Guys, I don't mean to brag, but I am crushing these new year's resolutions.
You may recall that back in January I shared with you my list of 15 resolutions for 2015. Number eight on that list was "Experience a farm dinner."
Well, back in June, I crossed that resolution off the list with a lovely evening at the Herb Lyceum in Groton, MA, which included a five course meal.
I had so much fun at that first farm dinner, I decided to attend another one! Last week I zipped up to Smolak Farms in North Andover, MA for their "Garden to Gourmet" series called the Whim Dinner.
We had purchased tickets for a Whim Dinner on a Wednesday, so I left work at 5:30pm and headed into rush hour traffic. With my fingers crossed and praying for good traffic karma, I made it up there by 6:45pm (the dinner starts at 7:00pm).
I had never been to Smolak Farms before and it was gorgeous! The farm has been owned and operated by the Smolak family for three generations.
When you arrive, you are greeted by a symphony of signs, each one advertising a different piece of the farm's business.
The parking area is a adjacent to the farm house and this beautiful pond.
We pulled in as the sun was lowering in the sky, about an hour before sunset.
Since the lighting was so perfect, we decided to have an impromptu photo shoot. Who doesn't like posing on a hay ride?
After snapping several goofy pics, we followed to the signs toward the Whim Dinner.
As you walk toward the tent there is a sign that reads, "We're so glad you're here!" How cute is that?
While we were walking up the path toward the tent, we both remarked what a nice wedding venue Smolak Farms would be and turns out, they have a wedding sign permanently planted at the end of the path!
The tent for dinner was nestled in between rows of tall, lush, green trees.
We walked in just as they were announcing last call at the bar (for dinner, you order from your server). We wandered all around the tent and discovered that people were enjoying drinks on the far side of the tent, which overlooks another pond.
One of the Smolak Farms employees hopped on the microphone to let us know it was time to be seated for dinner. Your seating is assigned (it was assigned at the Herb Lyceum too).
Our table was decorated with a rosemary centerpiece and burlap place mats topped with doilies.
Each place setting had a mason jar with ice cold water and silverware tied with an iridescent ribbon.
There were menu cards scattered around at each table. I couldn't wait to see what we'd be enjoying.
When I lifted my silverware and went to put my napkin in my lap, I discovered that underneath each napkin the doily had been stamped with the word "Whim." I love these little touches that really make an experience feel special.
The Whim Dinner Series, now in its fifth year, invites a new chef every time and the person cooking for our evening was Steve DiFillippo from Davio's. I have been to two Davio's locations (downtown and Chestnut Hill) and remember being impressed.
Our first course was a salad of greens (from Smolak Farms), baby beets, crisped parmesan and a truffle vinaigrette.
It is well documented that I don't like beets, but I decided to give these a try since everyone at our table was raving about them. I have to say, they were excellent! Something about the preparation made them taste less earthy. The greens in the salad were super fresh, the truffle taste was very subtle (truffle can be super overpowering) and I absolutely loved the crunch from the parmesan chips. They tasted like Cheez-its!
As the plates were being cleared from the first course, the sun was beginning to set and the lights came on inside the tent.
For the second course, we were treated to hand-rolled potato gnocchi with summer squash, zucchini, basil, parmesan cheese and lemon thyme. Chef DiFillippo told the audience that the secret to his gnocchi is that his ratio is 90% potato, 10% flour.
I was hoping I'd love this dish, but I was really disappointed. The sauce was thin, we each received only one diced piece of each vegetable and despite the potato/flour ratio, these still tasted a bit gummy to me.
For the third course, the majority of folks received grilled salmon over eggplant caponata, topped with what we think was swiss chard. I had to ask my fellow table mates for their thoughts on this dish and I heard back, "The salmon was cooked perfectly. Salmon can taste really fishy, but this was nice and mild." Another chimed in, "The eggplant caponata doesn't seem like it would pair well with salmon, but because the taste of the fish was so mild, you really enjoyed the vegetables. And since the capanota had capers in it, it reminded me of capers and lox."
For the vegetarians in the group, the entree round consisted of eggplant caponata (the same that was served with the salmon), topped with grilled veggies and served with a side of corn on the cob.
For me, this dish was pretty bland. The grilled veggies were cooked nicely, but I wanted more kick or zing. I'm not usually a corn person, but since they gave me a whole ear, I felt like I had to at least take a few bites. That baby was slathered in butter!
Having now attended two farm dinners, I have to say, try as they might, they don't really cater to vegetarians when it comes to the entree round. This was true at both Smolak Farms and the Herb Lyceum. Just something to think about before you splurge on a ticket.
Between dinner and dessert, Chef DiFillippo came to the microphone to tell us a bit about Davio's and the team he was cooking with for the night. They employed some students from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
A portion of the proceeds from each Whim Dinner is donated to the charity of the chef's choice, and Chef DiFillippo chose the Greater Boston Food Bank. It felt good to know that as we were feasting, our ticket money was being donated.
For our fourth and final course, we were delivered a panna cotta with grilled peaches (from Smolak Farms) topped with a brown sugar crumble. Everyone knows that I usually won't touch a dessert unless it's chocolate, but all around me people were saying, "This is the best dish of the night," so I picked up a fork and gave it a whirl.
The panna cotta was smooth and light and the peaches were irresistibly fresh. The brown sugar crumble on top added a dash of decadence. The firmness of the peaches with the lightness of the panna cotta was an fabulous combination.
When I had licked my plate clean, I rediscovered the Whim stamp beneath my plate!
With the dinner complete, we said goodbye to our table mates and headed back toward the path. We turned around to get one last look at the tent and under the light of the moon and the strings of twinkle lights, it looked magical.
Smolak Farms is hosting two more Whim Dinners this summer, this Wednesday with Chef Eric Brennan of Post 390, and next Wednesday with Chef Mark Sapienza of The Langham. Unfortunately, the are both already sold out.
If you're interested in the Whim Dinner Series, definitely keep your eyes peeled next spring for the day the tickets go on sale.
In the meantime, you can visit Smolak Farm's ice cream stand, enjoy their apple picking season, or head up for pumpkins and hay rides.
Visit Smolak Farms at 315 S. Bradford Street, North Andover, MA, 01845.