Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Farrago - a mess of a restaurant

Farrago admits that it a mess of a restaurant. Its website explains that Farrago is a "medley, a confused mixture, jumble, hodgpodge [sic.]."

Aesthetically, this midtown restaurant is a metaphor for a problem so many restaurants have. There is no signature cooking style, except for the absence of a signature style. There is no real innovation. Diversity? Multicultural flavors and styles? Farrago has many. But it doesn't take those diverse styles and make them its own.

Farrago makes an interesting contrast with the nearby REEF. REEF'S dishes are influenced by many different world cuisines, but the chef incorporates world cooking styles and ingredients as an inspiration for new creations. In contrast, Farrago doesn't build on world cuisines. It just appropriates them and throws them together.

It is hard to construct a coherent meal at Farrago. The varied cooking styles include Thai (pad thai), Mexican (tamales), Italian (pizzas, cioppino), Carribean (jerked chicken wings), New Mexican (posole), French (goat cheese brulee), Lebanese (hummus and tabouleh), Vietnamese (Vietnamese Salad), British (fish 'n chips). Just try to find a wine that matches all the different dishes at your table.

Yet something about Farrago is goofy and fun. And a few dishes are outstanding. I keep returning for their posole, the best I have found in Houston. It is a wonderful, thick stew of hominy, pork, and green chiles served with some flavorful grilled bread. It is just difficult to find an appetizer that goes well with it.

On my last visit, I started with curried mussels. Their preparation is much like French bistro-style mussels, but with the addition of curry powder and coconut milk. The flavors in this Thai/French fusion dish were bold, even if the some of the mussels were no bigger than a large pea. My favorite part was mopping up the curry/coconut milk with the Texas toast-styled grilled bread.

I also had tuna tacos, served with rare blocks of tuna, nappa cabbage, and a wasabi sauce served Cuban style with black beans and white rice. The raw tuna was a bit chewy, and did not quite taste sushi grade. Plus the wasabi sauce was a bit runny and sloppy. But the flavors in this Mexican/Japanese/Cuban dish were good, if not quite coherent.

Many of Farrago's dishes are a reasonable approximation of the original ethnic dish. For instance, the pad thai is fairly good. But I can name a number of Thai restaurants that make it better. So if I am in the mood for Thai food, why go to Farrago when I can get the real thing?

The reason I, like so many people, go to Farrago is indecision. Sometimes I don't know what I want. Particularly with a group, it may be hard to please everyone. Except at Farrago. On this crazy menu, everyone will ultimately find something they like.

As a result of its incoherence and lack of true innovation, Farrago will never be one of the top tier restaurants in Houston. Yet there always will be a place in Houston for this wonderful mess of a restaurant.


Unknown said...

hm.. i've never heard of Farrago until now.. but i guess the idea of a mis-mashed menu of sorts is could be a plus when my indecisive friends want to go out to eat.

oh and i finally wrote my take on indika

Anonymous said...

Farrago is a great restaurant due to it's fusion style. I've never had an item off the menu that didnt taste great. You cant go wrong. Their brunch is also great on Sundays.

Brian Dominic Duron said...

the food is good. not great. i do agree that the message is a bit unclear. has potential but needs a real identity. here's a question for you, do you know of a restaurant that serves "rattlesnake"? Bizarre question, I know, but I'm on a quest and a dare.

anonymouseater said...

Rattlesnake? You can usually get it at Hudson's on the Bend in Austin. I don't remember seeing it on any menu in Houston.

Anonymous said...

The food of Farrago a couple of years ago may have been noteworthy but as with most restaurants they are now lacking in flavor. Sunday brunch is the worst. I had the spinach goat cheese pizza and it came out cold and soggy. Their mimosas are watered down to say the least. The only reason i would go on sunday is to people watch. It would definitely not be for the food that Farrago's has to offer. You would be better off going across the street to Cyclone Anaya for brunch. It's much cleaner and more pleasant.

Albert Nurick / HTownChowDown.com said...

I agree that Farrago is unfocused, but that is part of its charm. And let's be honest; most Houstonians aren't food purists. They just want tasty, and Farrago delivers.

I also think they may have the best upscale burger in town. If you're a burgerphile, give it a try.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me your "fairly good" pad thai was better than mine. Ordered the dish this weekend and it arrived with SPAGHETTI NOODLES!?!?!? Absolutely horrid.

anonymouseater said...

Spaghetti noodles for pad thai? What a terrible idea. It has been so long since I had pad thai at Farrago, that I don't remember the noodles. Yet it is the sort of food faux pas that I would remember. Surely they have changed the recipe.

Thanks for the warning.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry I had a less than pleasant experience last Satruday.
I did not pay heed to the fact while other such establishments in the vicinity were having patrons spilled and on to, and waiting in the streets, this place was desolate.
Next thing when we entered, a party was led off to the table but no one returned or came forth to accost us.
Even more pathetic was the nonchalant greeting by an employee who could not be placed either as a waiter, cook, chef, bus boy, (maitre de?) after a while.
The owner must be writing off his losses or waitng for the place to run down.
Hey in these days of Madeoff, anything and everything is strange and possible!