In 2010, we caught wind that a vital business in our hometown of Escondido, California was in a world of hurt. That struggling institution was a 19-acre farm called La Milpa Organica from which we sourced some of the ingredients used to craft our pan-global cuisine at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Escondido. Despite valiant efforts and a ton of elbow grease, La Milpa Organica went out of business by year’s end. As supporters of the farm-to-table movement and proud advocates for our corner of the world, we took advantage of the fact that we had the resources to do something to keep a center for organic farming in Escondido alive. So, rather than bemoan the loss of something good, in March of 2011, we went outside our craft beer box, took over the farmland, then proceeded to stand there, pitchforks in hand a la American Gothic with an OK-now-what look on our faces. Such was the beginning of life on Stone Farms.
It’s difficult to write about our FRESH! Dinners without resorting to cheesy puns or distasteful allusions to outdated television programs. It’s been a struggle, but thankfully I’ve managed to abstain from phrases such as “Keepin’ it FRESH!” or “Come get FRESH! with Stone!” More importantly, I’ve avoided referring to Executive Chef Alex Carballo as “The FRESH! Prince of Stone Brewing,” thus foregoing an awkward confrontation and subsequent apology. Whew. Crisis averted.
While it’s hard to elude the trappings of bland prose, it’s not hard to convey a genuine sense of excitement about our FRESH! Dinners. They are truly one-of-a-kind, and attendees agree. If you know nothing about these dinners, get out from under that rock you’ve been living under and educate yourself. If you were there, you know that Monday night’s FRESH! Dinner was one of the best yet.
In order to give attendees a rare behind the scenes look into the FRESH! Dinner, Chef Alex and his team brought cameras with them to all the local farms they visited Monday morning to procure ingredients. The colorful pictures were projected in a slide show during the dinner, along with play-by-play shots taken in the kitchen of the actual preparation. The crew’s photos demystified the meal, giving guests an intimate glimpse into the process involved in bringing local, farm-fresh food to their table. Many guests agreed that this was a nice touch.
The illuminating slide show wasn’t the only new addition to the dinner. FRESH! attendees were treated to an extra special reception this time around. Before ascending the stairs to the Mezzanine, guests were directed to the cocktail section of our Bistro where Chef Gordon Smith and Peter Halmay were showing off the ocean-fresh taste of their San Diego Red Sea Urchins. Otherwise known as “Uni,” these salt-water delicacies were cracked open live and offered Sashimi style or as a shooter with fresh Stone beer. With open minds and hungry stomachs, FRESH! attendees delighted in this rare indulgence, setting the tone for a very unique dining experience.
Once on the Mezzanine, guests were presented the first course, a Roasted Baby Beet and Mixed Greens Salad with a Kumquat Vinaigrette. It was accompanied by Garden Herb Dinner Rolls using herbs taken from our very own Gardens, followed by a palate-cleansing Meyer Lemon Granité with Calistoga intermezzo. Both courses received copious praise from delighted diners. Unfortunately, Chef Alex encountered technical difficulties with the third course, a Spinach Ravioli with Wild Mushroom
Filling in a Light Herb Sauce, when the pasta press malfunctioned, and so did the backup. Thinking quickly, Chef Alex decided to plate the remainder of the filling alongside the ravioli to complete the dish. This decision was a popular one.
Next up was the Chicken Thighs Braised with Heirloom Tomatoes and Spring Onion Bulbs, and Roasted Chicken Breasts with Herbs and Spring Onions; both were an instant hit. They were followed by Braised Fennel, Honey-Glazed Adolescent Carrots and Braised Seasonal Greens. The finale, and perhaps the star of the show, was the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Pixie Tangerine Gelée and Lavender Spice Tuille Cookies served on flower-encased ice plates. “Divine,” “heavenly,” and “decadent” were just some of the adjectives used to describe this exceptional dessert.
If you were fortunate enough to taste the food (like me), I’m sure your body thanked you for treating it to a delicious night devoid of chemical preservatives and artificial food substances shipped from faraway lands. If it didn’t, you have an ungrateful, masochistic body, and you should consider getting a new one.
We want to thank all those who attended for making our latest FRESH! Dinner a memorable farm-to-table experience. We would also like to thank Chef Gordon Smith and Peter Halmay for bringing their spiny little friends to the party. I doubt that’s the last we’ll see of those prickly sea-dwelling delicacies.
We can’t wait for the next opportunity to showcase the word-class flavors of San Diego and the equally world-class talent of our Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens crew. Stay tuned for the next one!
Growing up in this culture doesn’t exactly foster an appreciation for the word “fresh.” As a kid, I thought fresh meant “fresh out of the microwave,” or “fresh from the fast food window.” I grew up thinking that TV dinners, Hot Pockets, and quadruple cheeseburgers were perfectly acceptable forms of sustenance. I expected the ingredients in my food to have no less than eighteen syllables in their names, and to only be pronounceable by the highly learned. I also thought that, much like cockroaches, food should be able to survive the apocalypse (thanks to the complex cocktail of chemical preservatives graciously injected into it by men in white lab coats thousands of miles away).
I don’t blame my parents for raising me on less-than-fresh food. It was their only option for feeding three voracious boys in a fast-paced culture addicted to cheap, hastily-prepared, chemically-treated food. Thankfully, we are witnessing a slight shift in our culture’s perception of food, as it slowly changes to favor more natural and sustainable consumption habits, but we still have a long way to go. That’s why we started the FRESH! Dinner series.
Our FRESH! Dinners offer something that many Americans have absolutely no concept of: a meal in which all ingredients are picked, gathered, caught, and killed the very day they are consumed. That means no Hot Pockets, and no men in lab coats.
The upcoming FRESH! Dinner on February 2nd will be a “locavore’s” dream. Executive Chef Alex Carballo (creative mastermind behind the FRESH! Menu) and his team will rise at the crack of dawn to hit the sunny fields of San Diego. They will be on the prowl for only the freshest, untouched ingredients from local organic farms and markets. The menu* will include delights such as Roasted Baby Beets and Mixed Greens Salad with a Mandarin Vinaigrette, Spinach Ravioli with Mushroom Filling in a Light Herb Sauce, Braised Fennel, Honey Glazed Baby Carrots, and Braised Seasonal Greens. There will also be a fish or chicken course, depending on which is fresher of course! The ingredients will be procured from local farms ranging from Crows Pass Farm in Temecula to La Milpa Organica in Escondido and Eben-Haezer Egg Ranch in Ramona.
*Disclaimer: Since this isn’t a laboratory or an assembly line, the menu will be subject to change. Things may not go (or grow) according to plan, and our talented team will use their creativity to adapt to the whims of bountiful mother nature.
The mix and mingle portion of the dinner (6:00-6:00pm) will feature Red Sea Urchin, available Sashimi style or as a shooter served with fresh Stone beer that will be bottled or kegged that same day. The Sea Urchin (Uni) will also come complete with a demonstration from the local harvester, Chef Gordon Smith. After the mix and mingle, guests will be seated family-style in the Mezzanine of the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to indulge in multiple courses of pristine natural sustenance.
Hot Pocket connoisseurs beware, the FRESH! Dinner is not for you. You may want to stay home in the comfy butt-groove of your couch, clutching your stale microwavable delicacy safely within your comfort zone. However, those of you willing to experience a delicious meal straight from the earth to the table, make your reservations now. We’ll prove to you just how FRESH! a meal can be.
Click here to view the tentative menu, make reservations, and get additional information.