Chef Greg Baxtrom and farmer Ian Rothman are bringing the “farm to table” concept to Prospect Heights, but for them, the distance between source and dish is much shorter. Opening Tuesday, Olmsted combines a seasonal menu with local ingredients — some as local as the restaurant’s backyard garden.
The pair originally met while working together at Manhattan culinary hot spot Atera — Baxtrom as a cook; Rothman as a horticulturist. The camaraderie between the two friends is easily palpable, and they’re continuing the same division of labor at their co-owned restaurant. “We met and just really enjoyed talking about food and agriculture, and how food and agriculture go together,” explains Baxtrom. “Everything on the menu is very thought-out — if it’s not from New York, there’s a reason for that.”
While Baxtrom’s experience is steeped in fine dining — he got his start at Alinea in Chicago before cutting his teeth in the kitchens of Per Se, Atera, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Lysverket — he was conscious about trying to keep the price points at Olmsted affordable, with a cap at around $24 for the food.
“What we’re trying to do is still have the same standards, but just provide it using our backgrounds — re-tweak it all so that we don’t have to charge as much, that it’s way more affordable,” he explained. That means creative ingredient sourcing, such as utilizing scallops that were broken from a perfect circle during the shucking process and featuring underutilized seafood on the menu, such as crayfish and dogfish.
For the past few months Baxtrom and Rothman, along with Baxtrom’s father, a professional carpenter, have been building out the entire restaurant space themselves. The narrow dining room is steeped in wood detailing, and includes a chef’s counter framed by farm wood salvaged from Baxtrom’s childhood home outside of Chicago, destroyed in a tornado a few years ago. A row of tables is situated underneath a “live wall” of green plants, which will eventually blanket the majority of the white brick wall.
The restaurant opens up into the backyard mini-farm, designed by Rothman, where guests can sit and enjoy drinks and small snacks next to a menagerie of plants — peas, lavender, wasabi, turnips and radishes. “We really wanted to showcase what a farm was,” explains Rothman, and theirs even features a small flock of quail.
While Olmsted is incorporating some of the plants into dishes and rinks, not everything in the garden is meant for consumption, at least in the traditional food sense. They hope to draw a subtle connecting line for their guests — a bathtub is home to crayfish; there are crayfish crackers on the menu. Fiddleheads grow on the periphery of the garden; the restaurant is featuring fried fiddleheads on its opening menu. “When you have fiddleheads here, you’re having a bowl of fiddleheads and you’re sitting next to fiddleheads,” says Baxtrom. “You’ll definitely know what a fiddlehead is when you leave.”
Or at least they hope so.
The name Olmsted is a tribute to the late Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who codesigned Central Park and Prospect Park a few blocks away. He likely would have approved of Baxtrom and Rothman’s lush urban oasis dining concept.
659 Vanderbilt Avenue