I truly love the concept of Outstanding in the Field (OITF). And as a true California foodie, I totally buy into the concept of getting close to the ingredients and producers, and really embracing the farm experience. In that respect, OITF is a singular and well intentioned endeavor.
And the locations! Wow. Truly unreal. I attended a dinner at a farm in Marin one year followed by a glorious beach south of Halfmoon bay last weekend. No doubt OITF’s knack for site selection is truly incredible.
And for the record – before I get into the, err . . . “constructive” feedback – let me be clear I highly recommend that any foodie who is interested in the “locavore” experience give this a try. Overall, it is a positive and impressive experience. But be warned, it’s not without its troubles (many of which are intertwined with the $200+ price tag per person).
Food: Both times, the food was hit and miss. About half the dishes were legitimately delicious. And half were merely good. And – to be honest – given the family style approach (which I typically like), you’re frequently left with truly miniscule portions of farm-style food. And to be fair, while the chefs and ingredients are top-notch, they are cooking in a ramshackle kitchen and doing their best to cook for 125 people. So I recognize that’s not easy. But there really is no excuse for getting a mere couple small spoonfuls of food in each course of a 5 course farm-style meal. Another post said it perfectly with the line: "the feeling was of scarcity, not abundance." Both times our group walked away a little underwhelmed.
Wine: Again hit and miss. For the price, you really do want superb wines. And both years I’ve really liked the winemakers and admired their craftsmanship. But here’s the catch: the dinner is catered by a single wine maker with each course paired to a wine. So some of the wines are quite good while others are merely okay. It not an insult, because – lets be honest - very few small local wineries are able to produce excellent wines across that many varietals. So, for the price, I left wanting something a little more special.
Service/Leadership: Most importantly: the servers work their buts off. In a typical restaurant, they’d earn a fortune and be worth every penny. The producers, farmers and wine markers are all impressive and I appreciated the opportunity to interact with them. The chefs/cooks vary between engaging and incredibly cocky. And Jim Denevan – the founder and clear captain of the ship – vacillates between admirable foodie cowboy and mechanical aloof quasi-celebrity (the former usually being saved the more attractive girls at the event).
Am I glad I went? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Eh, probably not. Do I recommend it to friends? Yes, but with the caveats outlined above.
Go for the location and the interaction with the producers and ingredients. You won’t be sorry. But be prepared for a very good (not amazing) meal, and try asking for an extra portion or two. And, luckily, since you make reservations months in advance, it’s a bit easier to forget the rather steep price.
And for the love of god, DON’T try to compare it to Gary Danko, French Laundry, Cyrus or any other 5 star restaurants around the country. Given the price, a lot of people try to make the comparison, but we’re talking apples and oranges. The sooner you can come to grips with that difference, the better your experience will be.