ForageSF’s underground dinners are a thing of legend in this town. After hearing about these things for several months, we finally landed seats at Friday’s iteration of the secretive sit-down feast. The nearly 5 hour, 8 course (9 if you count the amuse bouche) meal brought an eclectic mix of food enthusiasts together for an evening of locally foraged delicacies. And that’s the point. The genius behind ForageSF, Iso Rabins, is passionate about his “mission to connect Bay Area dwellers with the wild food that is all around them.” The foods presented to diners are “collected” from San Francisco Bay Area sources – wooded land, the ocean, public spaces. Most of the food is wild. The fruits come from local trees that haven’t been touched by pesticides. All of it harvested sustainably.
With low lighting, spare but tastefully set communal tables and the wines we brought with us, we sat down for a fascinating culinary romp through the season’s best. Our buddy Paul joined us on this, our first ForageSF dinner adventure. It was a delightful evening of good food and great friends!
[Paired with a 2008 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay made from organic Mendocino grapes.]
We started with an amuse bouche of toasted slices of baguette that were generously doused with butter infused with locally picked bay laurel leaves. It was a simple, savory and oh so tasty beginning hinting of interesting fare to follow. The party of ladies sharing our table wasn’t as impressed as we were.
What followed was a redux of a ForageSF favorite–Stinging Nettle Soup. We loved it. The broth was savory and perfectly seasoned. Pureed nettles and crème fraiche were artfully drizzled over the base. From first taste to last spoonful, this soup was a winner. We understood why it continues to show up on the menu. It was a beautiful soup.
Porcini-infused polenta came to the table next paired with in-season heirloom tomatoes and thin slices of porcinis. The flavor of porcini in the polenta was subtle and we thought the dish needed a little something more. Maybe some local crunchy sea salt sprinkled on top?
The yellow tail sashimi that came next was paired with tempura-fried sea beans from Bolinas (delicious) and wild nori picked off the rocks of Pescadero. Yellow tail is sinewy and the cubes of raw fish were chewy and unpleasant. Sashimi should be thinly sliced to be tender and not tough. The dressing needed to be bigger and bolder, but it was flavorless. The seaweed was fresh and seemed to delight people who like that sort of thing. Jason loved it. Me? Not so much (I’m not a big fan of seaweed). I thought this was the biggest “miss” of the evening, but could have been so much more if properly prepared.
[Paired with a 2008 Hamilton-Stevens Pinot Noir from the Russian River valley.]
Roasted marrowbones were delicious paired with paper-thin fennel, fennel fronds and pickled sea beans and toast. Marrow is one of those things you either love or hate. These Marin Sun Farms marrowbones were awesome! I could have eaten them all night, but their extra rich profile would have done me in had I not moved on to the next course.
Fresh ricotta, foraged figs from Berkeley, fennel pollen, pea tendrils and fava beans – wow! The cheese was perfect as were the favas. This was one of the best dishes of the evening.
The showstopper came next as our servers presented plates of risotto blackened with squid ink and topped with smoked cod, asparagus and wild morels. Seriously! This dish was rich and hearty. The risotto was perfectly al dente. The squid ink adds subtle briny flavor that paired perfectly with the smoky flakes of fish. Asparagus provided balance in what could have been an overly flavorful dish. The morels? Well, nobody says “no” to fresh wild morels.
As the meal wound down, we were served a salad of mixed greens and roasted red and yellow beets and, you guessed it, more sea beans. This was the perfect palate cleanser after the hearty risotto. The vinaigrette was simple – a welcome companion to the delicious beets.
Our meal ended with a trio of foraged fruit sorbets – loquat, citrus and plum. They were paired with an unidentified green that tasted of licorice or maybe tarragon, and a ginger snap cookie. The sorbets were delicious and the perfect ending of a long rich meal.
Our compliments to the cooks and the servers. The meal was intimate and memorable. Stay tuned for future wild meal stories. If you get the chance to indulge in one of these amazing community meals, we recommend you take it. We happily recommend the experience and promise to keep the locale a secret!