Farm Dinners are the stuff of foodie fantasy: meeting the hardworking farmers who grow our food, watching chefs who carefully craft mouth-watering meals out of the farm fresh ingredients, communing with fellow lovers of locally grown and artfully prepared goodness, and dining in the nearby field. When done right, such a night can be truly magical.
Outstanding In The Field (OITF) is a traveling farm dinner company that has been journeying around the country in a snazzy red and white bus, setting up lovely dinners on equally lovely farms. After beginning their farm dinner series in California in May, they had made their way to the East Coast, and to Allandale Farm in Brookline, MA. Allandale is the only remaining commercial farm within the city of Boston, and is still owned by the same family that started it three generations ago. OITF invites a chef to prepare the multi-course meal and Allandale’s culinary artist was local celebrity chef Tony Maws, of Craigie on Main.
Local Pickins began our night with OTIF and Allandale with a round of delicious cocktails and tasty hors d’oeuvres, sitting outside at a big table alongside a pasture of clucking chickens – which made for lovely dinner companions. We felt residual guilt toward our feathered friends, luckily they were not actually dinner because Allandale raises strictly egg layers, no meat birds. Next, servers passed out fresh lobster salad perched on a cucumber slice “crostini”, along with a cousa squash puree dolloped sweetly atop a sesame chip. Trillium was pouring two types of beer, as well as a crisp hard apple cider for those who preferred it.
After cocktail hour, Katy and Jim of OITF welcomed us, and Allandale’s General Manager, John Lee, provided guests with a farm tour. On our tour, we witnessed a hawk swooping into the pasture just inches above the chickens, shortly after we had been given an explanation about natural predators and pests. Thankfully for the faint-hearted among us, it was a swing and a miss for the hawk, who did not swoop away with a chicken, and those hens did not give him the opportunity to try again -they immediately high-tailed it for the safety of the coop! Close call.
After our lovely walk around the farm, OITF revealed the table set up for the evening: all 154 attendees would be seated at one long, winding, tablecloth draped table. It was a mesmerizing and beautiful sight.
Retrieving plates brought from home, or borrowing one from a separate collection, we then chose our seats for the service to begin. Each course included a wine pairing and was served family style, ensuring you will meet your table-mates at some point (and quickly become friends, oohing and aahing over every course.)
This event was all about partnerships, and another local farm, Kimball Fruit Farm, provided some of the fresh bounty of produce throughout the dinner, including the beans, tomatoes and succulent fruit. Kimball owners Carl and Marie took the time to walk around during dinner, visiting with guests and answering questions, which added to the wonderfully personal ambiance of this spectacular night.
When the first course was identified as a salad, you may think, “What’s to get excited about? It’s a salad.” Well it was one incredible salad! Loaded with heirloom tomatoes, radishes, beans, edible zucchini blossoms and a dressing worthy of plate-scraping.
Next arrived the seafood course, served with crusty bread. Grilled and braised local swordfish with squid ink pasta and lobster broth. Simply delicious. The fish was perfectly cooked and thank goodness for the bread because that lobster broth was not to be wasted.
Then the came the meat. Grilled pork two ways, ribs and neck, with homemade slaw. There may have been some talk at our table about the mental block of eating a pig neck, however, once tasted, the protein was quickly devoured.
The finale, dessert…or should I say desserts!
The first was boozy peaches (made boozy with sparkling wine) from Kimball Farm, with Iggy’s bread and Rawson Brook Farm chevre. This chevre was so light, fluffy and delicious, we couldn’t get enough of it. Divine!
And the next thing we knew, the Craigie team set homemade biscuits with Kimball berries and whipped cream flavored with thyme and lemon upon the table. The look of surprise and smiles that crept across people’s faces gave the look of “Are you serious? There’s more!” Even then we weren’t quite finished: Tony Maws appeared with extra whipped cream and our plates were immediately up in the air, begging for seconds.
As the sun set, the staff set candles on the table, creating a warm summer glow. A few more speeches thanking everyone for coming and we were on our way, full, happy and making a mental note to ensure we signed up for the OITF newsletter so as to not miss any future dinners that come our way. Note to self…Sign up for summer 2014!