An Outstanding Dinner in the City…Er, Field
A quiet Sunday in late August on a nondescript corner of Manhattan’s Alphabet City. The corner is walled by the branches of a decades-old willow tree and an array of urban flowers, and a sign sitting on the sidewalk reads “Farm Dinner.” A hundred-odd people have gathered for a dinner experience that has traversed the country and rests at this location for only two nights. The location is La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Community Garden, the chef is Josh Eden of Shorty’s 32 and the host is Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field.
Denevan and his Outstanding in the Field team travel the country in a bright red bus offering a roving five-course dinner with a simple concept: source your ingredients locally (including the wine), find a chef who is celebrated regionally, then invite all of your closest friends. OK, so the last part I ad libbed. The elaborate event was more like a wedding where everyone was giddily excited but no one knew each other. Fortunately, no one was seated at the kiddies table. After a glass of wine or two, it wasn’t a problem — we were all old friends catching up over a great meal. I was fortunate enough to be seated across from the photographer of the OITF website and cookbook, who was a host of knowledge on the food, which made my experience ever more fascinating.
More on the OITF menu, and some drool-y food shots, after the jump.
Part of what compelled me to attend this event was the amazing photos I randomly found on Flickr: the tables spiraled in between trees and ramped over bridges, one long table that seated over a hundred people. Unfortunately for us Denevan felt that this was not feasible this year at La Plaza. The city had installed new street lighting which over-lit the garden, potentially ruining the ambiance. So instead, this year three long trestle tables were packed with eater. I felt a lot of disappointment among the guests, especially from those who attended the previous year. But on to the more important part — the food.
The Honey Glazed Pork Rack was a simple tender cut of meat. I’m usually not one to eat off the bone but I gave it a try and I have no regrets; the crispness of the honey was perfect. I had a second. Chilled green beans and mashed potato with fried garlic were a tasty accompaniment.
The grilled summer vegetable salad was subtle but certainly not out-of-this-world. Sometimes that’s OK, and this was one of those time. The inventive beet tartare, though, was pretty wowing, for beets.
The shrimp was grilled to perfection, a charcoal-ed hint with a nice crunch, just the way I like them.
The meal finished with tristar strawberries in marscapone cheese.
Next year, on the first day of spring you will find me at my computer with my credit card in hand, perhaps ready to book for a DC-area dinner instead of the bright lights of Manhattan. For those of you who can’t wait that long, OITF is rocking the south, southwest and west for the rest of the year. Nearly all dates are sold out, but the schedule shows a few remaining seats September 23 in Birmingham, Alabama and September 29 in Austin.