The Resort at Port Ludlow on Washington’s verdant Olympic Peninsula has taken farm-to-table dining a step further by bringing in not only local farm products, but also farmers right to guests’ tables. It makes for an extraordinary dining experience.
For the past few years, Dan Ratigan, Executive Chef at the Fireside Restaurant at the Inn at Port Ludlow, has been cultivating relationships with the area’s many farmers and fishers and using local produce, meats, fish and artisan food products on his menu. The Inn developed an innovative lodging/dining package where guests are given a farm basket and sent to various farms to harvest their own farm products that they take back for chef to prepare. They also host farm dinners where the menu highlights products from a particular farm and the farmer(s) actually joins guests for dinner, talking about his/her products and life on the farm. It makes for a fascinating and intimate farm-to-table experience and, judging from the sold-out dinners, now in their second season, guests love it.
“We were trying to get our farmers to understand what we’re doing here with their food,” explained Debbie Wardnop, General Manager at the Resort. “We’d invite them to come to the Inn, but we couldn’t get them off their farms. By making the evening all about their farm and their food, they’re willing to come and share their experience with us.”
Ratigan has worked hard to find the best farmers and producers on the Olympic Peninsula. “We’ve interviewed 10 times more farmers than we’ve brought on to be our producers,” he said. “We’re looking for people who bring passion to their products.”
Certified organic farmer Zach Wailand of Dharma Ridge Farm is one of those passionate souls. He and his products were featured at the recent Dharma Ridge Farm Dinner that RFT Editor Anne Weaver and I attended at the Inn. Zach and his wife, Haley Olson, and their three young children grow mixed vegetables on the historic Boulton Farm in Quilcene, in a wild and beautiful stretch of Leland Valley. He was joined by his 11-year-old son, Asa, one of his farm hands, and longtime farm crew gal Alexa Helbling of Moonlight Farm, who produces pasture-raised pigs.
Tiny Tomatoes to Artisan Pork
The meal began with an amuse bouche of roasted yellow squash filled with sweet shreds of local Dungeness crab accented with a light Sungold tomato vinaigrette. It was paired with a 2008 McCrea Grenace Blanc from Washington’s Yakima Valley that offered a minerality and balance that echoed the sweetness of the tomatoes and crab. We were off to a good start.
Next came thick and creamy carrot bisque topped with a drizzle of crème fraiche and a few crispy leeks. Vibrant yellow from freshly harvested carrots, this was a soup, along with the Inn’s warm crispy crust bread, I easily make a meal out of. It was served with a sweet, earthy, grapey Pinot Noir from Christina Jones, a local micro wine producer. Unfortunately, Christina Pyvarnik and her husband are getting out of the wine making business, so this was a perfect pairing that won’t be soon repeated.
The fish course, black cod from Neah Bay with a delicate Buerre Blanc sauce, was the star of this menu. The fish was uber fresh, moist and seasoned well with the wine sauce adding a buttery richness. It was served with whipped blue potatoes (an eye-popping lavender color), and nicely smoky roasted broccoli.
The paired Valley Kestrel Old Vine Chardonnay (2013) was used in the buerre blanc and its crisp character and smooth edges reflected the buttery sauce beautifully.
Zach, along with his son and one of his farm hands, joined us as we indulged in an intermezzo of snap pea granita (simple syrup, ice, and peas) that tasted like biting into a snap pea on a cool spring morning. When I asked Zach about the best part of being a farmer, he looked a little embarrassed. “Sometimes the fog hangs in the field or the light hits just right,” he said softly. “There are lots of those times.”
The braised pork with chanterelle dish was being served when pig farmer Alexa came into the room. Her hair streaked by sunlight and her skin rosy from long days outside on the farm, Alexa looked the part of a healthy pig farmer. “We raise Berkshire pigs,” she told us. “Their meat is a little darker than other breeds. They’re raised on grass and we feed them barley and whey from Port Townsend Creamery and milk from Bishop Dairy.”
The shreds of pork, tender from long cooking, had an earthy quality from locally foraged chanterelle mushrooms and sweetness from bits of tomato. It was served with lovely Yukon Gold potato gnocchi that featured wonderfully crispy edges and creamy interiors. It paired well with the blended 2009 Bunchgrass Tiolet from Walla Walla, which was smooth yet hearty enough to stand up to this redolent pork dish.
Next came a simple salad of greens and a scattering of little Sungold tomatoes with a light blue cheese vinaigrette. While I loved this refreshing salad, folks like Anne Weaver who aren’t crazy about blue cheese, weren’t impressed.
She was more wowed by dessert—a creamy, frothy sabayon made with Moonlight Farms eggs and the paired Belle Pente Reisling, topped with deliciously fresh blueberries and raspberries and a dollop of refreshing raspberry sorbet. It proved to be the perfect finish to a farm meal.
Asa, the farmer’s son who wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps when he grows up, said, “The best part of being a farmer is playing on the farm.” This farm dinner at the Resort at Port Ludlow let us play on the farm too—without getting dirty. – Bobbie Hasselbing, RFT Editor, Photos by Anne Weaver
The Inn at Port Ludlow’s next Farm Dinner, six courses with local wines and ciders featuring Finnriver Farm & Cidery, will be Aug. 29, 2014. They’ll feature Red Dog Farm at the Sept. 19 Farm Dinner.
And check out this cool video about Port Ludlow and Finnriver. http://youtu.be/n98yQ8umbgY?a.