I just came back from a week in San Francisco with a serious case of food envy. While the number of Boston-area restaurants, shops, and markets providing local, sustainable food continues to grow at a satisfying pace, San Francisco is still my mecca for creative, delicious, socially conscious eating.
The highlight of our trip—as far as the food went, at least—was our afternoon at the Ferry Building Marketplace, a cluster of food-related businesses, restaurants and stalls in and around the historic Ferry Building along the waterfront.
One of my favorite shops in the Ferry Building is the Cowgirl Creamery’s Artisan Cheese Shop, where they offer some of the best cheeses in the world, including their own Mt. Tam, a delicious organic triple-cream cheese. Michelle and I told the young staffer the type of flavors we were looking for and she picked out two perfect options.
Since we were staying with Michael and Audrey, I was able to indulge in one of my other passions, cooking something I’ve never tasted before. Far West Fungi, which sells over a dozen species of fresh mushrooms, had an amazing mushroom called the Lion’s Mane that I’d never even heard of, so of course I had to bring some home. This mushroom looks like cauliflower, but has a funny texture that reminded me of cotton candy. When sautéed with leeks and herbs, it had a mild, woodsy flavor, but, to be honest, this mushroom was more fun to look at than to eat.
Rancho Gordo, which sells some of the best heirloom beans available, has a stall in the Farmers Market in front of the Ferry Building, so I was able to pick up a package of their fabulous Christmas Lima Beans (see my earlier post for more about these beans) and a jar of Mexican oregano to bring back to Boston. While their products are available by mail order and at some shops in the Boston area, it was fun to be able to pick out what I wanted.
Our friends Jean and Barb recommended The Slanted Door, a modern Vietnamese restaurant inside the Ferry Building, so we headed there for lunch. The light, stylish interior is as serene as a spa, despite the high volume of business they were doing. Even my herbal tea—a blend of rose buds, chrysanthemum, lichen and fresh ginger—was beautiful. Everything there is sustainably sourced. Michelle and I enjoyed vegetarian spring rolls with tofu, shiitakes, cabbage, mint and peanut sauce, followed by a caramelized catfish claypot with cilantro, ginger and Thai chilies. Although picking the catfish from the bones was a bit messy, the sweet, spicy broth was so delicious that I kept spooning it over my brown rice until the bowl was empty.
Even the department store and museum restaurants in San Francisco offer high quality, sustainable food. We had a lovely lunch with Michael, Audrey, and Doris at the Burger Bar in the Macy’s in Union Square, overlooking the ice skaters, Xmas tree, and giant menorah in the square. This cafe, part of chef Hubert Keller’s growing empire, features grain-fed beef, antibiotic and hormone-free chicken, and free-range turkey burgers at relatively affordable prices. While my veggie burger was somewhat mushy, the flavor was quite good.
And the Academy Cafe at the relatively new California Academy of Sciences—home of an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum—had a nice range of healthy, tasty, sustainable food choices. I didn’t even realize until I got home that the café is operated by The Slanted Door. No wonder my vegetarian spring rolls with peanut sauce were so tasty!
Obviously, San Francisco has many advantages because it has a great climate and so much wonderful food is grown and produced there, but my hope is that Boston’s growing food movement will someday match the Bay area. Game on!