Last night I had the great pleasure of attending one of Plate & Pitchfork’s dinners at Viridian Farms. Considering the fact that it’s August 15th and I’ve only been swimming twice this year, I was due for something in the vein of summer fun. And as much as I enjoy bitching about our weather, driving through the farmland and wine country SW of Portland always reminds me that I don’t really need to curl up on the stoop of my crumby apartment and die.
I’ve mentioned Plate & Pitchfork here before, but for the uninitiated, it’s a dinner series that brings Portland chefs and area wine makers out to nearby farms for elaborate al fresco meals. It’s not cheap; last night’s dinner ran us $125 a head, but judging by the number of sold out dinners this year—as well as the boast of a couple near me that they would be attending their 30th Plate & Pitchfork later this summer (Jesus, I want to be filthy, filthy rich)—people with the means seem to think it’s worth it.
Dinner last night was prepared by Simpatica’s Scott Ketterman and Beaker & Flask’s Ben Bettinger, and each course was paired with wines from the esteemed and completely unfuckwithable Cristom Vineyards (plus beer from Widmer and coffee from Coava). It was a good reminder of how fortunate we are to live near people who care deeply about food and agriculture, and how, so long as I can tune out the annoying vocabulary of some of the louder and more assertive “foodies” around me, how enjoyable it can be. A recap and pictures (courtesy of my darling little sister) are after the jump for your ignoring or skimming pleasure.
Viridian Farms is just outside of Dayton on Grand Island (about an hour down the 99), and though the farm was originally dominated by fruit orchards, they now have a heavy focus on European vegetable varietals that are tougher to find stateside. The most interesting thing we sampled from their gardens was an Icelandic green that tastes remarkably like oysters; According to Viridian's Leslie Recio, they're the only farm in the country growing it (VC-money types: I think there's a market for salads aimed at people with late-onset shellfish allergies. Who wants in on my chain-restaurant idea?). The produce was fantastic—you've likely seen it as Pastaworks, farmers markets, and a number of notable Portland restaurants—and was featured heavily in each of Bettinger and Ketterman's courses.
The first course was served at an appetizer station set up at the farm's entrance, along with a Cristom's Viognier and Widmer's summer seasonal, Citra Blonde. We had diva cucumbers topped with dungeness crab salad and edible flowers, pork-cheek rillette crostinis with pickled cherries, and squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and chard then deep fried tempura style. The latter was under high-demand...I'm not sure any lasted long enough to make it to the servers' trays.
After a farm tour and some light foraging through blueberry fields and herb gardens, we were seated at long tables in the middle of their apple orchard. We were served family-style bowls of wood-fired mussels in a garlic sherry broth, with padron peppers (so, so good) and heirloom tomatoes. Cristom paired the course with their estate syrah (a kind of strange wine for this climate, but great with the mussels).
Next was a rabbit confit and cannellini bean salad. I don't think I've ever seen so much rabbit meat in one place (again, it was served family style). It was served with another strange green I'd never tried before, ficoide glaciale (the leaves are a little thick and crunchy, and it had a bit of an an acidic—but not at all unpleasant—flavor), and pickled pippara peppers.
As an entree, Bettinger and Ketterman got their hands on some thick dry aged ribeye from Carmen ranch. The meat was, unsurprisingly from these two, tender and delicious. It was served with grilled haricot verts, snap beans, sweet onions and cherry tomatoes. Cristom dug into their library for this course and brought out their '02 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir. No question this was the best wine of the evening, and one of the better wines I've had in awhile.
I was stuffed by the time we were ready for dessert, and thus not particularly excited, but I don't think I spoke a word in the time that my panna cotta sat in front of me. It was made with peach leaves that, surprising to me, contributed almost an almondy flavor. It was served with the same blueberries I was gorging myself on during our walk to the farm, and two ladyfinger cookies. Full as I was, and never particularly a glutton for dessert, I could have eaten three portions.
If it sounds worth it to you (I know many, understandably, wouldn't pay that kind of money if Alice Waters was searing giant panda steaks and poaching ivory billed woodpecker eggs to be served on George Clooney's naked torso), I highly recommend checking out Plate & Pitchfork. It looks like there's still room at a couple of the remaining dinners. Otherwise, get an early jump on it next summer...tickets go fast.