Agricola in Princeton

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The advent of farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants have brought food sourcing to the forefront of Americans’ consciousness, with the farmers market movement already serving a broader purpose. More pressure is put on grocery and other fast-food segments of the industry as people begin to look for fresh food in their everyday dining options. And in that vein, the “highlight” dining experience of my birthday celebrations back in July was at Agricola, a farm-to-table restaurant in Princeton that uses fresh local ingredients from their very own Great Road Farm as well as from other neighboring providers. In Latin, “Agricola” means “farmer” which embodies their farm to table spirit and their dedication to community and comfort.

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Agricola runs the gamut from enormous flatbreads made in the wood-­burning oven that are perfect for sharing—and we did, ordering the Shibumi Farm’s Mushroom Flatbread with oregano, great road farm egg, chili flakes, parmigiano-reggiano—to the impressive entrées, such as the impeccably tender and crisp NY State Duck “Two Ways” (serves two) over faro and turnips with cherry gastrique for textural contrast and color. While it is not a BYOB, we ordered a bottle of French Cotes de Rhone that went fabulously well with the complimentary basket of crusty bread.

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Although we did not choose seafood, the choices include a fun starter, crispy Atlantic cod fritters, said to be as addictive as french fries. A green olive/fennel tapanade bringing a visually compelling arctic char dish to life. Vegetarians are well considered here, with a wild mushroom stew that includes farro, kale, sunchokes and the slight sting of harissa, a north African pepper paste. But keep in mind that the menu changes often depending on the season and the available produce and meats.

Creating the magic that appears on the plates is executive chef and partner Josh Thomsen and Manlee Siu, his chef de cuisine. Before working at Agricola, Mr. Thomsen, cooked under Thomas Keller at the renowned French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., and Michael Mina in Las Vegas.

Back in 2005, while out in California for Russ’ sister’s wedding, we were fortunate to have a photo of us taken outside the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and then visiting the organic farm of the Jacobsen Orchard, the supplier of fresh produce for the restaurant. The highlight of the trip was the amazingly fresh lunch composed of just-picked fruits and vegetables from their garden, prepared by Peter Jacobsen and his wife Gwen in the outdoor kitchen.

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Above are pictured the Jacobsen Orchard and Peter tending to his organic garden.

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Russ, Lynn, David and Dan at the French Laundry in September 2005.

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Dan and Dave Hartman helping Peter Jacobsen cook our organic lunch al fresco at Jacobsen Orchard in September 2005.

NOTE: having worked at Mercer County Community College for 30 years, it makes me proud that Agricola is supporting MCCC’s Culinary Arts Program with scholarship money for deserving culinary students who demonstrate a combination of passion, creativity, and academic achievement.

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