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Jun 25, 2008 11:03 AM

Outstanding In The Field Review

I went to the Outstanding in the Field dinner last sunday night in Carpenteria. I had been reading not so good reviews from people who had gone a few weeks before, so I was getting a little nervous. I'm happy to report, I had a great time!

First I have to say that was plenty of wine and food to go around. The first course was served with the wine when you first arrive. Ours was fig and proscuitto bruschetta on rosemary bread. We had one when we first arrived, but later they walked around with platters serving the guests. The winery was Arcadian Winery and there served a nice light Chardonnay.

The event is not rushed, so relax and enjoy the atmosphere. I encourage you to bring a hat and wear sunscreen as we were in the sun quite a bit. Wear comfortable shoes and remember, you are on farm. There are flies and other insects and it can be dusty. We met the farmer,Romeo Coleman, took a little tour and then off to the table. It's true, people do get to the table first and set down their plates. By the time we got there, all the shade spots were gone and we were left in the blazing sun. No need to worry. They set up canopies, then took them away when the sun went down.

Second Course: This was served in little glasses. Pureed melon with shrimp. It was very refreshing. Served with more Chardonnay.

Third Course: Next was the salad served family style. We passed our plates to one guy in the center and he served us. This worked out well all evening and everybody got plenty. The salad was grilled duck breast with duck confit, strawberries and persian cucumbers. Served with a Pinor Noir that was my favorite of the evening. Very light.

Fourth Course: Roasted halibut with "pork palace" ham & mushroom risotto wrapped up in grape leaves and grilled. It was served with baby carrots and sugar snap peas. They were passing out seconds if anybody was interested. They served another Pinot with this, but it was a bit heavier, but quite good.

Fifth Course: Roasted & slow cooked pork with cavolo nero kale, roasted bermuda onions, blue peruvian potatoes, Santa Barbara olive and tomato relish. Just when you thought it was enough, they set down another platter of the same! Again, plenty of food. They served a Syrah with this course and it was perfect.

Sixth Course: Rinconada Dairy pozo tomme cheese with roasted pistachios. It was nice little course before dessert.

Dessert: Grilled honey glazed peach and cherry kabob with vanilla creme fraiche and grilled cinnamon brioche. Delightful end to a delightful dinner.

Was it the best meal I've ever eaten? No, but it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had under the stars. Was it worth $180? For me it was. Everyone's different. It's difficult to put a price on an experience. I would definitely go again in a heartbeat.

By the way, Jim Denevan was very accessible all evening and never "sold" the cookbook. There are books there to buy, but he was happy to sign the books we brought. It was fun to go inside the bus, it's so kitchy.

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    1. Thanks so much for writing about this experience.

      I'm eager to attend one of these dinners, butam looking for that perfect combo of location, featured winery and the time off to get there.

      Sounds like this was a great one; you lucked out with Arcadian. Definitely one of the best from the Central Coast.

      1. Thanks for the report - I've been curious and definitely want to check out the other writeups. I've been wanting to put together something like this in San Diego actually.

        1. We went to the Secret Cove event last weekend which was held in Santa Cruz. It was originally to be in Half Moon Bay but one week before they changed it to Santa Cruz, an additional 40 miles south. This was a big deal for us coming from Marin County and not planning on overnighting. The event was to begin at 3PM, we arrived at 2:45PM along with at least 20 other cars. There was a sign on the main road for Outstanding but nothing on the private road. It was all private homes. Finally someone appeared and opened a private gate. She told us we could park inside the gate and so 20 cars pile in and we follow the leader. The staff is yelling at us that we are parking in the wrong one to direct us to the proper parking spots. We park and we walk in but the sign in table in not ready for us yet. It's after 3PM. I'm not in a rush but at these prices I do believe it should have been more organized. OK, we get signed in, we have a glass of wine and we're meeting fabulous people and admiring the wonderful private beach and looking forward to a nice time. The hors doeuvres start to come up one platter at time with 140 people running for them. Every ten minutes another platter would arrive. We did not want to fight for food, so we stayed back. Now the staff is trying to gather us and tell us about the event. No one can hear them, they have no speaker system. We start off with the crowd and realize we can't hear a thing and decide to hang back at the beach. We are finally ready to be seated and the staff is trying to tell the guest the proper way to reach the table....NOPE it was a stampede to get to the best seats. Finally we are seated and the food begins to arrive. I wish I could remember what was served but I don't. I can say every course was fantastic but a bit skimpy. Each platter was to serve eight people and all eight of us wanted more.

          It was a lovely venue and I'm glad I went but I defintely wouldn't do it again.
          Hey Outstanding in the Field, you need more staff, more signage and organization.

          9 Replies
          1. re: superello

            We are fans of the Outstanding in the Field concept, but totally agree with your assessment about them needing better organization, especially at those prices. Had an amazing experience the first time (last year), but our second dinner with them (this year) was a lot like your experience. I informed them of our issues and they did respond very thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate our feedback. They do genuinely care, so you might want to consider sending them an email with your thoughts because I do believe they are trying to improve. They may not be reading Chowhound and I don't think they are soliciting feedback.

            Seems like they are experiencing the inevitable growing pains as they get more popular. Like you, I won't be going again, but I am rooting for them since it's such a good message they are trying to share.

            1. re: Shane Greenwood

              We just attended OIF and I would love to come here and rave about it but it really didn't come close to expectations. This was the Petaluma event and we experienced many of the same problems others mentioned here.

              THE GOOD
              -Great location.
              -Great company, there were 3 in our little group but everyone around us was fun and interesting.
              -Unique experience

              THE BAD
              -Not enough staff.
              -Not enough food. (were not big people or big eaters)
              -Not enough wine. (at these prices I never want to see the bottom of my glass)
              -The food presented was barely above fancy picnic food level and nothing I couldnt do myself. Im looking to be wowed by a great chef in a great setting.
              -NO COFFEE inexcusable I make killer espresso and coffee when im camping and this is far from that.
              -Give better directions esp. when your in a rural area.

              Would I go again? we decided no that we would take our collective $600 and go out to a guaranteed great dinner at one of our faves.

              1. re: mojowrkn

                I guess we were really fortunate in our experience. The wine never stopped flowing and I never felt like we were not being attended too and we were sitting at the very back of the table. For me it was an overall experience. Sure it had a few problems, but I'm sure it's not an easy dinner to pull off. I just hope as the dinners evolve, the reviews get better.

                1. re: mojowrkn

                  I really think the price point is the issue with them. At $200 a person, they are positioning themselves in the fine-dining category. That price is buying them a lot of expectations from us. There is no excuse for running out of food and wine.

                  1. re: mojowrkn

                    Sorry to hear about your disappointment; I hope the OITF folks get their act together and heed the feedback others are giving since they have a string of dinners for the rest of the year. It's hard to pull off something like this, but when they charge those prices, guests do expect more...

                    Per their website, was Nate Appleman the chef at your dinner? Can you elaborate on the menu? Who was the wine producer and how was the wine that you did sample? Thanks!

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      When I went in June, the chef was Traci des Jardins. The food that we had was very good, but there wasn't enough of it and there were massive delays between courses. I don't remember the winery, but it was a very small, local winery. The couple that runs it was very nice. Not all of the wine we were served came from their winery though. Because we were dining in a vineyard, they served us wine made by another winery that was made with those grapes.

                      1. re: Carb Lover

                        Hi just checking back in here. The wine we had from Philo ridge was good to excellent. I really liked the unoaked Card and the Pinot Noir was fantastic.

                        Regarding Nate Appleman yes he wa sthere and people at our table saw him cutting out early and commented to Jim about this.

                        I think those of you commenting on the price point are correct. At this price I don't expect to have to be forgiving about working out the kinks, it should run perfectly. I think OITF has come along way on the founders charisma but that they really need to step up the food and service.

                        1. re: mojowrkn

                          Thanks for some more details. Do the chefs cook all of the food on site, and do they have cooks to help them? Do they discuss the food...inspiration, ingredients, farm-to-table philosophy as it relates to their restaurants, etc.? Does anyone know if they get paid or is this purely donation?

                          1. re: Carb Lover

                            They cook everything on sight and they have a full staff. I'm sure they get paid, but don't know for a fact. The farmer, Romeo Coleman spoke about his farm, but the Chef did talk about food.We were at the very back of the table away from where the food was being prepared. You get a menu and it tells you what farms the food came from. I have a blog if you want to check it out with pictures.

                2. I wanted to let those of you who were unhappy with the dinners know that after a series of back and forth e-mails explaining our disappointments, we were refunded half of the cost of our dinners, which is what we had requested. As others have said, at these prices there shouldn't be kinks in the service or dinner.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: chow2chow

                    We were disappointed with our Sep. 18th, 2008 OitF farm dinner held near Washington, DC last week and have sent an email to them seeking a partial (1/2) refund - we certainly hope for the same response.
                    We still believe it is a wonderful concept, and that what they attempt to do every few days across the country for much of the year is certainly not easy, but there were many many simple mistakes made at our dinner.
                    The Washington Post has a brief article on the OinF dinner, but mainly on the local chef, in the Food section from 9/24/'08 that I posted a reply to explaining their miscues.

                    1. re: rcmo

                      Last night was my second Georgia OITF dinner. The dinner took place at the ATL History Center and the Chef was Scott Peacock. While I am not the biggest fan of Mr. Peacock (Watershed), I was absolutely enamored with my 1st OITF experience a few years ago, and returned this year with passionate faith. When we were told the dinner location (it was TBD when I bought tickets), the first red flag went up. When you are looking for a true farm-to-table experience, a museum setting isn't what you have in mind. That aside, we were really disappointed with the other experiential side of things - besides the Senior Muckety Muck of the Museum, no one spoke besides the OITF founder. No one talked about what we were eating, where the food came from, about the wines being poured...nada. I'm not sure the extent to which OITF relies on the local folks to pull things off (and maybe gets let down occasionally), but at $200 a head (an $800 investment for us -- we bought four tickets), you expect MUCH, much, much more. (Our first dinner was around $75 a head so we stepped up high this year to return.) (In fact, after, my husband and I joked that we could have gone to Berthelier's Dining Room - a 5 Mobil starry type place - for the same investment) Mr. Peacock reluctantly walked the table at the night's end by candlelight, when many of the participants had left for the night. (We had opted to engage Mr. Peacock earlier in the evening by the grill and, while shy, he shared some stuff about the meal, which I'm sure others might have found interesting...for example, the squash blossoms came from the squash that was served in the 3rd course)
                      In terms of the food, we had a lovely meal, albeit w/ succinct portions, and the wine flowed very freely.
                      FIRST COURSE: Squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese & Benton ham; muscadines & cherry tomatoes. Hand-passed through the crowd. Rose' was poured.
                      SECOND COURSE: Smoked zucchini and ? soup
                      Believe a Chardonnay was poured. (sorry too much wine....)
                      THIRD COURSE: Roasted pork, Pink-Eyed Peas and Squash Puree. Pinot Noir was poured. All very yummy. Peas rocked.
                      FOURTH COURSE: Salad (simple, butter like lettuce only) Red (a blend), I think was poured
                      FIFTH COURSE: Apple Crisp with a Cream (very yummy) No dessert wine :-( Or coffee
                      At the current price, I would be reluctant to return to another OITF event.
                      Big let down.

                      1. re: Dixie Belle

                        Dixie Belle - $800.00 - Ouch! Yes - it is understandable to expect more than what we got at these prices. We paid $380+ for two at the Wash. DC dinner. We didn't get a promised tour of the aqua farm, didn't have a chance to taste four of the dishes listed on the menu, the seafood - the basis of the meal on the Chesapeake Bay - was skimpy, and by the time we sat down at the table it was dark and we couldn't see what we were eating - I got a fork full of herbs and couldn't taste a thing for a few minutes. The wine (so-so) was certainly flowing though - I wonder if by design. The Wasington Post article implies much of the responsibility is put on the local chef/organizers. It's looking like what was a wonderful concept has been corrupted into what now is a money-making scam.
                        What was the time span between your 1st $75 OitF dinner and the recent $200 one - quite a mark-up? By the way - I have yet to receive a response from OitF crew. We will not be attending another Outstanding in the Field dinner and recommend others avoid the mistake.

                        1. re: rcmo

                          We went to the dinner (a day or so after the DC dinner) at Pawleys Island, SC. I was so disappointed/let down/upset that I wrote a scathing review here on chowhound.... which was pulled. In retrospect, I should've calmed down a bit before putting pen to paper (as it were).

                          This “once in a lifetime experience” that I had been anticipating since March, DID end up being a once in a lifetime experience, but unfortunately, not a good one. Our dinner was also not held at a farm, and like Dixie Belle said about the location of the dinner that she attended, that was kind of a disappointment. We also got no talks from anyone other than the founder of the dinners, (who told us that this was OSIF's 106th dinner) and the man that owned the property (his home) that the dinner where this dinner was being held. No talks from farmers, fishermen or even the chef.... the stand in chef. Right before we were asked to sit down, we were informed that the featured chef wasn't going to be there, but that he had sent his second.

                          After arriving, it was close to an hour before the "first course" appetizer was brought out. South Carolina Venison Rillettes - shredded venison on thinly sliced toasted bread. It was good, but unfortunately, there was only one lady bringing the platters of appetizers from the cooker to the table next to the wine set-up, and by the time she made it the distance, the appetizers were cold and the bread was almost soggy. One thing that FLOORED us was after bringing out several platters of the appetizers, three baskets of packaged flavored PORK RINDS were placed on the appetizer table. OK, local food WAS advertised, but pork rinds?

                          After we took our seats, it was at least 20 minutes before the first platters arrived with what was called "Lowcountry Creek Foragers Stew". It was shrimp, clams, tiny pieces of Silver Queen corn, smoked sausage and fingerling potatoes. It was good, nothing out of the ordinary, but good – the only thing was - when the platter was placed between two tables, the lady that served it said that this wasn't actually local food, but a representation of things that are served locally. What? Wasn’t this dinner all about the food being local?

                          It was a VERY long time before anything else was brought to the tables... another 45 minutes or so. In the meantime, more wine was poured. Out of 8 people at our table, half of them were non-drinkers, but no other beverages other than water were offered. The next course finally arrived - "Grilled Local Wahoo with Tomatoes and Okra". When the lady placed the platter on our table, she proudly announced that the Wahoo had been flown in fresh that morning from Georgia. Georgia??? Where was the LOCAL fare? Now, the Wahoo WAS wonderful - the tomatoes and okra, though, appeared to be canned.

                          Another 45 minutes passed - and this time we discovered why it was taking so long between courses. We happened to be seated facing the cooking/cleaning activity - and the chef was just standing by the cooking tables - there was no fire blazing in the outdoor cooker or grill, and no sign of anything being cooked. We weren't the only ones wondering what was going on. Finally we found out why there was such a lapse between courses - the platters that had been used for the previous course were carried from the outdoor dish-washing set-up over to the chef's serving table. The chef was WAITING FOR PLATTERS! For the price of these dinners, I'm thinking that OSIF sould pony up for another set of platters. Anyway, by the time this course arrived, the people seated across from us got up and left, saying that too much time had gone by and they "just weren't into it anymore". The "Lowcountry Pulled Pork BBQ, Carolina Slaw and Dixie Peas" resembled nothing I've ever eaten in any part of the south. The pork was very dry, there didn't seem to be any sauce whatsoever, and didn't appear that it had been seasoned at all. When a man seated next to us asked the server if there was any extra sauce, or even some hot sauce, he was told that it had all been used during the cooking. The Carolina Slaw was sliced cabbage - no dressing of any kind, no vinegar, no seasonings - just sliced cabbage. The Dixie Peas were crowder peas - and again, didn't appear to be seasoned with anything - salt or pepper included. After eating about half of what was on our plates, we scraped the remainder on to the plates of the couple that had left earlier, got up and left. We really didn’t have any desire to wait another 45 minutes for “Praline Cracklin’ Bacon Corncake with Brandied Figs Sorghum and Chantilly Cream”. We are FROM the area & this didn’t even sound appealing to us…

                          Other notable things about the dinner –

                          There was no bread or salad served with any of the courses. Either or both of these would’ve added substantially to the meal.

                          No salt or pepper shakers were on the tables, and none available.

                          The dishwashing set up – there was no running water, hot or cold, and no water replacements were brought to this set-up at any time during the entire event.

                          Please don't think that I have nothing positive to say - I routinely email restaurants and commend them on the service and tastiness of meals that we've enjoyed, so I do feel that I need to mention two women that truly were OUTSTANDING. Emily and Lauren (or maybe Laura - lots of background talking so I didn't catch the exact name)... Both were very nice, very friendly - and extremely hard working. I believe that they tried very hard to make this dinner a success, but unfortunately there needed to be a half dozen more workers like them. The timing of courses should’ve been perfected long before Dinner #106, and I think that this was one of the major complaints of the group.

                          I’ve since emailed several of the other participants, and I’m not alone in my opinions. One person told us, “You did not miss anything in the dessert. The Bacon Praline corn cake was dry and hard....the figs were really good and if you put enough brandy sauce and Chantilly cream on the corn cake it was OK.”

                          Another email I received said, “I was very disappointed on how unorganized the dinner was. ......was very full of himself, and they did not deliver what they advertised. We did not have the chef we were expecting, and the only person he introduced to us was the guy that made the pork skins, nice but no big deal. You are right, I had this very special meal and evening in mind, and it was a big letdown. Basically the food s…..ed!! If I had spent $50 dollars total for that meal I would have been [mad]!!! ............... I can't believe people drove and flew in from all over the country for that!!! Oh well, live and learn. Real South Carolina food has so much more to offer.”

                          I’ve emailed OSIF, but have yet to hear back from them. I also emailed the chef that was suppose to have been cooking for us that evening – after all – HIS name – and the name of HIS restaurant were attached to this dinner. As a former speciality dessert maker, I know that I would’ve wanted to know this information. Whether the email even made it to him is unknown.

                          And yet – even after all of this – I STILL think that this is a fantastic concept… that maybe has just lost sight of the original idea. I also realize that different chefs will make all the difference in the world between dinners. From everything I’ve read, the dinners DO seem to be a hit-or-miss thing.


                          1. re: rcmo

                            Hey, I have been MIA...but will now finally respond re: time between dinners. The $75/head evening was summer '06, so two years. It's so sad to read the repeated shortcomings. A beautiful concept is imploding. I do believe that the OITF crew relies hugely on the locals but when I pay $200/head, those issues should be THEIR issues - not mine.