Feast in the Field? I hate to say it, but it's more like ... Famine
I want desperately to love Feast & Field, that bucolic blend of farmer’s market, live music, and locally-sourced food held weekly, from June 1 to October 12, in the idyllic fields of Barnard’s historic Clark Farm. Everything in me wants to revel in this brilliant concept of local artisans of farm, food, and drink bringing all of us together under seemingly endless evening skies to commune, dance, drink and yes, feast. How could I not embrace this giddy two-step into the ample bosom of a Vermont summer, this veritable bounty in full swing?
Such generosity – from the gods, the land, and from those who lovingly tend it – makes me feel like an ingrate for saying this, but here it is:
I want to love Feast & Field, but something’s missing – namely, two-thirds of the menu.
One of the first things you notice when you arrive at Feast & Field is the food line. It’s long. Whether you arrive on the early side or well into the evening, you’re sure to wait. But unless you arrive in the first hour, there’s another constant – when you finally arrive at the front of the line, you’re inevitably greeted by small, handwritten signs stuck all over the chalkboard menu.
The dreaded words on those signs: SOLD OUT.
I get it. Feast & Field is a popular event. Trucking food into a field and serving it under a virtual tent presents unique challenges. And while I’m no economist, I’m guessing that figuring out the formula for supply and demand can be tricky.
But here’s what I don’t get: every single time I’ve stood in that food line, I’ve come away with dishes so pared down from their original description, tacos and curry and farmer’s bowls so glaringly unadorned, that I have to wonder why, nearly three months into this season’s offerings, they can't bring along enough ingredients for the hungry diners who are sure to come.
For the organizers of Feast, it’s not rocket science. And for their patrons, neither is it particularly cheap. Buying a couple of entrees and two glasses of wine at Feast & Field sets us back $50.
That would be a fair price if the dishes actually matched their description. But too often, they don't.
On a recent Thursday evening, my guy and I got to the front of the line and looked at one another in delight. No SOLD OUT signs! Marveling at our good fortune, we ordered barbacoa beef tacos and the coconut curry bowl with pork. Finally, after weeks of arriving to a skeletal menu devoid of all but the most rudimentary ingredients, we were about to delight in the full flavors of each of these dishes.
But that, too, turned out to be just another midsummer night’s dream.
When we finally sat down and began eating, our entrees gazed back at us limply. Here were three tacos laden with barbacoa beef and field greens atop corn tortillas, but where was the slaw, or the tangy bite of salsa verde? Where was the sweet drizzle of yogurt to cut the heat?
The coconut curry, too, was missing the advertised yogurt, the pork, and perhaps even the curry itself, as there wasn’t even the slightest hint of either coconut or earthy spice to the uninspired sauce poured over the potatoes and veggies. To make matters even less interesting, the ever-elusive flatbread meant to accompany the curry bowl was also missing in action, replaced instead by more corn tortillas.
The results? Dry, one-dimensional tacos and a soggy curry bowl that could have been mistaken for vegetable stew.
When I went back to ask about the garnishes gone AWOL, I was informed that, while the kitchen crew was, indeed, out of yogurt and slaw and salsa and flatbread and pork and cilantro, they had put extra meat on the tacos to make up for it.
Let’s try this theory out in another food context, just for fun:
“We ran out of ice cream, so we gave you an extra cone with your cone, instead.”
It just doesn’t work. The best dishes involve subtle dances between a host of seemingly disparate ingredients. And garnishes are the lifeblood of most entrees. Adding more of the main in the absence of the sides just makes a dish fall flat, hard and heavy.
At an event that so passionately celebrates abundance and food, it’s disappointing that the plates can feel so insubstantial. Still, I’m willing to give Feast & Field’s fare another shot. There are eight more Thursdays left in their summer/fall line-up, and maybe one of these evenings, we will walk away with some food worth writing about.