Friday, April 24, 2009

Dinner Scouting

Outstanding in the Field preseason planning involves plenty of farm and restaurant visits. Last weekend we headed South in perfect spring weather to Southern California to check 2009 and 2010 dinner sites, meet chefs and get some needed time outside of the office. First stop on our road trip: a visit to Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen in Santa Monica to sample seasonal dishes from our Wattles Farm dinner guest chef Evan Funke. Chef Evan greeted us and soon several courses were served. Spring in Southern California does bring a lot of fresh produce to the table. Owner Josh Loeb has put together an encyclopedic wine list with almost everything you would ever want. We sipped a Red Car Wine syrah and loved every dish. Red Car will be pouring their wine at our sold out October 10 dinner at Wattles Farm in Hollywood.

The next day we boarded a ferry to Catalina Island. An Outstanding friend Hollace Rice alerted us to the possibility of a Catalina dinner. We weren't able to put it all together for 2009 as island dinners requires a bit more time and a lot more planning. A tour of the island and meeting the islanders would give us what we need for a well-planned 2010 event. When we arrived we met Gregg and girlfriend Sana who would be our guides to the island. Gregg owns the Hotel Metropole which became our home base for the next few days. Gregg and Sana are excited to bring Outstanding in the Field to the island and make room for Outstanding guests at the hotel. What amazing guides they were! We saw ALL of the island: beautiful coves, ranches, vineyards, buffalo, fishing piers, foxes, mountain top vistas- even an unexpected vintage Flxible tour bus! We had enough experiences to fill a book, but here are some pictures to give you an idea. We hope to see you on the island next year.

A Flxible- on Catalina Island!

Guess we won't have to bring our own bus

One of the many beautiful coves around Catalina Island

Leah sporting her new Catalina gear

Where the buffalo roam...

Jim at the Rusack Ranch

Vineyard at the Rusack Ranch

Paso Robles Wine Country

After our busy but relaxing weekend on Catalina we grabbed the late ferry to Long Beach and started the drive to Paso Robles. The next day we made our way to Windrose to see our farmer friends Bill and Barbara Spencer and meet up with guest chef Chris Kobayashi of Artisan Restaurant. Chef Chris was honored this year with a James Beard Award Nomination for Best Chef: Pacific Region. We're very excited to have Chris at the Outstanding table. Chris arrived with his wife Shandi and their boy Cooper and soon we were tromping around the field with Bill Spencer. Farmer Bill showed us his dozens of apple varieties, the young potato plants, cover crops and myriad other farm curiosities. Bill provided us with a really cool map of where all of the goodies would be growing at the time of the dinner. Chef Chris, map in hand, went about thoughtfully planning the menu. Jim spied our table site; an ancient sheltering oak with enough shade to cool all the diners. We are looking forward to an amazing feast!

Out in the field with Chef Chris Kobayashi and Farmer Bill Spencer

Our proposed table site- in the shade of the old oak tree

A Different Kind of Farm

What a location! Our long table will be perched on a cliff overlooking crashing waves and endless vistas. When we arrived we soaked in the views and poked around looking for our host. We soon found Bradley Buckley of The Abalone Farm and enjoyed a thorough tour of the grounds, learning everything about abalone - very fascinating! Bradley is the perfect tour guide: knowledgable, interested and charming. Our enthusiastic guest chef and Outstanding event veteran Deborah Scarborough of Black Cat Bistro is so excited she's already written most of the menu which of course revolves around our key ingredient: abalone.

Ocean view at The Abalone Farm

Leah and Brad working out some details

Brad showing the young abalone

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