SFN: Slow Dinner At Serpentine

For it being a “slow” event, Slow Food Nation sure did involve a lot of hustling hither and yon and eating on the go. The Taste Pavilion and marketplace both lent themselves to snacking while walking, and the farm tour, of course, involved a morning of tromping around fields. But the last official event I attended made up for all that hardship (I know, what a tough life), with a four-course meal that involved some of the finest meat and vegetables I’ve eaten all season.

Sunday night was my turn to eat at a Slow Dinner. I picked Serpentine because I’ve been curious about the restaurant, and I liked the sound of the Center for Land-Based Learning, which the dinner benefited.

But by the time it rolled around, I wasn’t really looking forward to the evening. I was tired of working, and tired of hearing about food politics, and as I hopped a cab out to Dog Patch, I looked wistfully at the Taqueria Castillito on Mason Street, thinking how comfortable it would be to curl up in front of the tube with a nice al pastor burrito.

Walking into the Serpentine’s bright, airy dining room did little to put me at ease. The place looks great, with sharp lines and dramatic angles and plenty of natural evening light. Meanwhile, I was in the mood for a dark, low room where I could hide out in a booth. Mary Kimball, director of the Center For Land-Based Learning, greeted me at the door and invited me to sit anywhere. After grabbing a seat at the bar, I ordered a Hangar One martini, and within a few minutes, I was having fun in spite of myself.

This turned out to be maybe the easiest Slow Food Nation event to enjoy. It was just dinner, plain and simple, with a short interruption as Mary gave her spiel on the Center, to which went $50 from each $110 ticket. She didn’t talk our ears off, and it was fun hearing about the center, which is doing some great work. Here she is in full swing:

As the wine flowed, I found it easier to loosen up, and soon I was chatting away with Toby Hastings, whose Free Spirit Farm, near Davis, supplied the cherry and heirloom tomatoes for the dinner, as well as the Gypsy peppers. Toby leases his acre or so of land from the Center, and is one of Serpentine’s regular suppliers. He also went to the University of California at Santa Cruz with my brother, it turns out. God, this is a small town.

The bar seemed to be where “industry” types sat, as the pair to my right mentioned they had delivered the evening’s beef through their Prather Ranch Meat Co. They met chef Chris Kronner at a Meat Paper party, co-owner Steve McCarthy told me.

Before long we were all having a laugh, passing around the family-style serving plates, and by the time dessert came around, I didn’t want the evening to end.

I wish I could offer you a taste, but you’ll have to make do with the photos, after the jump, that show off this wonderful menu. As for me, I’ll be glad to get back to the calm pace of the work day after one frenzied weekend. It’s been fun, and it’s been delicious, but this weekend was anything but “slow.”

We started with a charcuterie of Marin Sun Farms pork rillettes, pate and brawn, and a strawberry and shallot escabeche.

There was also a dish of marinated pole beans with roasted Free Spirit Farm Gypsy peppers and pickled Hungarian wax peppers. Sharp journalist that I am, I totally forgot to get the camera out for this course, so let’s just move right along to the salads.

Here’s a salad of wild arugula, English peas, nectarines and walnut pesto:

And this is a salad of avocado, chioggia beets, Free Spirit Farm cherry tomatoes, and peppercress:

It was funny to sit between Toby, a vegetarian who didn’t touch his wine, and the guys from Prather Ranch, who loved their beef and ordered after-dinner drinks. Here’s Toby:

Here’s Steve McCarthy, left, and Doug Stonebreaker, right, of Prather Ranch Meat Co:

Here’s the meat they brought — grilled Prather Ranch beef with ruby crescent potatoes, roasted Free Spirit Farm heirloom tomatoes, and black truffles:

There was also a roasted Mary’s chicken, with Valencia orange bread salsa, haricots verts, red pearl onions, and sweet corn puree:

Finally, we got a chocolate and walnut tart with strawberries and Bi-Rite Creamery vanilla ice cream:

And that was my dinner at Serpentine. Good times!

SFN: Slow Dinner At Serpentine