860 W. Washington Street, Mission Hills
Farm-to-table may be getting stale as a concept, but I for one sincerely hope the American tendency to become dismissive of cultural trends once they become overly familiar doesn't stop new restaurants from going the locovore route. Mission Hills got a new "farm-to-fork" eatery this December with the opening of Farmer's Bottega, which offers a California take on breakfast and Mediterranean through the rest of the day.
I dropped in for dinner after the Bottega had been open a couple weeks, and immediately noticed the décor matched the restaurant's buzzwordy name. Edison bulbs glowed softly from within wrought iron chandeliers overhead, while a vintage sewing machine table served as a hostess stand up front. In general terms I'd call it a date-friendly atmosphere catering to a high minded, wine-loving crowd. In other words, pretty well suited to its pick of neighborhood.
I started with the bread and "jars" as an appetizer. You get the choice of two for eight bucks, including a Fresno chile hummus and Tunisian olive tapenade. I opted for the eggplant caponata and heirloom tomato chutney with burrata. Neither were quite as smooth and spreadable as I'm accustomed to from starters served in mason jars, but the chunky concoctions shared a flavorful lightness that left my palate feeling refreshed and my stomach ready for more.
That lightness continued with a terrific watermelon salad, dressed with a lemon vinaigrette over arugula, feta and caramelized pecans. I typically never think of watermelon as a winter fruit, but I suppose this being Southern California we don't get so caught up in the concept of seasons.
Things got a little heavier when the oxtail ravioli came out. No harm in that — if a pasta dish didn't fill me up I'd probably find reason to gripe. A light drizzling of olive oil, goat cheese, and sautéed cherry tomato kept it bright, though I'd actually hoped for a bit more pungency from the meat. I enjoyed it, but wondered if I might have preferred the duck ragout gnocchi as a pasta option (sounds good, right?).
For dessert we hit a bit of a gray area in the farm-to-table ethos. The Julian apple pie was just that — pie driven in from Julian. In my heart I know the odds a Mission Hills restaurant would outdo a tried and true pie-making specialist are slim, but intellectually I was a bit disappointed it wasn't made from scratch on the premises (they wouldn't tell me exactly which Julian apple pie company they sourced, though I have a guess).