I Left My Heart at Chino Farm


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When Chad suggested going to the Wild Animal Park just outside of San Diego on Saturday, I countered with a suggestion to stop at the legendary Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe on the way.

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Walking up to the stand, we were greeted from just about this point by the mingling fragrances of glorious produce (and it can’t be denied, the sight of many parked luxury cars).

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Looking at these pictures, I feel the same pang of regret that I feel when I look at my pictures from Pierre Herme: Why didn’t I get one of everything when I had the chance?

And my pictures barely begin to show the variety of produce that was available. I’m particularly haunted by the memory of their peach tomatoes, in both red and yellow. They were tomatoes with a matted, slightly fuzzy skin, and looked so unusual.

But we were sporting around in a car without A/C, and we had a hot day at the wilderness park ahead of us to boot. It wouldn’t have been right to let such produce waste away in the heat, so I got as much as I thought we could handle as part of lunch.

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I’m posting this picture a second time, because they were amazing. We were told that they were French strawberries, and I’m guessing that they were mara des bois. Despite the ubiquity of strawberries and strawberry flavorings, strawberries often have an elusive flavor — their fullness experienced in fleeting, almost side, sensations. The flavor of these was full-on, with an exquisite, lingering after-taste. If you were in a certain mood, I bet that you could spend a pleasant afternoon by eating one every five minutes.

This punnet had been fuller, btw; we ate quite a few before I managed a photo (and I swear that they were much redder than my pic shows up online). It cost $5.

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I also got golden raspberries. I loved their velvety texture, and the plumpness of each drupelet. These were mildly sweet and mildly tart, with a sort of honeyed apricot undertone to the raspberry flavor. They were $5 (and had also been grazed on by us before the photo).

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I also inquired into their pluots, and was told that they were still starchy and needed to sit out for a few days. When I explained that we were going to eat the fruit right away, the kind woman searched through their selection and found one that was just right. It was a gorgeous, deep red inside, with a balanced sweetness and flavor. I’ve started to brace myself for the tartness of plum skins, but this had no such way about it, probably thanks to the apricot influence. And it was gratis.

Driving around the area is great fun, by the way. It reminds me slightly of a hotter Sonoma, with farm stands tucked into the hills and curvy roads. Back when I lived in Napa, I would often daydream about hopping into my car to make the pilgrimage to Wild Flour Bread. Now, Chino Farm is my new dreamy destination of choice.

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We even stopped at a winery, Orfila Vineyards, that we happened upon for a tasting. I particularly liked their tawny port, which was accompanied by a bittersweet chocolate callet.

And the Wild Animal Park was very good. It’s an “1800-acre wildlife preserve that allows visitors to view herds of exotic animals as they might be seen in their native lands.” It’s affiliated with the San Diego Zoo. In general, there seemed to be a lot of room for the animals (so if you go, prepare to walk a lot). We saw flamingos, warthogs, okapis, lions, gorillas, cheetahs, meerkats, Asian and African elephants, vultures, tarantulas, snakes, guineafowls, gerenuks, tigers, and more…

We also learned that lions sleep up to 20 hrs a day!

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6 Responses to “I Left My Heart at Chino Farm”

  1. The TriniGourmet Says:

    i love to see fresh produce from around the world 🙂

  2. Nina Says:

    Me, too. 🙂 Wish you could have tasted it, too!

  3. Aaron Says:

    Hey Nina…
    I planned a trip down south in early September just to go to Chino Ranch.
    I’m so excited. One question…did you have to make any arrangements, or did you just show up?
    Do you have any contact info for them? Do you know if they’re open every day?
    Okay, I guess that was more than one…Thanks
    Those Mara de bois are beautiful…I had the recent pleasure of a basket myself and they are certainly a unique experience.

  4. Nina Says:

    Hi Aaron,
    Ooohh, you’re going to love it. 🙂
    We just showed up. As far as I could tell, they don’t post a sign w/ their name on it and the farm stand seems small given their renown, but you figure it’s them b/c the stand’s on the edge of an extremely lush farm amid otherwise somewhat scraggly terrain (definitely have good directions there, b/c it’s seemingly in the middle of nowhere).

    Their number is (858) 756-3184. They’re closed mondays, and I think that tues-sat is 10-4, and sun is 10-1. If you’re planning on getting there on the early or late side, I would call ahead just to make sure. And enjoy!!!

  5. Aaron Says:

    Wow Nina…as always, above and beyond…thanks for the info. I’ll give them a call and give you a full report when the time comes.

  6. Nina Says:

    Aw, shucks, thanks.
    And yes, I want to to know EVERYTHING about what you get. 🙂

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