Route 1 Farms Dinner: Christina Waters, Santa Cruz Weekly
In late August, the al fresco Route 1 Farms Dinner combined the winemaking expertise of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s Jeff Emery with the flavor wit of Feel Good Foods. The results were course after course of late harvest flavors... And sundown on the Wilder fields added incomparable atmosphere.
God is in the details.
We sat, along with 120 others, with rows of heavily fruited pear trees behind us. Long emerald strands of peppers and lettuce bordered the redwoods before us. Jeff Emery poured his sensuous Grenache from 100-year-old vines as the first plates emerged. The butter lettuce was practically alive in a memorable opening dish, created by Feel Good Foods, in which beets, dill and large slices of wild salmon had been dusted with fennel flowers. An insanely delicious dill aioli dressing turned it into magic.
Next came a beautiful and ambitious summer vegetable minestrone loaded with carrots, squashes, cannellini beans and chard, and topped with garlicky pesto. Ambitious, because we’re talking about a freshly-made soup served to 125 people, outdoors. Part of the success was a partnering 2010 Touriga red, exuding berries and spice, from Emery's Iberian Quinta Cruz label.
Our final savories began with yellow Austrian crescent potatoes and romano beans, tossed together with light herbs and spices, and another platter of grilled eggplant (grown on Larkey’s Ocean Street Extension fields) with creamy feta, peppers and oregano. Here were vegetables so fresh, so exactly ripe, so complete in their intensity, that we could gladly have enjoyed another round of them as the entree. Fogline Farm chicken—grilled on the spot—topped a cushion of tangy grilled radicchio. And a platter of spaghetti tossed with Carmody cheese, heirloom tomatoes and chives finished us off.
These last dishes were accompanied by a gorgeous plum-intensive 2010 Pinot Noir from Bailey’s Vineyard, and a 2011 Petite Sirah. I grabbed a sweater as the sun moved behind the trees, and listened to tales of wild boars the size of ponies (farmers have their very own “big fish” stories), as Emery came around one last time, pouring a 2007 Rabel traditionally made Port, and we considered dessert. Imagine bowls of vanilla ice cream from The Penny Ice Creamery, topped with gold and red raspberries, walnuts, and bits of dark chocolate brownie. Now top it with freshly whipped cream. Yes, it tasted as good as it sounds. And then some.
Congratulations to Heidi and Amy of Feel Good Foods, and their tip-top crew of servers who never, ever let the dinner lag. An astonishing feat. And to Jeff Emery and his 36 years of putting the Santa Cruz terroir into memorable vintages. But especially to Jeff Larkey, his crew, his fields, and his amazing, hard-working journey as a tireless organic grower. This is exactly why I live in Santa Cruz.