Communal tables encourage strangers to become friends.
Communal tables encourage strangers to become friends.
(Via Outstanding in the Field)
Food & Drink

The al fresco renaissance: Your guide to Santa Cruz County’s revitalized farm-to-table dinner offerings

With a two-year pause leading to high demand, local chefs, farms and winemakers are putting on their best al fresco show with a full calendar of farm-to-table meals, tasting salons and special outdoor dinners. Here’s Lily Belli’s full guide to the season ahead.

Be the first to know about the latest food news. Sign up to get story alerts from Lily delivered straight to your phone.

Graphic of Lookout Guide signature

On a warm August morning in 2017, a friend and I took our seats at one of two long tables at the Scotts Valley farmers market. We managed to snag two of the last tickets to one of its coveted al fresco market brunches — a splurge for a couple of writers in our mid-20s. This one showcased the breakfast talents of chef Brad Briske, who had only recently opened a buzzy new fine dining restaurant in Soquel. We, along with 50 or so other diners, eagerly awaited what Briske would cook up for breakfast outside of his dinner-only establishment.

We weren’t disappointed. Under an awning and surrounded by the bustle of the market at the height of summer, our meal included champagne mimosas with sparkling wine from Santa Cruz’s Equinox Winery and a BLT sandwich with crispy house-cured porchetta, bursting tomatoes and a runny farmers market egg, plus four other courses.

He sourced all the ingredients from local markets, whose stalls surrounded us, overflowing with treasures. Briske applauded the relevant farmers with the arrival of each course. As we sat at communal tables, deepening our knowledge of local agriculture and cuisine, it was easy to reach across the table to our neighbors and deepen the bonds with our community.

In the Before Times, farm-to-table events like this flourished throughout the summer and into the fall, but for the past two years COVID-19 restrictions and fears limited them or made them impossible. Now, with a sense of normalcy creeping back into everyday life, they’re back.

With more than 30 events to look forward to in 2022, we have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time. This year, Outstanding in the Field, pioneers in the farm-to-table movement, hosts 16 events throughout the Central Coast. Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which promotes wineries in our local viticulture area, now offers the highest-ever number of events to its Taste of Terroir dinner and tasting salons, with seven slated.

The Chaminade’s popular Vine to View dinner series at its restaurant overlooking Monterey Bay returns with eight four-course feasts paired with different beverage makers. New this year, chef Diego Felix hosts intimate monthly South America-meets-Santa Cruz dinners in the Swift Street Courtyard.

Not everyone is ready to spring back into action. The farmers market breakfasts like the one I enjoyed won’t return until 2023, says Nesh Dillon, executive director of the Santa Cruz farmers markets. However, look for the debut of some low-risk events this year.

Despite some lingering caution, the community seems ready to party, and expect tickets to sell out fast. Keiki McKay, executive director of Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, says that it has expanded its calendar of events at the public’s request. “We held two in 2019, and had four planned for 2020 that were all canceled. We were able to hold five in 2021 with COVID protocols,” says McKay. “This year we are at seven. People asked for more!”

Every event listed here transcends a typical dining experience. Expect to immerse yourself in the unique, sometimes secret, locations, by enjoying a guided tour before the meal. Perhaps you’ll start the evening with a coastal foraging lesson, aperitivos in an apple orchard or a walk through the vineyard.

Chefs and winemakers take time to introduce guests to their ingredients while staring out at the fields, oceans and vineyards where they grew, swam and ripened. The communal tables seen at many of these events are intentional. Organizers hope that each guest walks away with something greater than a full belly — appreciation for their community and food systems, and hopefully a sense of awe.

These premium events are priced accordingly, and tickets range from almost $100 a seat to just under $500. For that price, expect much more than just a dinner outside. Be aware that spots for many events sell out quickly. Use this guide to plan ahead and snag tickets as soon as they’re available.

To help you, I’ve marked events with a 🚀 ... these are my choices for those that are particularly special — could even be a blast — and likely to be worth the splurge.

Happy dining!

Oh, and be sure to bookmark this guide — more events will be added as they become available. To list an event, email lily@lookoutlocal.com.

The Taste of Terroir tasting and dinner series takes place at wineries throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Taste of Terroir tasting and dinner series takes place at wineries throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.
(Via Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains.)

APRIL

Saturday, April 16, in Santa Cruz: South America x Santa Cruz Collectivo Dinner in the Swift Street Courtyard. Once a month, Argentinian-born chef Diego Felix opens a 20-seat restaurant on the patio in front of 11th Hour Coffee and prepares a five-course South American feast using Santa Cruz ingredients. Wine pairings featuring South American and California wines are curated by Soif sommelier Alexis Carr. Neighboring businesses Eothen and Illuminée provide flowers and lighting. Tickets $90; wine pairing $35. More info.

Friday, April 29, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients paired with area wines. This event features wines from Bonny Doon’s Beauregard Vineyards. Tickets $142. More info.

MAY

Saturday, May 21, in Carmel Valley: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Tira Nanza Wines. Hosted by vintners Greg Hill and Sydney Sharek of Tira Nanza and featuring guest chef Ben Spungin of Alta Bakery and Cella in Monterey, previously of Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur and The French Laundry in Napa. “Ben’s cooking highlights locally grown seasonal ingredients and bright flavors. An ideal match for Tira Nanza’s distinctive estate-grown wines.” Tickets $385. More info.

Saturday, May 21, in Santa Cruz: South America x Santa Cruz Collectivo Dinner in the Swift Street Courtyard. Once a month, Argentinian-born chef Diego Felix opens a 20-seat restaurant on the patio in front of 11th Hour Coffee and prepares a five-course South American feast using Santa Cruz ingredients. Wine pairings featuring South American and California wines are curated by Soif sommelier Alexis Carr. Neighboring businesses Eothen and Illuminée provide flowers and lighting. Tickets $90; wine pairing $35. More info.

🚀 Sunday, May 22, in Boulder Creek: Taste of Terroir dinner at Big Basin Vineyards. High in the Santa Cruz Mountains, dine among the redwoods. Chef Brad Briske of Home restaurant in Soquel prepares a four-course farm-to-table feast paired with wines from host winery Big Basin Vineyards, Lexington Wine Co., Sandar & Hem, Saison and more. Tickets $155. More info.

Tuesday, May 24, in Big Sur: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret location. Dine at a majestic ranch along ocean bluffs in Big Sur, “perhaps our most extraordinary site to date.” Hosted by John and Suzy Moon of Big Sur Natural Beef with chef Matt Millea of Post Ranch Inn and Big Sur Bakery. Stay on site in deluxe glamping accommodations. Tickets $485. More info.

Wednesday, May 25, in Big Sur: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret location. Dine at a majestic ranch along ocean bluffs in Big Sur, “perhaps our most extraordinary site to date.” Hosted by John and Suzy Moon of Big Sur Natural Beef with chef Clark Staub of Full of Life Flatbread, an OITF veteran. Stay onsite in deluxe glamping accommodations. Tickets $485. More info.

Friday, May 27, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients paired with area wines. This event features wines from Soquel’s Bargetto Winery. Tickets $142. More info.

Saturday, May 28, in Pescadero: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret sea cove. Santa Cruz fisherman Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish hosts a seafood feast at a secret location along the water. Tickets $385. More info.

🚀 Sunday, May 29 in Pescadero: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret sea cove. Under the blinking lights of the historic Pigeon Point lighthouse, fisherman Hans Haveman of Santa Cruz’s H&H Fresh Fish hosts with chef Alex Hong of San Francisco’s Sorrel. Tickets $385. More info.

Monday, May 30, in Pescadero: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret sea cove. At a mysterious coastal location, enjoy an oceanic feast with toes in the sand alongside host fisherman Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish in Santa Cruz and chef Nelson German of Oakland’s alaMar. Tickets $385. More info.

Argentina chef Diego Felix holds monthly dinners in the Swift Street Courtyard
Argentina chef Diego Felix holds monthly dinners in the Swift Street Courtyard featuring a five-course South America-meets-Santa Cruz menu.
(Via Diego Felix)

JUNE

🚀 Wednesday, June 15, in Half Moon Bay: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Markegard Family Grass-Fed. Ecological ranchers Doniga and Erik Markegard host at their scenic coastal ranch while chef Siska Silitonga prepares an Indonesian-inspired meal using pastured meat from the ranch. Tickets $365. More info.

Saturday, June 18, in Santa Cruz: South America x Santa Cruz Collectivo Dinner in the Swift Street Courtyard. Once a month, Argentinian-born chef Diego Felix opens a 20-seat restaurant on the patio in front of 11th Hour Coffee and prepares a five-course South American feast using Santa Cruz ingredients. Wine pairings featuring South American and California wines are curated by Soif sommelier Alexis Carr. Neighboring businesses Eothen and Illuminée provide flowers and lighting. Tickets $90; wine pairing $35. More info.

Saturday, June 18, in Soquel: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Everett Family Farm. Farmers Rich and Laura Everett host at their family farm, famous for their cider apples, and Santa Cruz chef Jessica Yarr of Chicken Foot prepares an Eastern European-inspired feast. Tickets $365. More info.

🚀 Sunday, June 19, in Soquel: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Everett Family Farm. Dine in Rich and Laura Everett’s abundant vegetable beds at Everett Family Farm, which lies along Soquel Creek. Chef Carlo Espinas of The Lede in Oakland and Emmanuel Galvan of Bolita Masa, a pop-up that showcases heritage Mexican ingredients. Tickets $365. More info.

Tuesday, June 21, in Watsonville: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Lonely Mountain Farm. On the summer solstice, farmers Kenny and Molly Baker host at their organic farm and Soquel chef Brad Briske of Home prepares a hyper-seasonal and hyper-local meal. Tickets $365. More info.

Friday, June 24, in Saratoga: Taste of Terroir tasting and dinner at House Family Vineyards. At House Family Vineyards on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, sample Pinot Noirs and rosé of Pinot Noir from fourteen different wineries in our local AVA. The two-and-a-half-hour tasting salon is limited to fifty spots. Guests may stay for a four-course winemaker dinner made by chef Ross Hanson of Oak & Rye in Los Gatos. Tasting Salon tickets $75; Tasting & dinner tickets $165. More info.

Thursday, June 30, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients paired with spectacular wines. This event features wines from Italian winery Antinori Italian Wine, which has been in the same family for six centuries. Tickets $142. More info.

JULY

Saturday, July 23, in Santa Cruz: South America x California Collectivo Dinner in the Swift Street Courtyard. Once a month, Argentinian-born chef Diego Felix opens a 20-seat restaurant on the patio in front of 11th Hour Coffee and prepares a five-course South American feast using Santa Cruz ingredients. Wine pairings featuring South American and California wines are curated by Soif sommelier Alexis Carr. Neighboring businesses Eothen and Illuminée provide flowers and lighting. Tickets $90; wine pairing $35. More info.

Friday, July 29, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients paired with spectacular wines. This event features wines from Napa’s infamous Stag’s Leap Winery. Tickets $212. More info.

AUGUST

🚀 Wednesday, Aug. 17, in Cupertino: Taste of Terroir tasting and dinner at Ridge Monte Bello. Taste some of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignon at the iconic Ridge Vineyards at historic Monte Bello Estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Chef Ross Hanson of Los Gatos’ Oak & Rye prepares a four-course dinner paired with wines from Ridge Vineyards. A wine reception will feature wines from Naumann Vineyards, Dorich Family Vineyards, Fellom Ranch and Vidovich Vineyards. Tickets $185. More info.

Saturday, Aug. 20, in Santa Cruz: South America x California Collectivo Dinner in the Swift Street Courtyard. Once a month, Argentinian-born chef Diego Felix opens a 20-seat restaurant on the patio in front of 11th Hour Coffee and prepares a five-course South American feast using Santa Cruz ingredients. Wine pairings featuring South American and California wines are curated by Soif sommelier Alexis Carr. Neighboring businesses Eothen and Illuminée provide flowers and lighting. Tickets $90; wine pairing $35. More info.

Sunday, Aug. 21, in Corralitos: Taste of Terroir tasting and dinner at Lester Estate Wines. Explore the wines of Corralitos, a unique microclimate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at Lester Estate winery. The tasting features 14 wineries from Corralitos and Aptos, followed by an intimate four-course meal.

Friday, Aug. 26, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients. This event features pairings by Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon. Tickets $236.

SEPTEMBER

Friday, Sept. 30, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients. This event features pairings by Cincorro Tequila. Tickets $236. More info.

OCTOBER

Saturday, Oct. 1, in Soquel: Teen Kitchen Project Benefit at Everett Family Farm. Celebrate 10 years of Teen Kitchen Project, a Santa Cruz County-based nonprofit that educates teens on valuable kitchen skills by providing meals to local residents in need.

Wednesday, Oct. 5, in Santa Cruz: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Happy Valley Farm. Enjoy a special meal in the organic orchard where the idea for OITF was born. Bill Denevan is OITF founder Jim Denevan’s brother, and Jim grew up tending the apple trees. Jim, who was the chef at Santa Cruz’s Gabriella Café before starting OITF, will be the chef at this special event. Tickets $385. More info.

🚀 Saturday, Oct. 8, in Pescadero: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret sea cove. Dine at a pristine cove inaccessible by foot. Santa Cruz fisherman Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish hosts with Santa Cruz chef Jessica Yarr of Chicken Foot to prepare an oceanic Eastern European-inspired feast. Tickets $385. More info.

Sunday, Oct. 9, in Pescadero: Outstanding in the Field dinner at secret sea cove. At the last meal of the season in this secret coastal location, Santa Cruz fisherman Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish hosts once again, this time with chef Brad Briske of Soquel’s Home restaurant. Tickets $385. More info.

Thursday, Oct. 27, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients paired with local wines. This event features pairings by Alfaro Winery in Corralitos. Tickets $142. More info.

NOVEMBER

Saturday, Nov. 5, in Big Sur: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Big Sur secret location. Dine at a hilltop table at a bucolic ranch in Big Sur. Ranchers John and Suzy Moon of Big Sur Natural Beef host with Big Sur chef Matt Millea to prepare a hyper-local feast. Consider staying the night by glamping on the farm. Tickets $485. More info.

Sunday, Nov. 6, in Big Sur: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Big Sur secret location. The hilltop Big Sur Natural Beef ranch, owned by John and Suzy Moon, is as far from a normal kitchen as you can get, and that suits guest chef Adam Dulye of the Brewers Association just fine. Consider staying the night by glamping on the farm. Tickets $485. More info.

Monday, Nov. 7, in Big Sur: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Big Sur Secret Location. The final meal OITF of the season at their beloved secret ranch location. Big Sur Natural Beef ranchers John and Suzy Moon host one last time, while guests enjoy a late-autumn meal. Chef TBD. Consider staying the night by glamping on the farm. Tickets $485. More info.

Friday, Nov. 18, in Santa Cruz: Vine to View Farm-to-Table Dinner at Chaminade. Ring in the holiday season with exquisite champagnes. The team at Chaminade’s the View restaurant will prepare a special four-course dinner using locally sourced ingredients paired with Nicolas Feuillatte and Palm D’Or Champagne. Tickets $189. More info.

DECEMBER

No events yet! Check back soon.