Eating for others

SF Underground at SOMArts and New Taste Market at St. Gregory's church.

We spent our weekend in two very different, but equally community-driven food “markets” where we ate amazing food while supporting causes we believe in. The somewhat regularly scheduled SF Underground Market, presented by forageSF, brings together a diverse collection of home cooks and small businesses that serve and sell foods not typically available in your local supermarket. The market supports small producers by providing them space to promote their creations to a sophisticated and ever hungry public. Markets like SF Underground Market encourage the production of healthful, organic, low-environmental impact foods. Consumers support it by buying. Like others we’ve attended, this weekend’s SF Underground Market was a huge success by any measure.

Tamales by Rudy's chile relleno tamale.

Tamales by Rudy

We loved the crunchy kalefornia “chips” which were tangy and flavorful by Samsara Natural Foods and we inhaled the chili relleno tamale served by Tamales by Rudy. We finished our first half of our lunch with individually filtered coffee by Telegraph Coffee and completed our tour around the floor with a giant bittersweet chocolate chip cookie, enhanced by the now-ubiquitous fleur de sel (sorry, we forgot the vendor’s name). The food was exceptional and the lines to get in  were short but we also got there very late in the day and they we just about to switch over to the evening’s fare. Next time we’ll have to get there a wee bit earlier or show up later!

Pulled Pork Mole Sandwich by Mexican BBQ.

For most, spending time at one food market on a Saturday afternoon would be plenty. But for a couple of guys who can’t say no to variety, one just wasn’t enough. We’d picked up a flyer for the New Taste Marketplace, presented by St. Gregory of Nyssa, the week before while grabbing a huge sandwich at Hazel’s Kitchen, one of the many fine eateries on Potrero Hill. New Taste Marketplace was new to us so we marked our calendars and made a plan. We couldn’t have been happier with the decision to check it out. Like the SF Underground Market, New Taste Marketplace brings together under one roof a collection of local food purveyors. Most of them sell something they’ve concocted in their home kitchens. We ate a delicious pulled pork sandwich by Mexican BBQ’s Molly Raney, a bite full of a beautiful mini cupcake by Nute’s Cupcakes, and washed it down with fermented ginger beer compliments of Jesse Friedman of BeerandNosh.com. On our way out we chatted with a Sunset neighbor that makes granola, Michelle Pusateri of Nana Joes, and picked up a bottle of local lavender honey from California Native, compliments of Cheryl Hendrickson. Our bellies were too full to try the Cincinnati Chili Spaghetti by Urban Chef or the smoked meats from Slow Hand BBQ, but they are certainly on our list for our next visit. All of the participants are there to help raise money for St. Gregory’s food pantry which distributes food to hundreds of local families every Friday. Without exception, the food was terrific. And while we noshed on more good food than is right, we were blown away by the warmth and kindness of the volunteers who greeted us at the door and the cheerfulness of the vendors. This is a crowd of folks who are doing good things for all the right reasons. We even met a nice couple that we will soon be bartering with, some of our venison for photography lessons. Soon our photographs will be even more appetizing.

 

Desserts at New Taste Market; brownie bite with lavender frosting and white chocolate s'more.

Eating mindfully doesn’t always have to mean eating to avoid the negative. Our food choices come with a range of positive consequences that benefit our bodies, the farmers who supply our food and the farm workers who are able to support their families without risking exposure to toxic chemicals in the field. And our food choices can benefit our communities in direct ways. Our food choices do matter. How we spend our time and money to feed ourselves affects not only us, but our communities and the environments that sustain us. Make your food choices count for more than the satisfaction of a craving. We’ll continue to share our suggestions for how best to do that while bringing you delicious recipes to make it all work for you at home. We also suggest that those of you who are not as fortunate to live in San Francisco, or another large city, watch out for these types of neighborhood gatherings or create your own with a few friends. Helping to expand the family table to include your neighbors and make food that all of us should be eating, and not what the advertisers want you to eat, is a true gift of kindness. We should all be lucky enough to enjoy wholesome food choices.

 

ForageSF Dinner: Friday, July 16, 2010

Our dinner wines.

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!

The Menu

[Paired with a 2008 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay made from organic Mendocino grapes.]

Amuse Bouche. Toasted baguette with bay laurel butter.

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.

Nettle soup with crème fraiche.

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?

Yellow tail sashimi with tempura seabeans.

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 marrow bone.

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.

Fresh ricotta with fava beans and sliced fig.

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.

Squid ink risotto with smoked cod, asparagus, and morrel mushrooms.

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.

A trio of sorbets. A little melting but still very good.

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!