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Outstanding in the Field

If anyone is planning to attend an Outstanding in the Field event this year, it would be a good idea to bring a sandwich and a bottle of wine just in case your experience is like ours. We were looking forward to a delightful evening of local produce and other fresh food, accompanied by wine pairings--this was how previous dinners had been described on the website and here on Chowhound--and I am sure that past dinners have been excellent. We left disappointed and hungry.

Here's what we got for $200 per person:

A beautiful setting--a vineyard on a hill.

On arrival at 4 p.m, 1/2 glass of a chilled, crisp Riesling. At 5 p.m., platters of sliced salami and mortadella were set out. We had one slice each of 3 meats on a paper thin cracker. We didn't take more because there were 140 people crowding around one table, and we didn't realize that this was the "first course".

We then had a nice presentation from the rancher, who led all of us to see his pigs. He didn't talk about the pigs once we got there, but we all looked at them.

We sat down for dinner and after 1/2 hour we were served (family style for each eight diners, so we had to politely share and not be greedy or someone else wouldn't get anything-- I'm describing one portion):

(2nd course) A delicious crostini: fava beans, pea sprouts on a 1/2 slice of bread. Enough salad greens for us to get about 8 small leaves per person. Accompanied by 1/2 glass of lovely Chardonnay.

(3rd course) A nicely grilled portion of lamb, about 2 ounces once trimmed of fat. No sauce, no salt or pepper available. 1/8th of a coil of lamb sausage (the coil was scored so we'd know where to cut it in the eight pieces) Served on a few veggies--my share was 2 cherry tomatoes and a spoonful of corn. Accompanied by a 1/2 glass of Pinot Noir for 6 of us--they ran out. Later, after we requested more wine, we got more Reisling.

(4th course) A berry tart served with cream chantilly. We loved the tart. Our group didn't finish all the tart we were served. When one of the staff came to take it, we said, "No, we're not done!" and she said she had to take it because others hadn't gotten any yet.

We also had bread and butter. No coffee or tea.

There were 140 diners at $200 each, and we were given tiny portions of meat, almost no vegetables, and the feeling was of scarcity, not abundance. I had thought we'd be talking about sustainable agriculture or CSAs, but there were no presentations.

Oh, they sold cookbooks.

I do not recommend!

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  1. Where does this event take place?

    1. Well, I'm not sure you'll read this, since you've only posted once, but I went to a different event a couple days ago and had a better time, but with certain similarities. We arrived at four, had riesling and crostini up on a hill near the bus. I only had one, but most people had several, as well as refills of the wine. It was fun to peek into the bus, but this part of the event did go on for too long and, yes, they plugged their cookbook, as well as his art. I got the sense that they really love what they do and have more fun than anyone else there!

      After that, we walked down to look at the oil press and were given 20 mins in the gift shop (!) I spent the time watching a lizard outside. Then we had a tour of the olive grove. I found the farmer very interesting, unfortunately not everyone participated. Some people walked up to the table early and grabbed the "good" seats near the head of the table. We were about two thirds of the way down and since they start serving at both ends, they ran out of stuff before they got to us and were slow about coming back with more. Also, we couldn't always hear the speech-ifying. However, the general manager sat next to me and he was fun to talk to. It is a bit like a high school cafeteria, though, wondering -- will anyone sit next to me?

      As a starter we each got one oyster. Very yummy, but only one....

      Then a huge salad. Nice, but I could do the same at home if I had the same top-notch ingredients. Lots of wonderful bread, but I felt that I was filling up on it.

      We also had lamb and it was very good. We passed our plates to a woman at the center of the table and she served. There was plenty, but by the time I got any it was pretty cold. Very cold, really. The place, between rows of olive trees, was absolutely beautiful and that made up for a lot. Oh, and the woman who served for us also walked down and grabbed a bottle of wine for us. I guess it helps to be assertive.

      Next, the cheese with marinated apricots was fabulous. More salad, too, but I was all salad-ed out by then.

      I liked the fact that they took away the dirty plates to wash and gave us the dessert on new plates -- no sharing. It was strawberry shortcake, also very good.

      By then we were pretty cold and the conversation on one side was about dogs and on the other about someone's trip to South Africa. So my SO and I played footsie under the table and watched the moonrise.

      We left around ten. So..we were there six hours... It was fun, but worth $200? Of course not. But I went mostly to have a strange new experience, and it was that... Good people-watching. Oh, and the whole tradition of the plates is silly. We were supposed to tell the story of the plate. "Um, Target.." And then everyone was digging around in the dark trying to find the right plates to take home. Again, kinda silly...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Glencora

        What's the plates part, do you bring your own plate with you to be served on?

        I went to something similar a few years ago, my company paid for it so I don't know how much the tickets were. The food was great, but I do remember the portions of everything being really small. The entree was about 2 oz of (local) beef, with a fingerling potato and a couple of veg. I think if I'd had to pay $200 I wouldn't have been thrilled.

      2. I was at that same event this past Sunday at the Devil's Gulch Ranch. This was our second OitF event. Sorry to say that this experience was quite disappointing compared to the previous event. You described everything perfectly in your post chow2chow. Another BIG PROBLEM, is that they charge $200 a person for a "5 course meal" (per the website), and yet they only served 4 courses! Also, there were no presentations by the folks who made or provided the food (which is also advertised on the website), aside from the rambling presentation by the farmer who told us more about how hard it is to find parts for his windmill than about the food. The celebrity chef (Traci De Jardins), never spoke to the group and seemed to cut out early. The guy who runs the show, Jim, actually shilled his new cookbook during the dinner. For $200 and one less course, we should have gotten then damn book for free at least. Our section of the table ran out of wine.

        This experience was a far cry from the one we went to last year which was magical. That was at Route 1 Farm near Santa Cruz. The farmer explained how he grows the food. Each of the people who brought food spoke about their methods and philosophies (Niman ranch, local salmon fisherman, local wine maker). The chef was a local guy who put on a fantastic, well-paced meal. That was what the event can be at it's best. So I guess this thing is hit and miss.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          We actually had six courses. I can see why you'd be annoyed with four. No excuse for that. And the farmers did talk about their produce, though we were too far away to hear all of it.

          1. re: Glencora

            A friend of mine was at the one you went to and also reported a much better experience than the dinner I had on Sunday night. I guess we can conclude that OitF is hit and miss. But at $200 a person, they have no excuse for inconsistency.

        2. I'm going on Sunday night to Carpenteria. I guess the big tip is to sit in the front or back of the table and to bring a "picnic" lunch to nosh on between courses. Maybe they need to scale down on how many reservations they can sell to comfortably serve their guests. I'm not expecting a meal like I had a Provence a while ago, but I am looking forward to a different eating experience.

          1. We had reservations for the one tonight in Soquel but canceled because it was 105F out and I thought we would broil without any shade. Decided to eat the loss (no pun intended). Then we found out that the route there was blocked by an active wildfire anyhow, so I guess it was not meant to be. I wonder if those who were unable to get there because of the fire got a refund. They say in the case of rain they find an indoor venue, but assume they mean rain of water droplets, not of cinders.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Saccade

              please let us know if you hear from them regarding a make good. I have been trying to reach them regarding their false claim to serve 5 courses when in fact they only served 4. I'm begining to suspect that once they have your money they are keeping it no matter what.

              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                I have posted my review on a new Outstanding in the Field Dinner post.
                Enjoy!

                1. re: Shane Greenwood

                  Haven't heard anything from them -- I wonder if many people made it to this event. As I said, we had pretty much decided not to go because of the weather anyhow (and I figured they would not offer a refund or rain check), but if we had been unable to get there because of the fire (and resulting traffic jam) I'm not sure what I would have expected.