Outstanding or Out ... Standing?

Source: Outstanding in the Field

The funny business of fine dining.

If you and your significant other spent $400 on a meal for two--and had to bring your own dishes--you'd expect something spectacular.

And spectacular is what's promised by a roving dining experience called "Outstanding in the Field." www.outstandinginthefield.com. Individuals pay $200 each and bring plates to join 99 others in a dramatic open setting, where they are treated to gourmet meals whipped up from locally grown produce and livestock, paired with fine wine. "There's some theater to the whole experience," executive chef and founder Jim Denevan tells the San Jose Mercury News. The portable feasts tour the country and quickly sell out, as the events have been given great reviews.

So when I heard through the grapevine that a friend of a friend of a friend (a sort of in-law twice removed) had nicknamed her experience "Outstanding in the Rocks," I wanted to hear her story, because I've never paid $200 for a meal.

Source: Outstanding in the Field

"We were quite excited about this," Adele Barnett told me about the trip she arranged to Phoenix last year with a friend to attend an Outstanding in the Field feast at the Crooked Sky Farm. "I had pictured some great desert location, maybe botanical gardens or a ranch setting of some sort. So when the directions led us to an industrial park we were a bit perplexed."

Barnett, who paid $180 (rates have apparently gone up this year), brought her own dishes as required. She says the table set for 100 "was on top of a rock pile...in one direction there was the freeway and the other was a parking lot for big rig trucks." She said scaling the rocks to the dinner table was no small feat. Later, the dinner went dark when the wind blew out candles, leaving diners to bask in the glow of freeway lights. A golf cart shuttled some people to portapotties, where business was conducted, again, in the dark. Dark portapotties for $180?

As for the food, the first course was chips and salsa ("the taste was fine, but we had to remind ourselves that this was a lot of money for chips and salsa"), followed by cactus soup, a fabulous salad, grilled chicken, potatoes, and a root beer float made from locally brewed root beer and ice cream from a local creamery.

As for the wine, "Our servers were not experienced in wine and weren't able to tell us anything," Barnett says. Still, "We made light of everything and chatted with people," though, "My last words to my friend were, 'Did we just pay $180 for a root beer float?"

Barnett says she emailed Outstanding in the Field about her experience and never got a response. The company's website described the Phoenix event as a lovely dinner and farm tour,"though the site...was a bit on the rustic/industrial side."

I emailed the company about Barnett's recollections and did hear back. "Jim (Denevan) said that the dinner was actually one of his favorites," Lisa Supple wrote, adding that the rocky hill which supported the table "was not very high and not a steep incline." The height provided a nice view of the nearby farm.

Supple says candlelight dinners are the norm for her crew, and they also put candles in portapotties for lighting (Barnett saw none). She admitted it's possible the local wait staff wasn't well-versed in wine. As for the location, "Jim admits that when people arrived, at first they were like, 'What are we doing here?'" Supple says. "The farm site may not be 'pretty,' but this is the place where food is grown ... that's what Outstanding in the Field is about."

Supple says the Phoenix dinner was a hit and many people who attended signed up for other events. Adele Barnett says when she did not hear back from the company after emailing her concerns, she "decided to make this just a fun story to tell at cocktail parties,"--until I contacted her. She later read the company's own review of the event on its website. "It sounded wonderful, wish we had gone to that event," she says. "Wait, we did!"

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