Table to Farm Dinners, Fairplex, Pomona
This will be a little different. For one thing, it’s fine dining; for another, my meal was comped, i.e., free. I always pay for these Restaurant of the Week meals out of my own pocket, but $75 was a bit much to absorb, so I took the Fair up on the meal (on their third invitation) rather than not go and not write about it. Take this writeup with all that in mind.
McKinley’s Grille, the Sheraton’s restaurant at Pomona’s Fairplex, has been growing produce on an acre in the FairView Farms area of the fairgrounds for its own use and last year began hosting outdoor dinners there on roughly a monthly basis — bringing, as the name suggests, the dining tables into the farm area.
I attended Aug. 19. So did a lot of people. After a writeup in the Bulletin’s Home & Garden section, attendance was 102, more than double the usual number.
After taking a tram from the Sheraton, you walk past the garden plots, where hors d’oeuvres and wine are offered, and then are seated at communal tables. Food is prepared on a grill a few feet away and in an enclosed kitchen. The effect is pleasingly rustic and yet it’s also fine dining, which this night included wine pairings, as a jazz duo played.
Dishes, to quote from the menu card, were Santa Barbara spot prawn with chili-fermented tomatillo; farm tomato with dill pollen, extra virgin olive oil, tomato tarragon jam and crisp pappadam; Hoja Santa steamed king salmon with Thai basil fig compote (pictured); Duroc pork belly with farm muscat grapes (pictured); Colorado lamb loin, farm eggplant and toasted sesame; and, for dessert, a cheese plate, farm strawberry creme fraiche tart and creme fraiche ice cream with ginger mint syrup (the syrup was missing, by the way).
Most of this was good to very good, the tomato appetizer, pork belly and tart being the standouts; the bread assortment was also excellent. The salmon was unseasoned and boring, the shrimp soggy. Two people who had the clam fritter hors d’oeuvre said it was rubbery and unpleasant. In another demerit, the plates given to two of us were dusty and we had to wipe them off with our napkins.
As a non-drinker, the wine pairings weren’t of interest to me. My friend was of two minds: Because the wines all came from the same winery in Paso Robles, there wasn’t a wide range; on the other hand, everyone received the equivalent of a half-bottle or more, which made the $75 price fair. Service was attentive and friendly, although most of the food was presented family style, and the wine kept flowing.
A couple from Chino Hills sitting next to us were there for the first time and were enthusiastic about the food (except the salmon) and the uniqueness of the setting. “It was absolutely worth it,” the man said.
A dissenting view was heard from a man who’d been to previous dinners, saying the usual $50 price was a great deal but that $75 that night was too much, especially without the usual individual service.
It’s a lovely setting, a novelty night out and a rare chance for fine dining in the Inland Valley, but the experience wasn’t without problems. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s worth your $75. The last dinners for the year are planned for Oct. 7 (details are here) and Nov. 4. Contact McKinley’s Grill at 909-868-5915 for reservations.
Next week in this space we’ll be back to regular-folks food, where we’ll all feel more comfortable.