It was a California dream, dining high above the city with only the night sky and the last fading clouds of sunset overhead. The long table was lined with congenial companions, faces glowing in the candlelight. No crowds, no traffic, no hustle, only the fresh smell of growing things around the small clearing where the table had been placed.
This was not a dream, though. It was dinner at Ocean View Farms, a community garden in Mar Vista.
Such gatherings don't usually take place there. This one was arranged to promote Giving through Growing, a project of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi in partnership with the American Community Gardening Association.
The aim is to encourage gardening as a way to beautify the community, with such side benefits as exercise and a bountiful harvest for one's own table.
For the Mar Vista dinner, Woodbridge enlisted the help of Outstanding in the Field, an outfit that sets up dinners at farms. ranches and gardens across the country.
Composed of freshly harvested, natural foods, the dishes were served family style to promote the communal spirit.
The night's produce came from purveyors extending from Venice and Santa Monica up the coast to Arroyo Grande and inland to Filmore, Littlerock and Santa Paula.
By the time the cooking was done and she came out to take a bow, it was too dark to see her.
These included seared albacore on aioli with cherry tomato agrodolce, sweet red pepper strips wrapped around ricotta, and crostini topped with fresh lima bean puree and tapenade.
Warned to wear sturdy shoes and bring wraps, because nights on the Westside are cool, they then walked through gardens abloom with tomatoes, roses, squash, herbs and anything else the community gardeners wanted to plant.
Located on an ancient sand dune, Ocean View Farms has some 500 plots and a waiting list of 600. And, yes, the location is high enough to glimpse the Pacific. No wonder there's a three-year wait to get in.
Those who succeed pay $30 a year and donate 12 hours of community service, ranging from picking up trash to turning steaming compost.
After watching how the composting is done, guests worked their way to the table, where they found crusty sourdough from Tavern to nibble on while they sipped Woodbridge's 2009 Pinot Grigio. Sprigs of Thai basil had been wrapped in dinner napkins along with the menu.
Next came grilled Santa Barbara spot prawns with golden tomato confit, garlic butter and herbed breadcrumbs, followed by grilled fresh sardines with dandelion greens and a squash casserole. These were wonderful to taste but hard to see, because it was growing so dark, as the photo shows.
The dark, barely filtered honey had been supplied by beekeeper Maurice Vickers of Santa Monica.
Dinner broke up slowly--who would want to leave such a peaceful, friendly scene? As they departed, guests were handed a produce sample and an envelope. Inside was a card printed with the saying by the late Robert Mondavi that had inspired the evening:
"This is my life, fine food and fine wine, bringing everyone together around the communal table."