As I mentioned, we built our spring trip around my longtime desire to attend Outstanding in the Field, and I really want to share our pictures with you. It was a truly unique, and yes, outstanding, experience.
OITF officially started in 1999 and had just a few dinners each year in the early stages. The events have really been gaining steam over the past few years, though, having now travelled to all but one state, completed a European tour, and even expanded to Asia. Can you imagine dinner in the fields of a Japanese winery with a view of Mt. Fuji? Immediately adding that one to the bucket list!
I’ve been following their bus for quite some time now but the timing just hasn’t worked out for us to attend. After our Spain adventure, we wanted a destination for our usual spring trip a little closer to home. When the 2016 Schedule came out and I saw that there was a Secret Sea Cove dinner in Santa Cruz right around the time of our anniversary, I told RF, “It’s time!”
We received a simple set of directions about a week out from the event. On the day of, a small sign marked the private road we were looking for just north of Santa Cruz. We crossed un-gated train tracks and an old wooden bridge before being greeted by OITF staff motioning us into a grassy makeshift parking lot. From there, we walked the rest of the dirt roadway past a shady creek to a clearing.
As we rounded the bend, we spotted other diners already enjoying drinks on the bluff above.
There was a check-in point where we could leave our plates and bags. One of the OITF traditions is for diners to bring their own plates, to create a colorful, festive mix on the long white table. Of course, they also have plates for those of us who travelled from further afield to attend the event.
We completely lucked out with a stunning day! It had rained for several days prior to the event, but skies were bright blue and sunny when we arrived. Looking out at the ocean, we spotted a seal playing in the surf, and the blow spouts of migrating whales. I doubt it could have been more idyllic.
Each OITF event partners with a local farmer and a local chef. Our “farmer” was H&H Fresh Fish, and our chef was from Nopalito, a sustainable organic Mexican kitchen in San Francisco. One of the chefs prepped hors d’oeuvres at a station up on the hill. The tostadas de tinga – mini corn tostadas with chipotle-stewed chicken, refried pinquinto beans, crema, and cilantro – were delicious. I opted for a refreshing glass of Birichino Chenin Blanc, served by owner John Locke, which I definitely preferred over RF’s margarita.
Founder Jim gave everyone a little background on OITF and GM Eden explained the logistics of the evening.
Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish gave an impassioned speech about sustainable fishing, and revealed a few secrets about the history of the beach where we would be dining…including stories of nude volleyball players.
Then, we all set off down past the “kitchen”…
…to pick up a plate…
…and cross the creek to THE TABLE!
We found a spot pretty close to the middle, so there were quite a few folks to our left…
Meals are served family style to groups of eight. We joined a mother and daughter who decided on OITF as a distracting first Mother’s Day without grandma, and two couples who had both attended previous OITF events at different farms but wanted to share the sea cove experience. I have to admit that I’m not a group person, so I had some anxiety about joining a bunch of strangers for this meal. But, you have to put yourself out there – and, they were all quite a hoot!
As we passed around the chips and guacamole, our first course of two kinds of ceviche was served – salmon & whitefish and shrimp & cod. Both were amazing. The accompanying mezcal shooter with a slice of spiced orange, however, not my favorite. Mezcal is just too smoky for my tastes. Thank goodness for wine pairings!
I have to give major kudos to the OITF team. Every course meant several grand marches back and forth across the sand to deliver food, refill wine glasses, and retrieve plates. It was quite a production, and they were on it!
I’m not at all sure how, between the two of us, we missed a shot of the arroz a la tumbada, a hearty second course stew with crab, clams, and cod. Such spicy goodness!!
We did snap several shots of the grilled snapper and spring vegetables. The perfectly flakey fish was served with a zesty chile tomato sauce, and the highlight of the vegetables was definitely the chipotle mayo. Our neighbor practically licked the plate!
While we dined,
Cowboy Founder Jim made the rounds, chatting with diners.
From the hills to the sea, this was undoubtedly the most stunning “restaurant” I’ve ever been to. Between courses, folks would get up and wander the beach to take it all in.
Last, but certainly not least, dessert arrived – chocolate cake topped with flan and fresh strawberries. To. Die. For. The cake was super moist and the flan super creamy. What a great combo!
As the sun began to set and the air cooled, everyone was ready to take their full bellies over to the bonfire and lounge for a bit. Seemed a shame to light this beautiful structure that had served as decoration throughout our meal.
But the warmth was welcome.
All in all, it was a wonderful event. In fact, I’m ready to go again! Hey RF, Japan??