by Chad Graff and Cathy Curtis
We’ve been smitten more than once with the notion of attending an Outstanding in the Field dinner. What could be better than to sit at a long farm table set up in a gorgeous outdoor setting to indulge in a delicious meal and support a local farm? Alas, the seats aren’t inexpensive, and they go quickly once the dinners are announced. We haven’t yet been able to organize ourselves to make it happen (–someday!) But what a delight to find that we have a great option for on-the-ranch summer dining in our own area!
Ten of us organized ourselves to make an hour’s drive to Petaluma (from Oakland and San Francisco) for a Della Fattoria-Weber family ranch dinner. These dinners are held regularly during the summer on their property just on the outskirts of Petaluma. You may know Della Fattoria from their restaurant in Petaluma or their highly-regarded wood-oven-baked bread sold at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.
The ranch dinner was a perfect way to spend a summer evening with friends. If you sense us glowing in this post, it’s because (we and our friends) kept defaulting to the word “perfect” to describe our experience. It was one of those rare occasions where everything was so well organized and in tune from start-to-finish that we all reveled in every detail and couldn’t think of a way we would have done anything differently!
The country setting is charming and low key. Two long tables were set up underneath a majestic oak tree, in an expansive garden area between two farm houses. It felt open yet intimate — great for welcoming guests to a special event on a working property. Ice bins are set up near your designated places at the table to chill the wines you bring yourself. Group size seemed to range from parties of two to groups of eight or ten. For the ten of us, we brought a good selection of rose, white, and sparkling wines to start, with reds to follow.
The ranch dinners are scheduled to go from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m, but happily our hosts encouraged us to stay even longer. To start, we settled in to enjoy a glass of wine (or two) with appetizers. On small tables within easy reach, hors d’oeuvres were displayed for the taking including baked Brie with roasted garlic and rosemary, Aaron’s pork and duck rillettes with mustard and cornichons, and of course Della crostini and breads. In addition, the waiters passed platters of freshly grilled Full Belly Farm figs, padrons and sausages. It was splendid that this part of the evening was so laid-back, everything served at a leisurely pace. This was perfect for allowing guests to trickle in, to catch up with their dining partners, and to enjoy the bucolic setting.
Some guests took a short stroll to visit the wood-fired ovens and see bread baking in action, though there was also plenty of time to do this after the meal too. It was fascinating to watch the bakers line up the formed dough and sling it into the wood fire oven on the ends of the long-armed peels. We all knew what tasty goodness came from those ovens!
When we took our seats at the table, anticipation took over, as we all watched day boat scallops being seared on the grill and then tossed with tomatoes, corn and pesto. This dish was accompanied by a mixed green salad – all served family-style. The second course was succulent braised short ribs served with platters of ratatouille, and the ultimate in comfort food – potatoes served gratin-style. Again, this course was served with the earthy, chewy deliciousness that is Della breads and with bowls of McClelland’s Dairy Farm’s creamy, organic butter.
Feeling sated, we all got up to roam around or lounge at the various seating arrangements on the property – all meant for guests to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Our group was partial to the nook next to the outdoor fireplace. While we relaxed, the Della-Weber staff passed platters of peach and blackberry gallettes and poured coffee or tea for those who had moved on from wine-drinking.
We were all sad to see the evening come to a close as we sipped our last sips, ate our last bites of dessert, and then sought out our hosts to give heartfelt thanks for creating such as convivial experience. The one consolation – we all knew we’d be back.
All photos by Joann Falkenburg.