RedFarm Continues West Village Dominance

RedFarm turns away hundreds of hungry would-be diners every night. Many of these people return, not only because that which is hard-to-get is all the more enticing, but because the guy they meet upon entering that automatic sliding door up front will assure them that the place wants them to get in – if not today, some other day – for sure: absolutely. So, they come back. This guy is Ed Schoenfeld. He’s a co-owner and brain behind RedFarm, and he personally wants you to come to his restaurant eat a lot, and leave happy. Regulars are welcome.

The place is popular, and rightly so: the look is fresh, crisp, and bright, and everything that comes out of the kitchen is quite beautiful to behold (the Pac Man dumplings are on the side of humor). There are two communal tables in a T shape along the front and down the center of the restaurant, with two 4-seat booths to the right and three 2-seat booths to the left. The bar at the back of the compact dining room seats three. It’s tight, but the location is of the perfect sort of West Village charm. Schoenfeld added that the building is protected as a historic landmark, so there was not very much they could do to the actual structure. They took out the wall where the door is and moved it 18 inches out into the hallway to accommodate larger booths. Being elbow-to-elbow with others in New York on the is not generally pleasant, but at a communal table, with everyone eating the saucy, fresh gems of Joe Ng’s kitchen, it’s quite a treat (and you never know who you’ll meet).

If you’re a private person, you might have to wait for a booth. “As you can see, we have 42 seats, and we don’t rush anybody out. So, oftentimes we’ll fill up when we open -all at once- and the people who arrive after, at like 6, will have to wait quite awhile for a table.” It’s New York real estate: that’s the nature of the place, and there’s no rule book.

They don’t take “reservations.” The reserved seats are for friends and lovers, family and the media, artists, musicians, suits of influence- there’s nothing carefully calculated and much of the arrangement is about the owner’s curiosity: what will they think of the place? Of the food? What will they say? Who do they know. Past the reserved seats, the spots that are left fill up on a first-come, first-served basis. The system obviously has its kinks and quandaries. Schoenfeld explained that people will call and, often politely, explain that they have not been seated after -as in one real example from last Wednesday- 113 tries, or so. He enjoys accommodating the people who can’t seem to get a break upon arrival. Schoenfeld chuckled as he described the situation; he’s part businessman, and part social psychologist. Rest assured that Schoenfeld does not want to seat people who are, as he put it, “pissed off.” He stated that he would “rather tell a guy to f*ck-off and get out, than seat an angry customer, [because] they won’t come back- and we want people to come back.” Offending customers is absolutely not the game: “We’re very egalitarian, here.”

What Schoenfeld has calculated over the past decade is the concept behind RedFarm. When asked about the name of the place, he explained that the words “red” and “farm” are sort of generic, which was exactly the idea, because they won’t expire or turn narrow- they will grow, expand, but remain a name of the brand. “‘Red,’ you know, sort of brings to mind China. ‘Red’ meant communist for my generation, but for yours it’s something different- not just one thing. And ‘farm’ is, of course, where our products come from.” Originally, Schoenfeld was looking to start a delivery service. His vision was to “open up a branded market for delivery that would have better, fresher products” than what was available for most restaurants at the time. One day, there will be a product brand, but the branding started with RedFarm, the restaurant.

In an interview from December 2011, Schoenfeld described RedFarm as “completely inauthentic,” and, in the same breath, predicted that it would the “the best Chinese restaurant in the United States.” And now? Clearly, the “barn-y” setting is a sought after retreat from common space, and the food has a way of making mouths water (when that automatic door slid open, breathing in made me hungry). The food has a clean, super fresh bite.

Now, here’s a thing of sheer delight: I was prepared for smallish plates of beautiful food, but RedFarm is not that kind of dining experience; far from it, in fact. The entrees were suitable for a family of four (the petite family of four to our left took home leftovers). The small, sleek Japanese plates were consistently (with excellent timing) replaced when new dishes were brought to the table. The menu is not traditional, but inspired by a practical sense of movement in the food world: people want variety and a blend of flavors. Why wait an hour (or, in many cases, weeks…) to eat what you could order in? While Schoenberg did say that RedFarm will begin a take-out service, this is anything but traditional “New York Style” Chinese food. You don’t have to order steamed broccoli to quell the sodium-filled pork- the sauteed garlic snowpea leaves will do a fine job of balancing the marinated rib steak and sauteed lobster. One could make a satisfying meal of the appetizers and dim sum, but I highly recommend trying one of the hearty big dishes- you can’t go wrong. I mean that- everything was just right, and I gobbled down a good third of the menu.

TOP PICKS

Spicy crispy beef with root veggie chips: addictive, actually. Not a drop was left in the bowl.

Sauteed lobster, egg and chopped pork: Decadent, unpretentious lobster lovin’.

Duck and Fuji apple wraps: Pure heaven.

Pan-fried pork buns in spicy sauce: Delicious little bites of happy sauce.

Absolutely any of the dumplings!: Nom freely on the soupy ones, in particular.

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REDFARM @ 529 Hudson Street, NYC 10014 // (212) 792-9700

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