“Glamorous” is not a word often associated with West Marin. Here, oyster farms operate cheek-by-jowl with dairy farms and agricultural projects of all kinds. Tack and farm supply shops outnumber fashionable boutiques. Fog is revered for its year-round ability to cool off grapes and goats. West Marin Food & Farm Tours, run by West Marin native, Elizabeth Hill, began showcasing the fruits of this dynamic landscape in 2012. Taste the terroir of West Marin – oysters, cheese and mead, to name just a few of the offerings – on one of Hill’s many tours to the area’s farms. At Hill’s farm dinners, held approximately once a month, a table is set in the host farmer’s field. With little more than a few bunson burners and a cutting board, chef Matt Elias and his team compose a meal from the bounty of the host farmer’s fields.
Elias, who developed his field-to-fork culinary style at San Francisco’s Bar Jules and at Inverness’s Saltwater Oyster Depot, crafts beautiful dishes with ingredients pulled, quite literally, from the earth beneath your feet. The August farm dinner, hosted by Arron Wilder of Table Top Farm in Point Reyes, featured Table Top ingredients in each course. Elias coaxed beautiful flavors from what was pulled from the ground that day, turning a pastiche of proteins and vegetables into a stunning meal.
At Table Top, the meal began with a sampling of local cheeses paired with Heidrun Meadery’s alfalfa and clover mead. Guests, advised in advance to bring shoes suitable for field-walking, chatted and nibbled while inquiring about the farm’s specifics. When the last few arrived, Hill softly rang a dinner bell and invited us to sit.
The table, set amidst rows of strawberries, tomatoes and lettuces was dressed in harvest-time finery. A burlap runner atop a white tablecloth was festooned with fresh bouquets of red and gold peonies in Kerr jars and wax candles, lit as the sun began to dip over the Pacific. String lights framed the long table in their soft glow; tall-stemmed glassware and high polish cutlery glimmered in the soft light.
As diners added layers to defray the evening’s chill, Elias and his team delivered a four-course meal, each course paired with wines made with Marin-grown grapes (or, in the case of the mead, honey). Creamy squash soup, served in an elegant, curved bowl, got a peppery boost from nasturtium and deep sweetness from fried onion. Baby lettuces were simply dressed with Vella Jack cheese and a slice of cucumber, all harvested at their peak just hours earlier. Sage- braised pork was perched on a bed of Table Top green beans and baby potatoes infused with crème fraîche. Dessert, Table Top strawberries layered with lemon sponge cake and lavender cream into a modern trifle, captured the spirit of the dinner: fresh and wonderfully aromatic, the ingredients gently coaxed by skilled hands to their flavorful best. This meal in this place is the very definition of California Cuisine.
The melding of verdant scenery, jovial company and beautiful ingredients sourced almost entirely from Marin made the farm dinner at Table Top Farm unique and pleasurable. The little extra details – the red napkins picking up the red of the flowers, the fresh pumpkins on the appetizer table, the extra cutlery delivered when a fork catapulted into the dirt – lifted the meal above the ordinary. As host, Hill has a sixth sense for making her guests comfortable. Her heritage as a West Marin native, combined with her knack for designing a memorable evening, add a touch of glamour to West Marin.