Increasingly, the most fascinating restaurants are those that don’t pursue a well-worn formula. A case in point is Faro, opened in early May near the Jefferson stop on the L train. Since the early days of Northeast Kingdom, this neighborhood’s been the one to watch in Bushwick. Faro is named using a creative spelling of an heirloom grain that has been re-popularized lately. A cousin of wheat comprising several wild species, farro was prized by the ancient Romans. Faro’s unusual formula emphasizes heirloom grains; a wood-burning oven; seasonal produce, boutique meats, and local seafood cooked in that oven; and a supreme dominance of pastas. Take that, carb haters! A few secondi fill out the menu, making the place seem a little more Italian, though it really isn’t. Let’s call it an Italo-hipster hybrid.
The chef is Kevin Adey, a veteran of Northeast Kingdom and hence a neighborhood pioneer, and his spouse Debbie Adey, who runs the front the house. Burly, bearded, and tattooed, the chef is seen nightly with his head in the pasta-boiling station — from which clouds of steam billow — in the open kitchen at the end of the dining room. This former sculpture storage space for MoMa is characterized by high ceilings, lots of tables, and a circumferential banquette. There’s a long bar in front, at which you can eat in an orange glow as the sun sets on the murals, metal recycling depots, artists’ lofts, and small manufacturing facilities in the immediate area.
Faro opened with a bang in early May with a dish that set jaded tongues wagging (and lapping) — sweet pea porridge ($11). Hey, isn’t porridge reserved for invalids, children, and Scotsmen? As the dish sailed in, the appearance was striking: a mass of white foamy whey seething atop a fine-textured brown gruel, with a ring of glinting olive oil splashed around the edges. Dipping down into the depths one pulled up bright green peas like some unidentified swamp plant. The porridge was mellow, the peas almost unspeakably sweet, and the whole thing mind-bogglingly good.
The six starters swapped around as spring sped into summer. Now the peas are sadly gone, to be replaced in the porridge by curls of summer squash and a fried squash blossom, offering one of summer’s best crunches. A cold soup of creamed red peppers soon became an even better soup of pureed sweet corn, with delicate fronds of fennel and a tracery of herb oil on top. The wood-burning oven often sees service where vegetables are concerned. Delicate charred asparagus debuted in late spring well-buttered and tossed with crabmeat; Faro is certainly not a place that fears dairy.
One of the best apps, available throughout, has been fire-roasted beets with pistachio pesto resting on a bed of creamed goat cheese ($13). You may have thought yourself tired of beets, but this dish is further amplified with a boiled egg cut in perfect quarters and thin slices of raw-beet carpaccio. I’d pick this any day of the week over the restaurant’s beef tartare, which, despite its zany pickled mustard seeds and shards of crouton, is a bit dull and dry tasting.
On to the eight pastas, which are the heart and soul of Faro. While many of them evoke Italian models, they are unique things onto themselves. The squid ink calamarati ($17) sees the chef playing a little joke. The recipe deploys a pasta shaped like squid rings, and actual squid ink generates its glossy midnight hue. But it uses no actual squid. The ink makes the pasta richer, an effect that’s goosed up by a sauce of curried coconut milk. We are already in nutsy pasta territory here, but a half lobster tail and claw flopped on top makes the dish even more surreal — it’s a pasta Salvatore Dali might have invented.
Equally unusual is a generous serving of Roman gnocchi — which turns out to be spongy planks more like polenta — tangled like some ancient ruin with swiss chard. Gnudi are more like pasta than naked ricotta dumplings, as they usually are, and come with wonderful soft green chickpeas the likes of which you’ve probably never seen before. Nevertheless, my favorite pasta strove to be more conventional: a miniature cavatelli mixed with pork ragout in pureed ricotta and parsley, which lent a strange greenness to the dish.
With pastas so important, the four secondi ($20 each) seem like an afterthought, a sop to patrons who treat protein as the center of attention. Over the last two months, this section has contained duck breast, octopus, scallops, and monkfish, all fired up in the oven. Best is the so-called Murray Gray strip loin, which doesn’t bother to identify the meat — maybe you’re expected to know. Indeed, flip the menu over and read, "At Faro we are proud to serve meat from Tim Haw’s farm, Autumns Harvest. Their pastured, heritage breed animals go beyond organic and are also certified animal welfare approved."
As it turns out Murray Grey is a cattle breed developed to be drought resistant in New South Wales, Australia, in 1905. The sliced steak at Faro is garnet red, slightly smoky, and tender without being fatty. Really, it’s one of the best steaks in Brooklyn, and it’s nice to consider that you’ll still be able to get it even if New York turns dry like California. Perish the thought.
Cost: Dinner for two including shared app, shared pasta, and shared secondo, plus two glasses of wine, and tax but not tip, $80.
Sample dishes: Fire-roasted beets, multi-grain porridge with zucchini, bucatini with chicken confit, wood-fired octopus.
What to drink: Cocktails ($12) include Charo’s kick, featuring tequila, mezcal, and orgeat, for a nice smoky and citric flavor; wine-wise, there’s a good nebbiolo rose at $12 a glass, a bargain-priced bottle of prosecco at $28, and bottles of Cotes du Rhone and Dolcetto D’Alba at $42 and $46, respectively, the latter particularly distinguished
Bonus tip: The dessert list is slender, but often includes a bread pudding with just a hint of sweetness, one time with chocolate, one time without; it makes a great shared finish to a meal (though one might almost better eat it as an app).