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The Platonic Ideal

L.A.'s newest cult item? I nominate the French fries at the new Farmshop in the Brentwood Country Mart, where they are arranged like flowers in an exquisite little vase, and they cost 10 dollars and 50 cents, which is a lot for a serving that is not much bigger than a small order at the McDonald's far down the street.

Are the fries truffled? Fried in house-rendered goose fat? Served with 25-year-old Modena vinegar as a dipping sauce? They are not. They are cut from potatoes grown by Weiser, who is one of the best farmers in the state, and they are served with a tiny vial of housemade green-tomato catsup, which is probably the best non–Heinz catsup it has ever been my pleasure to taste, but they do not scream of what you may consider luxury.

What they are, slender shoestrings cut with what I imagine is a mathematically exact square cross-section, is no less than the platonic ideal of French fries, perfectly light and perfectly crisp, salted with nanobot precision, tasting slightly but distinctly of themselves, with an exactitude probably sufficient to tell Alex Weiser on which corner of his fields these specific potatoes were grown. If these French fries were wine, they would probably be a Grands Echezeaux. For some things, perhaps, $10.50 may even be a little cheap.

Of course, for all that, Farmshop is just a regular restaurant, a big, airy space in what used to be City Bakery, with a bakery counter up front, a big trade in croissants in the morning and a clientele that looks as if it barely eats anything, much less French fries. The chef is Jeffrey Circiello, an alumnus of the Thomas Keller empire, and the restaurant eventually will expand to include a market, wine shop and butcher counter.

For now, it exists to serve exquisite light breakfasts and lunches, much of it, including the Dungeness crab salad and the apple galette, tending toward the bland. (While the waitress confessed that the sandwich of housemade pastrami was inspired by Circiello's Jewish grandmother, we're pretty sure that Bubbe didn't garnish her sandwich with braised kale.) But the fried artichoke salad? Astonishing — crisp yet juicy, arranged on the plate with milky burrata cheese, half-moons of herb-roasted squash and a barbed-wire frieze of baby chicories.

FARMSHOP: In the Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 566-2400. Open daily, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. AE, MC, V. Takeout. Lot parking. Starters $4.50 to $13.50; salads $14-$19.50; sandwiches $14.50-$19.50.

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