When a girl like me is offered an invitation to a five-course meal at an organic farm, she does not pass it up. When this five-course meal is not merely a five-course meal but also a farm tour and a mixer for organically minded San Diegans, she really does not pass it up. Re-creation of foodgasm, commence.
After a beautiful ride down from a lavender farm where I spent my early afternoon (what a day, right?), I was met with a glass of bubbly, complete with a blackberry, and a table full of some farm-grown and/or locally crafted appetizers. There was crusty bread with cheese, oil, and a pistachio lemon mint pesto. There were nectarines with a balsamic reduction and basil chiffonade. There were all sorts of pickled vegetables: spring onions in white vinegar, sharp dill pickles made with farm-grown cucumbers, and sweet ‘n sour daikon radish, undoubtedly the standout for me. The tables had zucchini blossom-basil centerpieces so I rounded out my premeal protomeal with some fresh, spicy, refreshing basil leaves. (That greenery in the background of the above picture is basil. I also got a giant basil plant as part of my organic veggie gift bag. So much basilllll.)
The appetizers were served in the barn, and the owners, Bill and Marsanne, gave a complete history of their operation and enlightened the 140 or so dinner guests about the organic process. We then went on a tour of the heirloom tomato plants, and Bill described the drip irrigation system. I was drip irrigating myself with an Oggie’s Light beer (San Diego brewed) which tasted pretty bad and got hot in two seconds from the direct sun so it tasted even worse.
The post-tour mingle sesh happened amidst mismatched furniture and tray-passed appetizers. This portion of the evening, above all, helped me realize that I all want in life is a farm with mismatched furniture and a consistent flow of tray-passed appetizers. Especially when “appetizers” indicates mini-martini glasses full of ice cold, creamy gazpacho with a drizzle of crème fraiche and a shrimp skewer and those fun little serving spoons layered with parnsip puree, pulled pork, and a ginger-glazed mushroom.
A short speech by an expert sommelier/motivational speaker preceded dinner. Draw your attention to the white ramekin full of avocado butter. I think my favorite bite of the entire day was a piece of bread from Hillcrest’s Bread and Cie bakery spread with this butter and topped with warm-from-the-sun, picked-that-morning heirloom tomato slices, tarragon oil, and red salt. I’m still trying to figure out what made the salt red, and once I do, I think I’ll create a little shrine and pray to it. They also had some roasted Marcona almonds on the table; I could eat hundreds of dollars of Marcona almonds.
I’d already pretty much eaten my fill, and dinner hadn’t even started. Luckily, the food was good enough that just when I thought I couldn’t eat a single bite more, the flavors would kick me in the ass and shout, “Buck up, chick, and open wide!”
The Summer Harvest Dinner Menu, and My Thoughts
Chef’s Choice, featuring Swiss Chard and Corn
The Chef’s Choice ended up being a piece of braised pork belly with blackberry caviar and swiss chard. The fattiness of the pork belly was cut by the tart berry and grounded with the earthy chard. To the best of my knowledge, this was my first experience with pork belly, and it was one good bite. There was no corn to be seen, but it wouldn’t have fit with the dish anyway.
Roasted Veggie and Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossom with Heirloom Tomatoes and Beets, Avocado Grapefruit Crudo, Mizuna and Farm Greens, and Roasted Spring Onion Cilantro Vinaigrette
Behold the most colorful cacophony I’ve ever eaten. The deep-fried squash blossom tasted like a savory zeppole, fried just long enough for the goat cheese to still be warm when the plate went down, but not oozing everywhere. Heirloom tomatoes are always welcome in my life, especially when the only dressing is salt and pepper. The roasted beets were yellow, red, pink, and perfectly cooked. They went well with some of the residual dressing from the oh-so-fresh greens. The avocado and grapefruit crudo was tasty but completely out of place, especially since Bill told us that all of the avocado and citrus trees burned down in the latest San Diego County fire. Besides not coming from the farm, the duo didn’t match the rest of the salad’s components at all.
Heirloom Tomato Ice with Dill Gelee, Farm Cucumber, and Pickled French Radish
That slice of heirloom tomato is not a slice of heirloom tomato but a slice-shaped portion of heirloom tomato granita. I made a strawberry granita last summer, and the process is as painless as it is rewarding. Freezing purees of tomato, strawberry, and other good granita options like lime and pineapple allows a time release experience of the otherwise intense flavors. The pairing of this granita with the cold cucumber, the pickled radish, and that vital sprig of cilantro created summah in mah mouf. Could’ve gone without the dill gelee. The texture got lost in the granita and the cilantro leaf overpowered its flavor.
Slow Roasted Wild Salmon Filet with Basil Whole Grain Mustard Crust and Corn Puree, Tri-Color Beet Risotto, Sauteed Zucchini-Ribbons and Confit Cherry Tomatoes
Perfectly cooked salmon is always appreciated. This hunk was juicy and flaky and excellent, and the pistachios in the crust complemented the basil and mustard seeds beautifully. I wish this plate just had the salmon, the tomatoes, and the squash ribbons. The risotto was supremely pretty but by the time it got to me, it was kind of cold, a temperature state that did not help its bland, dirty flavor. The corn puree was freezing and bad. These flavorless, textureless additions to an otherwise respectable plate knocked the wind out of the dinner’s sails for a minute, but thankfully the dessert duo helped redeem these blunders.
Mini Peach Pies with Honey Marscapone Crème Fraiche and Rosemary Syrup
Trifle with Almond Sherry Cake, Lemon Pastry Cream, and Blueberry Thyme Compote
I love desserts with savory herbs and savory dishes with dessert items. Challenge me, chefs, challenge me. The rosemary syrup was actually fully infused with the peaches, and the crust managed to stay crisp, light, and flavorful. The honey marscapone crème fraiche imparted a bit of sour onto the sweet, which definitely challenged my palate but won it over in the end. The winner of the dessert duo challenge, though, was the trifle. Topped with a brittle of caramel and finely chopped almonds, this dessert was three spoonfuls and several tongue lickings of sweetsie heaven. The almond cake was soaked in sherry, a dessert wine, and layered with the lemon pastry cream and the blueberry thyme compote. I can’t even describe the way it tasted because I ate it too fast. This was the kind of dessert I should have savored, but I failed. Sry.
So yea, that’s what I had for dinner last night.