First Look: Urban Farmer

Last year we said goodbye to a Philadelphia institution and a standard bearer of fine dining, The Fountain at the Four Seasons. Now, there’s a new kid in town. Urban Farmer Steakhouse opened a month ago in the historic restaurant space in what is now The Logan hotel. Just as Avance was always compared to Le Bec Fin, so too will Urban Farmer be compared to The Fountain, and the two are very, very different dining experiences.

Where The Fountain was formal, Urban Farmer is casual. The walls are hung with folk art, the Edison bulbs glow in abundance, a wall of pickle jars twinkles, and staff in twee outfits of gingham with heavy canvas aprons beam big smiles. A neon “fresh meat” sign above the kitchen glows red, and another in the dining room is a sunny yellow reminder that “life is better on the farm.”

But for all the pickle jars and pleasantries, there’s a bit of a disconnect in what Urban Farmer might be in Portland, Oregon or Cleveland, Ohio (where its other two locations hunker), and what it is in Philadelphia. In towns where farm-to-table dining restaurants are the rule rather then the exception (see Philadelphia’s Kensington Quarters, Russet, The Farm and The Fisherman, Talula’s Garden, Pumpkin, and countless others) the question of what, exactly, Urban Farmer is bringing to the table remains.

For one thing, Urban Farmer is definitely bringing the beef. Billing itself as “a modern steakhouse,” you can expect steakhouse standards jazzed up with the trendy ingredients. Chilled shrimp with cucumber and tomato vinaigrette has the flavors of a re-imagined shrimp cocktail; a white anchovy Caesar salad will surprise nobody, and on the heavy side of the menu there’s meat, meat, and meat. Pork tenderloin with poached pear, Arctic char with crispy leeks in bacon broth, and beef in abundance. Choose from New York strip, beef tenderloin, ribeye, and optional additions like candied bacon or a stack of maple-mustard glazed marrow bones. Though there is a grass-fed beef option (from Tallgrass in Oregon) and a Pennsylvania beef option (grain-fed 1855 Beef), most of what you’ll see on the meat menu is fairly commercial, despite the restaurant’s “Pennsylvania proud” branding. As with any good steakhouse though there are also vegetable sides in abundance: brussels sprouts with pear puree, maple and ginger roasted squash, and creamed spinach gratin, some of which may have even been locally sourced.

In this way, Urban Farmer is attempting to walk a line between steakhouse swagger and casual comfort. It has a way to go to reach a level of polish appropriate to that address in both service and sourcing, but it’s a new year and it’s anybody’s guess what the new standard bearers of Philly fine dining will be.

Urban Farmer [f8b8z]