In Oregon, the change in seasons can happen quickly. The day of our eagerly awaited Field and Vine Dinner in the Field was one of those transition days. Dark clouds and rain moved in to replace the warm sunshine. Winds stirred up the fall leaves. As we crossed the small bridge from Portland over to agricultural Sauvie Island, we spotted a rainbow in the distance.
Chef Pascal Chureau had warned us earlier in the day. We were not to expect the usual elegant dinner in the orchards at sunset under twinkling lights. “Wear your boots and Columbia Sportswear gear,” he suggested. He indicated the wine would warm us up. We weren’t daunted. Chefs Pascal Chureau and Ian Ragsdale can cook in any situation and have it turn out perfectly. I experienced that at my first Field and Vine Event at a Dutch bulb farm when it poured rain. In fact, I found, it can be rather cozy dining in a huge tent with the rain soaking the rich soil.
Dinners in the Field are a series of dining events, held March through December, offering an evening of locally sourced food, lively conversation and Northwest wine and beer. Chureau and Ragsdale host each dinner at a different farm or vineyard in the rural areas surrounding Portland, Oregon. The menus are centered on the offerings of the local growers and wine makers. That night 100 people walked up a muddy hill, through a stand of fir trees and gathered at Douglas Family Farm. The farm has been operating on Sauvie Island since the 1940’s. Touted by locals as one of the best places to pick peaches, Douglas Farm offers an abundance of fresh produce, free-range eggs and local honey. And, we found out, the family produces award-winning jams and jellies.
The 7 course menu of farm and ocean fresh ingredients was paired with wines from Owen Roe. The winery makes wines with grapes from Northwest vineyards where the fruit ripens slowly and fully, resulting in excellent acidity and balance making the wines very food friendly. The 2014 Pinot Noir, although young, was very drinkable and did warm us through the seven-course meal.
We were greeted with a glass of Owen Roe wine as the rain started to fall again. There were plenty of places to keep dry. We chose the farm stand and did a little shopping. Fresh produce, seasonal squash and pumpkins and ripe peppers enticed the diners. The rain cloud passed and we wandered through the orchard before joining the others at long tables decorated with farm fresh flowers in colorful mason jars and candles. Despite the rain, it was very festive.
I visited the chefs’ tent and watched them prepare the Oregon albacore to be grilled. Most of the cooking is done on site and delivered quickly by wait staff to the dining area. Courses are served family-style adding to the conviviality of the evening. Waiters, dressed in rain gear under their crisp, white aprons, kept the wine glasses full as each steaming course flowed like clockwork to the tables. We were amazed at the tastes… each course was noteworthy and seasoned just right. Chorizo spiced up the succotash. Garlic enhanced the perfectly grilled Oregon albacore and potatoes in a mushroom brown butter surprised the palate.
Despite the amount of food, which satisfied even a farmer’s appetite, we were eagerly anticipating the dessert. The pie with apples from the nearby orchard didn’t disappoint. After cutting the pie, they drizzled it with apple brandy-honey syrup and crème fraîche. By then we had gotten to know the farm family who were seated next to us and, despite the cold, it was tempting to linger and chat. But it was dark and we decided to make one last stop at the cheerfully lighted farm stand to pick up some of that award-winning jam.
We drove home crossing over the Willamette and Columbia Rivers with the lights of the cities of Portland and Vancouver sparkling against the dark sky.
There are several more dinners planned for 2016 and, if you miss these offerings, you can enjoy locally sourced Pacific Northwest cuisine at Allium Bistro in historic West Linn, Oregon, Chefs Chureau and Ragsdale’s home base.
Inspired by the small, bustling village bistros of France, and the native, pure food of Oregon, Allium offers local, sustainably conscious epicurean plates featuring New American and European cuisines. Chureau is a classically trained chef (Ecole Hotelier de Bordeaux France) who knows how to keep food simple and appealing to every palate.
Daily fare focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients straight from local farms and vineyards. One Sunday each month, Allium offers Neighborhood Dinners—family-style dinners that explore cuisines from villages in France and Italy, and the Pacific Northwest. Several times each season, The Farm Comes to Allium, and they invite a local farm and its farmers to share their offerings and talk with diners about what they grow and do in the community.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.