Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, San Francisco CA

I will fully admit I was curious – how could a farmer’s market garner so much hype? I’ve been to the North Market in Columbus, East Market in Detroit, West Market in Cleveland, the Grove Market in Los Angeles, and any number of small town markets throughout Ohio, Michigan, and the Midwest – I’d also been to the Ferry Plaza on my previous visit to San Franciso and, while impressive I wasn’t “blown away.” Eating breakfast at Canteen and making my way through Chinatown on my way to the Ferry Plaza on a rain-threatening Saturday I first stopped into ABC Café for an Egg Custard since A) I’d never had one and B) The Chinese man at the hotel desk told me they made “really good ones” when I asked. Buttery, crispy, and egg-y with just a hint of sweetness I’d say the 80 cents was well spent, but it isn’t something I’d crave. Continuing my walk and snapping pictures I was yelled at by three women not to take pictures as I was amused by dried sharks fins, fruits I’d never seen, and all sorts of hanging meats – we don’t have this in Ohio, sorry to be such a tourist!

Arriving at the Embarcadero I could already see a difference from my past visit to the Ferry Plaza – about 30 booths on the west side of the street (Arts and Crafts) and 40+ on the East side (yay, food!) Raised by crafty ladies I browsed the Arts and Crafts section, but being so early and the weather being so bad there really wasn’t much to see – some fine Metals, but my sister does better. Making my way across the street the first booth I saw featured all sorts of Organic produce at prices that undersold many/most non-organic sellers in Ohio – I shed a couple tears (or was that rain in my eye?) Sampling some wonderful Jonagolds, Blood Oranges, and Quince I walked along past the outdoor Blue Bottle, Bruins Farms Tomatoes (never seen this many varieties in one place), and found myself in front of Marshall’s Farms Honey – where I proceeded to sample about 15 varieties including a sublime almond and pumpkin honey…the nuance of each was simply mindblowing. One of my biggest regrets of the current airline “charge for luggage” system is that I can’t buy liquids over 2oz without having them confiscated – I’d prefer just order online than buy, pack, and find a place to ship home.

Wandering a bit more I stopped by Hare Hollow where I tried some interesting olive oils and a particularly sublime 7.5% acidity ginger-blackberry and date-fig vinegar that, despite being pricey, will be in my cupboard soon. Next up, making my way North, was Saint Benoit Yogurt with their interesting stone-ware containers and deposit system – if I lived locally their honey yogurt would be replacing Dannon plain on a permanent basis. Browsing some beautiful orchids, eating some more fruits (more quince and some plumellos,)and tasting some interesting chutneys and baba ganoush it suddenly began to pour thus necessitating I duck into the market itself for a bit – just like the other 500ish people.

Warm, moist, and crowded – the inside of the market actually reminded me of a crowded concert venue – wandering along I spotted the new indoor Blue Bottle and thought about stopping…until I saw the 50+ person line and realized the last thing I wanted was something warm to drink.

(Wanting at least 2lbs to take home and needing a Blue Bottle that took credit I later stopped by the awesome Mint Plaza location to see the glorious $20,000 Halogen roaster and was appropriately wowed – and the India Jasmine Estate is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.)

In my walk to Blue Bottle, however, I did pass in front of Miette and the smiling lady behind the counter actually asked me if I wanted a sample – given their awful service on my last visit I must admit I was shocked. Stepping closer I asked her what I was being handed and she told me a Rose Geranium Macaron. Biting into the crispy exterior and sensing the wonderfully moist and fragrant interior I must admit I was amply pleased – this was a VERY good Macaron. Adequately impressed I decided to give in and make a purchase, buying another Rose Geranium as well as a Pistachio Macaron and a “Classic” Cupcake. While the Pistachio didn’t quite hold up to the superb flowered cookie, it was actually quite good and nearly on par with my favorite Pistachio Macaron ever at Pistachia Vera in Columbus. The cupcake, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well in that while the cake was quite moist and delicious in texture, the frosting was actually quite gummy and bland – as though there was simply too much xanthan or guar gum and too little liquid.

Walking into Boulette’s Larder I was handed a small chocolate chip cookie by a tall man in a chef’s garment and told it was fresh baked – amazing in its texture and featuring (I was told) Sharffen Berger chocolate from the stand just down the way the cookie was still warm and on its own made up for the averageness of the $3.00 cupcake I’d just purchased at Miette. Watching a short cooking demonstration I noted it had stopped raining and made my way out past the incredibly crowded Frog’s Hollow to the back half of the market.

Larger than the front and featuring even more prepared goods (and samples) my first taste occurred at Spring Hill Jersey Cheese where I tasted somewhere between 8 and 10 wonderfully accented artisanal cheeses that escape my mind at this time aside from a truly superb lemon and chive feta – the staff was wonderful and actually encouraged “as much sampling as you like” and I felt bad not buying anything. I next made my way further along where I enjoyed more fruit (never realized there were 3 types of blood orange – let alone 11 varieties of heirloom strawberries,) some Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Black Mission Fig Jam ::drool:: and a myriad of dried fruits at Blossom Bluff.

Making my way along the path past the Gandhi statue and a garden of herbs, mounds of organic meats, and other delectable artisan goods I spied a man eating what appeared to be a fantastic chocolate croissant and drinking some of the liquid hot chocolate from near the back door – asking him where he got the croissant he told me Della Fattoria but “I think they’re sold out.” Pointing me in that direction I made my way to Della and indeed they were sold out of the croissants – what they weren’t sold out of, however, was something far more divine – caramelized brioche bread pudding. Organic, natural sea salts, extra virgin olive oil, pure caramelized organic cow’s milk – sold! Served in a small tart wrapper and still somewhat warm I was handed the treasure just as it once again began to rain – heavily. Nestled under the umbrella I dug in and once again was mesmerized by how such simple ingredients can make something so wonderful. Not overly moist like the bread pudding at Ad Hoc or Jeanty the day before the texture was more donut like (like Keller’s at Bouchon Bakery in Vegas) and absolutely excellent with hints of cinnamon, sweet, and salty all in great balance.

Feeling quite stuffed (and soaked) I made my way back to the indoor area past Prather Ranch and a large rotisserie chicken outfit with a long line standing in the rain. Stopping in Sur La Table I realized there was at least one thing in the Market that we do have in Ohio – similarly priced, too. Entering the market again I watched a young man next to Tsar caviar form perfect crepes for a group of onlookers and walked past another long line of customers waiting for fresh Italian Pastries that had apparently just arrived via bicycle delivery man. Realizing that if I stuck around any longer I’d be incredibly full (and broke) and unable to eat lunch I made my way to the street where I watched a few performers play the drums and a saxophone – quite impressively, I must say. When the rain finally ceased I started my walk towards my hotel only to get caught in yet another storm at which point I opted for the Westfield shopping center for a movie and some digestion time.

All told the market absolutely lives up to its hype in every conceivable manner. What exists at a 9 out of 10 experience on any day of the week literally becomes a 15 out of 10 on Saturday. If I lived in San Francisco I really can’t imagine myself shopping anywhere besides the Farmer’s Market and the Berkeley Bowl for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and breads. Stunning – and quite honestly, you could eat breakfast and lunch nearly for free if you were so inclined!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow! you seemed to really enjoy your time at the farmer's market... I went on a sunny day for only an hour or so, but could have spent all afternoon and every saturday there after... i found this article in a local magazize, 7x7, that sums up the market and current food trends.