by James | What James Had for Dinner
About two months ago I got an email that tickets for the "North American Tour" of Outstanding In The Field dinners were about to go on sale. I waited by my computer until the appointed time arrived and bought two tickets for a "farm dinner" at an undisclosed location in Marin County.
Outstanding In The Field is the brainchild of former chef Jim Denevan. The dinner events pair a host farm or ranch and a guest chef who, using ingredients so local they are sometimes grown inches from where the table is set in one of the farm's fields, create a multi-course dinner for more than 100 people seated at one long, long, long table. Their mission, says OITF's website, " is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it."
Our chef was to be Thomas McNaughton from Flour and Water in San Francisco. Perhaps I haven't been paying as much attention as usual but I hadn't heard of chef McNaughton or his restaurant, but the idea of a food adventure in beautiful West Marin was just to much to resist. James and I started to plan a food-centric get-a-way.
After we bought the tickets we were told that the dinner would be held at Devil's Gulch Ranch in Nicasio. Devil's Gulch grows pigs, sheep, chickens, and rabbits (they are well known for their rabbits served at Chez Panisse among other high-end restaurants) along with about 14 acres of wine grapes. James and I, by sheer coincidence had actually visited the ranch before. But enough back story -- bring on the dinner!
As guests arrived a very busy kitchen team turned out these lovely little toasts as appetizers. Pork and rabbit rillettes with pickled carrot, green garlic aioli and peppercress and rabbit paté with seared rabbit loin and cherry. I've been reading up Chef McNaughton and found that he prides himself on using the entire animal and his restaurant makes a variety of salamis and cured meats. James and I usually shy away from rabbit but this, well, as they say -- when in Rome, or in this case when on the ranch . . . besides the rillettes, a potted as opposed to cured meat, were honestly one of the best things I ate all night.
Before sitting down we had a short tour of the farm and met these future rillettes. Devil's Gulch allows their pigs to graze and finishes the meat on bread, milk, and grains instead of the more commercially popular corn mix."I don't believe in the other white meat," said Mark Pasternak, Devil's Gulch's owner, on our tour explaining that he preferred pork with plenty of fat.
Rabbit terrine with shaved spring vegetables. This was a very lemony terrine and at first bite I wasn't sure I liked it. But it quickly grew on me with every taste next to the crisp purple carrots, colorful radishes, and vibrant green English peas. I think this was James' favorite dish of the night. He loves licorice (that's how I show James I love him -- I let him eat licorice -- I HATE it -- anywhere near me) and the hint of tarragon in the vegetables really won him over.
Grilled Salinas Valley asparagus, taggiasca olives, agretti, sea beans, tuna conserva and pancetta vinaigrette. I'm not a big fan of tuna. When I read this entry on the menu I can't say I was excited, even though I love asparagus and olives. But this -- to me -- was the best dish of the night. The thin slices of tuna were meaty and super moist, the olives, sea beans (an ingredient I've only seen on top chef and had never eaten before, also called sea asparagus) and agretti (another sea vegetable I was told at the dinner -- no one at our table knew what they were. I have since learned both agretti (also called Roscano or saltwort) and sea beans are intertidal plants that grow, not as seaweed in deep water, but in salt water and brackish marshes) added a very delicate hint of salt to the grassy, butter asparagus while the creamy sauce, spiked with tender bits of pancetta, enhanced the flavors of each ingredient while making the dish much more than a sum of it's parts. So delicious our little family style table section asked for seconds.
The pork entree came out on two separate platters the first was a mix of sausages, pork belly, and roast cuts served with spring shallots, wild ramps, and a ragù of fresh garbanzo beans followed by a platter of gently cooked pork leg.
Damn the modern days -- I ran out of battery power before I snapped a picture of dessert. It was lovely and fresh strawberries in a lemon verbena syrup served alongside Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc with a hazelnut and black pepper tuille -- I'm gonna try that one at home.
Devil's Gulch Ranch
A diversified family farm located in Nicasio, Marin County, within California’s North Coast region, produces rabbits, pigs, sheep, premium wine grapes and asparagus for retail customers and direct sales to high-quality restaurants. Sustainable, humane agricultural practices are utilized, organic whenever possible.
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