Farmhouse Kitchen Thai is Chef Kasem “Pop” Saengsawang’s third restaurant, which he co-owns with his wife, and his first venture into the Mission. The family also co-owns Kitchen Story (Castro) and Blackwood (Marina), both of which include Asian influences in their dishes, but Farmhouse is their only fully Thai restaurant.
It is touted as an authentic yet modern take on the food of the Saengsawangs’ homeland. The space itself is contemporary, playful, with Thai street food dining accents. Thai pop music plays very loudly in the spacious, hip, brightly colored dining room, adding to the cacophony of the young, predominantly Asian crowd we encountered on a Saturday night. There is a real kitschy sensibility, on their website, and on the videos that play in the restaurant at the front counter (on an old Singer sewing machine) and outside the bathroom door. Farmhouse appears to draw its crowds from the neighborhood’s techie residents. There are long shared tables as well as two-seaters which are set pretty close to each other. Don’t come here to have a quiet, private conversation! The vibe here is joyful and vibrant, as demonstrated by the servers’ tropical beachwear.
The menu seemed authentic (i.e., in this context, not Americanized and/or at least not serving only the standards we’re used to) but the results on our first visit were mixed. Everything was a little sweet, and nothing was quite spicy enough for me, even after availing myself of their caddy of hot sauces and pickled and dried peppers.
The meal started with their house-made take on kimchi.
Just a little complimentary snack to whet your appetite. The cabbage was sweet and sour and a good start.
We over-ordered (surprise), as I was eager to try a few different new-to-me items. The BF is a sausage fiend, so I was hoping he’d like the Sai Oua – a Southern Thai sausage of pork, herbs, spices, galangal, lemongrass, and curry paste.
They were served with fresh ginger and peanuts, and I loved them. Aggressively spiced, but not hot, I was sure the BF would too. Alas, I found the one sausage on the planet he did not want to devour (too perfume-y for him), and I had to finish them off myself – cry me a Mekong River!
To his credit, the BF ordered our next appetizer as part of his recent attempt to be more adventurous with seafood (as in, actually have some).
Fried, fat, crispy prawns were perched on a bed of a lime, tamarind, peanut, sesame, shallot, ginger, coconut, peanut concoction. The condiment was delicious, but sweet – it needed a kick of something tart or salty – and the prawns themselves were actually bland. Too bad, this looked like a very promising dish.
We ordered a bowl of tom kha, as it’s one of our measures of any Thai restaurant.
Farmhouse’s was a bit too sweet, and not very nuanced. What we love about this soup is the array of flavors in every spoonful. Here, there were no pinging notes of lemongrass, galangal, no heat… and it was full of almost too much chicken. An odd complaint, but the broth, for us, is key to this beloved dish. Not many mushrooms, either. I added heaping teaspoons of their dried chili to give it some kick
Next, I ordered the Khan Toke Set
This dish bewildered me. I had expected a myriad of little dishes served alongside Thai sticky rice. Instead, the entrée consisted of a rather blah curry broth (no coconut milk) with a giant beef short rib sticking out of it, sticky rice, and one little condiment at its side (tomato/chili jam with ground pork – which was very tasty), along with some cabbage, cukes, fat asparagus, and half a hard-boiled egg. This was probably our least favorite dish and we took most of it home to see if we could doctor it up.
Our next choice was the best thing we had all night.
Farmhouse Thai’s fried rice with pork belly ($4.00 extra), off their Street Food menu. It was absolutely delicious, so eggy and flavorful, sweet with onion, the rice just the right amount of chewy. The pork belly was unfortunately rather dry – a sin to do to pork belly – but the dish overall was killer. By the time we got it we were so full that most of it came home with us – a happy circumstance.
For our second visit, we went on a weeknight, to see if that would help with the noise level.
No such luck! First of all, they’re never not busy, it appears, and even with a reservation, you end up waiting at the front register for your table for a good amount of time. Not horrible, but not ideal.
We started out this time with the papaya salad (som tam) – in the “classic style”, with dried shrimp and peanuts.
It’s listed on the menu as “Spicy”, but our server asked us if we wanted it medium or very spicy. “Very, please!” HOLY HELL’s FURY! I’ve never had an Asian restaurant of any kind give us anything near what we asked for in terms of heat. I like it hot, and this was nose-dripping, eye-watering, reaching-for-water-when-you-know-it-doesn’t-help-but-yeah-I’m-going-back-in-for-another-bite HOT. Wonderfully so, bracingly so, invigoratingly so. The dish had a good amount of funkiness to it, too, and bright crunchiness. Loved it and would get it again in a heartbeat.
And, because I needed something soothing, and because I saw it on the table next to us, I had to order the blue rice…
Its official name is Blue Flower Rice, and it derives its azure hue from the Thai pea flower, but it tastes just like plain rice, no better, no worse. It served its purpose, however, in cooling off my mouth.
As I mentioned before, the tables are pretty close together, so I couldn’t help but notice the people to my left had ordered pad thai.
But quite unlike any pad thai I’d seen before. First, there were these gorgeous charred prawns perched on top, and you could smell the smokiness a mile away (or, right next to me, in this case). Second, the noodles weren’t the usual flat wide ones typical of the dish, but thin round ones. They were a little sticky, and chewy, and just wonderful. Lovely bits of egg were tossed into them, along with fat chunks of sweet shrimp, crispy shrimp chips, and crunchy sprouts. The dish was, again, a little sweeter than I’m used to, but since I still had blisters in my mouth from the killer papaya salad, it was quite welcome. Alongside were two sauces – a green minty/cilantro one with chilies, fish sauce and garlic, and a more familiar one to me, a chili/garlic sauce with citrus. The green sauce reminded me a bit of a cilantro chutney, but much more assertive, and was simply addictive.
The BF got the 24-hour beef soup because I’d heard great things about it and wanted to try it (he’s so accommodating sometimes!).
I believe they use the same short rib as the one that came in our khan toke set on our first visit. The soup was excellent. The broth was so deeply beef flavored, owing to the veal stock, and deliciously 5-spice-y. And again, a great, chewy texture to the noodles (though some of them were stuck together when they brought the bowl out, but they loosened up in the hot broth.) A beautifully homey dish I’d eat again and again.
Finally, I spotted a young man carrying two buckets slung over a pole on her shoulders, and wooden bowls, and she looped her way around the tables, offering something to the guests. Interest piqued, I asked what she was selling.
Taro and pumpkin rolls – rather like crispy egg rolls stuffed with creamy pumpkin or taro, and glazed with a sweet syrup and chopped peanuts. I saw people ordering 5-6 at a time, but I asked if I could have just one. “You just want to try one?” “Yes please!” But I didn’t know he was offering it up as a gift! Scrumptious, and very nice of them. The servers here are all exceptionally warm and friendly, and especially knowledgeable about the food they serve, a quality I really appreciate, as I always have a lot of questions about the ingredients.
I am so glad we came back. Where we left after our first visit saying we didn’t know if we’d necessarily come back, we left this time saying we needed to come back and try other dishes. Loud or not. Good to know I can quit being a crab and enjoy!
710 Florida St. (at 19th Street)
San Francisco, CA 94110