To that end, I give you exhibit A:

Might I remind Michael Pollan, champion of making people feel better about eating animals as long as it's after 6:00pm [correction: I'm getting Mark Bittman confused with Michael Pollan here #samedifference #notvegan (thanks, food feud!)], of two things:
  1. animals don't come from plants
  2. the alternative to eating things from a plant is to simply eat plants.
But, I digress.  If you're detecting my animosity, I should share that the first blogpost that appeared on the Agricola website in anticipation of their opening had a picture of a happy (live) chicken with vague references to what their food would be like.  So vague, in fact, that many people- myself included, left comments asking if the restaurant would be vegan and/or vegetarian.  They never addressed the inquiries in the time I was checking back and have since removed the comments from the site entirely.  I'm not saying they have to be a vegan restaurant, I'm just saying that I'm not the only person who equates smiling chickens to living chickens that are not at risk of being killed for food.

But, I digress again.  I was in the area and decided to see just what a farm to table restaurant could offer a vegan.

The cheery sign outside was not an indication of the greeting we received once inside; there was a confusing delineation between the bar hostess and the dining room hostess, which for us meant that since we were hoping to eat in the dining room, the bar hostess stood silently facing us while averting her eyes as we waited uncomfortably for our designated hostess.

Thankfully, our waitress was a gem from the get-go.  And I'm not just saying that because she recommended these fantastic drinks.  Left: blackberry bramble with greenhook gin, blackberry liqueur, blackberries, lemon.  Right: watermelon cooler with nj rum, watermelon, lime, mint.

Or because the dining room boasts pickling in action.

As it was the only vegan appetizer on offer, we went ahead and ordered the pickled and fermented vegetable plate to share, which was comically presented when the runner mis-identified most of the readily identifiable vegetables on the plate and even boasted some (celery?) that wasn't there at all.  It is a particular pet-peeve of mine when upscale restaurants do not staff appropriately, but this was a relatively minor foul.

We enjoyed, but it was missing the wow-factor- both in taste and presentation.

The drinks were generously liquored and at this point I was feeling a bit too woozy for mid-day.  I'm not sure why, but we had to specifically ask for bread even though the station was right behind us.  Is bread-upon-request a thing?

For lunch, I started with the carrot soup.  The waitress told us that their soups are usually vegan but to always alert the server because sometimes there is a creme fraiche garnish or some such that can be easily left off.  I make a mean carrot soup myself, but I still have to admit that this one was outstanding.

To accompany my soup, I chose the market salad, which was described as "whatever the farmer brings."  The possibilities seemed endless since I was seated facing the current offerings posted as swiss chard, leek, zucchini, chloggia beet, arugula, black prince tomato, french fingerling potato, kohlrabi, turnip, toscano kale, breakfast radish, black cherry tomato, fennel, curly kale, and brandywine tomato!

Yet somehow I was served an extremely small, relatively pathetic salad of romaine, with a few paper-thin slices of radish, 2-3 string beans, jicama, and beet.  Farm to table failure at it's finest.

Not pictured is VM's vegetarian flatbread, which she seemed to enjoy.

I asked about vegan desserts and they had some fruity sorbet that fell under the category of N.I.

On the plus side, there were these innovative light fixtures made of overturned crystal vases.

And these interesting decorations dividing the otherwise communal tables.

Removing the ridiculous way "farm-to-table" establishments have capitalized on the humane myth, I do think that Agricola has potential for vegans; but, the first step would be to welcome them by offering explicitly identified vegan items on the menu- and to make them impressive (i.e. not a sad, limp salad in a shallow, diner-like bowl).  Let us all keep in mind that a farm is not just a place to imagine your food leading a happy life up until meeting its demise to satisfy your selfish palate; it is also, ideally, where one would find land lush with veggies. 


  1. Sorry but aside from the drinks and soup that sounds like a really lame meal. What was that sad tablespoon each of pickled veggies plate about?? And that sad sad salad is like a bad joke! I've had a better salad from stupid panera.....!

    1. "Stupid panera" lol; just don't eat their duck feather bagels!

  2. My thoughts exactly on farm to table. I love when your otherwise "smart" friend tells you how they "don't eat much meat," but when they do, they get "humanely killed" meat. I can't. Also, what do I always say about princeton?!?! haha. We have Jersey Kinship.

    1. What do you always say? Is it that it's a boojie vegan wasteland? Cuz you'd be right!!!

    2. Haha I always say its good for two things, independent movies and vegan sorbet and nothing else. It is exactly as you described!

  3. Like a self-parody. You would have eaten better getting Soup and Salad at Whole Foods.

    1. Truth. And for A LOT less money. But, alas: no booze.

  4. I think you are spot on with your digressions! Even before I stopped eating meat, it really wasn't important to me or anything I craved. When people tell me they can't live without it, but make sure to buy "grass fed"" or whatever trendy label it is these days - I look at them, and I'm alive, not hungry, and have great bloodwork. And all of those "grass fed" animals I don't eat, are happily still eating grass.

    The beverage looks like the best part of the meal, and the carrot soup sounds tasty!

    1. I was never a big meat eater either, but I recognize that dead is dead! Also, what's with the trend of people wondering why vegans would want to eat meat substitutes? Veganism is about compassion, not taste buds.

  5. Agree and agree. I do think Farm to Table stuff is important, but more important when paired with veganism. maybe you are thinking of mark bittman with the Vegan Before 6 thing, though? Not than michael pollan is much different, or better.
    The soup looks good and the salad very sad. Wonder where all the rest of those vegetables went.

    1. THANK YOU! In my mind they're kinda the same person, but thanks for letting me clarify. Seriously: WHERE DID THEY GO? Just a big gimmick.


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