Under the starlight at Venetucci Farm



Venetucci Farm held its third and final Starlight Dinner of the season last night.

Click here to view a slideshow from the evening.

A gorgeous setting for a very special meal.

The dinner is largely designed as a fundraiser, with proceeds from $125 seats going directly toward the farm's programming and operation. (Our attendance was comped, however.)

I had not attended a night from the series since the inaugural dinner in August 2008, and my Indy food cohort, Bryce Crawford, had never yet been to one.

With a few years of practice, the evening's flow and pacing has certainly been refined, and a large group of Pikes Peak Community Foundation volunteers and Bon Appétit staff took good care of guests. Bon Appétit chef Ed Clark was the featured guest chef and pulled most of his ingredients directly from the farm, with some assists from area outfits like Austin Family Farms, The Goat Cheese Lady and Larga Vista Ranch.

Mike Bristol from Bristol Brewing Company introduced and poured six of his company's ales throughout the evening, and Michael Clouse from Synergy Fine Wines discussed and delivered seven different wines, all available at The Wine Store.

Yes, there was plenty of just sipping and sampling and using of the dump buckets provided at tables, as not even farm mascot Harley the Hog (would that he drank) could have finished all that booze, not to mention the final treat of apple whiskey from Denver's Leopold Bros.

For my part, I had a blast, and though I didn't quite come near tearing up — as Pikes Peak Community Foundation CEO Michael Hannigan did almost every time he got up to tell a story about the farm's legacy couple, Nick and Bambi Venetucci — I certainly felt that special energy of the evening, a combination of the candlelit tables brimming with super-fresh local food and excellent drinks, the cool night air and farm animals scampering around just yards from our tables, and good conversation with caring folks in our culinary, agriculture and nonprofit communities.

I now yield the floor to Bryce, who has provided the following brief rundown of our meal:

The first course came in the form of a tray loaded with beautiful pickled carrots, radishes and the like, with grilled bread and a giant lump of goat cheese via The Goat Cheese Lady. With the produce picked from farmland sitting 10 feet away, it was a quiet beginning with big meaning. The wine pairing came from the Bastianich family — of MasterChef and public television fame — with lightly acidic pear flavors.

Next came a very thick, lovely potato soup, topped with thin strands of fried leeks and crispy smoked bacon strips. I didn’t taste any cheese, but that was fine, since the literally liquefied mashed potatoes were thick with butter and cream; just imagine the sweet German yeasts of Bristol Brewing’s Octoberfest lager following each spoonful.

I would’ve preferred the third course to come after the pickled vegetables and prior to the soup, for the sake of flavor continuity, but the plate of cubed watermelon with beets and arugula was still fun. The peppery arugula hit me more like an off note than something complementary, but the beets/melon combo was perfect.

Our entrée, topped with truffle oil as it was, could be smelled from 15 feet away: cold-smoked New York steak, with a potato-pumpkin-Gorgonzola au gratin and braised chard, which was almost swimming in the oil. The smoking was a gorgeous touch, the taste eking out of each bite, but the steaks were unevenly cooked — Matthew’s ringing pink and tender, and mine chewy and brown. Still, the flavors were exactly right, and the sides were wonderful. Bristol’s Local 5 Ale was the beer pairing here — a British ESB whose mild maltiness didn’t beat out the smoky tones.

A dessert of apple bread pudding with caramel sauce and sage ice cream — with, disappointingly, no discernible sage flavor — was made all the more fun with a shot of apple whiskey from Leopold Bros.

If all this sounds like something you may want to consider for a special occasion next year, keep in mind that these dinners sell out quickly each season. Keep an eye on the PPCF's website and our Side Dish column and IndyBlog for fair warning.

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