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Category: food

As 2011 begins some great meals in NYC

26 January, 2011 (16:33) | food | By: Shannon Clark

I spent the past weekend in NYC, flew there on Thursday and enjoyed the long Martin Luther King weekend as a chance to visit friends and family and to have a mini-vacation with my girlfriend. We both worked on Friday while in NYC but still manage to have a large number of great meals while we were in NYC.

If you are my friend on Foursquare you may have seen my checkins from this past weekend, unfortunately it doesn’t look like I can easily share my checkins history publicly but this post is an attempt to summarize some of the best places we found over our long weekend. NYC is always changing but all of these spots are great options, some are old favorites others are new (at least to me) discoveries from this past weekend.

Thursday – fine, vegan dining at Kajitsu

After we flew in and checked into our hotel, we went to Kajitsu in the East Village where we had made a dinner reservation at the Chef’s counter (only available by making an over the phone reservation but they take OpenTable for regular reservations). Kajitsu has two Michelin stars and serves Japanese zen temple food. Everything on their menu is vegan and they offer two tasting menus (a $50 4 course and $70 8 course option) along with a few ala carte dishes and sake pairings. The space is space and minimalist but the food is amazing in the details and complexity. Living in San Francisco we were familiar with Japanese temple cuisine from local standouts such as Cha-Ya and the now closed Medicine Eatstation though Kajitsu offers a far more refined and fine dining version of the cuisine. A fantastic meal whether you are a vegetarian or not and one of the cheaper 2 Michelin star dining options available anywhere in the world, though both my girlfriend and I far preferred our meal at the only 1 Michelin starred Ubuntu in Napa.

Friday

Sweet Revenge – amazing cupcakes in the West Village

Friday morning before going off to work my girlfriend and I walked up to the West Village from our SOHO hotel. We were looking for coffee and a quick breakfast, didn’t have any particular spot in mind or very high expectations but we stumbled into a fantastic place which we returned to later on Friday. Sweet Revenge is a small bakery in the West Village. In the mornings they offer coffee, cupcakes, savory breakfast cakes and a few other options (yogurt etc). We both enjoyed our savory breakfast cakes which were light and very flavorful with fantastic sauces on the side. In the evening after work we returned to Sweet Revenge to pick up a hostess gift of one of each of the six cupcake flavors they had made that day to bring to a friend’s house where we were having dinner. Each of the cupcakes were unique with fantastic cakes, fillings and frostings. Not too sweet but just right well balanced and light with a lot of flavor. Some of the best cupcakes we’ve had and in a city (and nation) where the cupcake craze has no sign of stopping Sweet Revenge is a great place. If we had dined in, they offer wine and beer pairings with their cupcakes and they serve until midnight or later most nights.

Saturdays Surf Shop – fantastic coffee in a great shop in SOHO

I, along with many others, read about Saturdays in Monocle (see http://www.monocle.com/sections/edits/Web-Articles/Style-directory-Shopkeepers/) where in their Oct 2010 issue they featured Saturdays Surf Shop in an article. This is a small great store selling their own label of clothing, surfboards and related books and other objects along with offering fantastic serious coffee and in nicer weather a beautiful hidden back patio seating area. On Friday I bought a great cappuccino and after a brief time spent browsing the offerings walked to my next stop and meeting.

Saturday

Torrisi Italian Specialities – amazing sandwiches and a great prix fix dinner in SOHO

My sister suggested Torrisi as an option for picking up lunch nearby before we visited. We ordered nearly one of everything on the lunch menu – bringing a spread of sandwiches and vegetable sides along with fresh mozzarella made earlier that morning. Everything was amazing, flavorful, local ingredients and fantastic flavors. This is Italian food done by serious chefs with the best local ingredients and great attention to detail. Every evening they offer one of the best deals in NYC with a $50 prix fix dinner which I hope to return and experience.

Before we picked up lunch we stopped by my favorite bookstore in NYC, McNally Jackson. This amazing independent bookstore, with attached cafe, offers one of the best book shopping experiences in NYC and indeed anywhere in the US. Fantastic selections with a friendly knowledgable staff and a store that innovates. Later in the weekend we returned to test out their new print-on-demand service using a printer from Unbound Books which offers you the ability to get any public domain book and many other books with publisher permission, or your own book, printed in a few minutes while you shop or enjoy a coffee in their cafe.

After lunch we walked over to the across from NYU location of Think Coffee which is a local to NYC small coffee chain with four locations. Each with very serious fair trade sourced coffee, fantastic barristas and great food and drink. I really enjoyed my coffee from a small roaster in Ethiopian while my girlfriend enjoyed her cappuccino. The space across from NYU is huge with plenty of tables and wifi and a space even on a holiday weekend filled of students and others working.

Refreshed we walked up to Chelsea where we enjoyed a cool winter walk along the High Line. We then descended and explored Chelsea Market. Inside of Chelsea Market are many fantastic NYC restaurants and food purveyors, we only sampled a few and need to return many more times to try everything. Perhaps the highlight of this visit to Chelsea Market was our dinner at The Green Table in Chelsea Market. We were a group of six and managed to snag a reservation when another large party canceled. We shared some fantastic mac and cheese and a Brussels sprouts hash as started and then each ordered dinner. My burger was among the best I’ve had anywhere. Highly recommended for seasonal, local cuisine with a menu that changes with the seasons and fair prices.

For dessert my girlfriend and I joined a friend of ours who was also visiting NYC from SF in going to one of her favorite places in NYC, Veniero’s Pasticceria  & Cafe. A historic cafe and bakery in the East Village with a line that seemingly never ends on a weekend evening, the desserts were well worth the wait and as we looked at the rows upon rows of cookies, pastries and cakes it made us wish for a moment that we lived in NYC and could cater a party with desserts from Veniero’s.

Sunday

Sunday we had amazing Mexican food for breakfast and award winning BBQ for dinner. Yes, we were still in NYC.

For breakfast we again walked up to the West Village to return to a Mexican restaurant my girlfriend remembered from a past visit to NYC, La Palapa. There we found some of the best Mexican food I have had in a restaurant – not just the best I’ve had in NYC by far but among the best I’ve had in any city anywhere. Fresh, authentic and very flavorful. They have two locations one in the East Village and one in the West Village and the owner has a recently published cookbook.

After our very filling late breakfast we spend the afternoon shopping in SOHO. Then I took my girlfriend to one of my favorite places in the Lower East Side, Teany. Teany is a vegan tea shop owned by Moby. I am a meat eater but this is one of my must visit places whenever I’m in the Lower East Side. We shared some fantastic vegan coconut cake and enjoyed very tasty beverages. I had a great pot of tea and my girlfriend had a cappuccino made with tea which she greatly enjoyed. A friendly, small place always worth a visit.

We then walked from the Lower East Side up to the amazing new Eataly which is 50,000 sq ft of Italian food and drink across from Madison Square Park. While new to the US this is a chain with multiple locations in Italy and Japan. If we lived in NYC we would shop (and eat) at Eataly regularly. In fact the produce and fruit prices were reasonable and the selection quite great – I bought some kumquats as a snack for less than I pay at farmers markets here in SF.

For dinner we walked two blocks down 24th st to R.U.B (Righteous Urban Barbeque) which is a competition worthy barbecue restaurant in NYC. They were out of their famous burnt ends so I ordered a half slab of ribs while my girlfriend (who is vegetarian) ordered one of their drinks and their vegetarian pulled portobella sandwich. We started with their fried green tomatoes. An excellent meal and amusingly my vegetarian girlfriend’s half of the meal was more expensive (though to be fair that was because I didn’t order a drink).

Overall a fantastic day of eating where we managed to do to things that in the past weren’t supposed to be possible in NYC – have great Mexican and have great BBQ.

Monday

Our flight was in the mid-afternoon so we wanted to have a hearty brunch before we checked out and left for the airport. We were going to meet my cousin for breakfast but her work schedule prevented that so instead we decided to walk around SOHO near our hotel and find someplace to eat.

We lucked out and found The Cupping Room Cafe which has been in SOHO for over 30 years in an amazing space which was a former coffee wholesaler. While when we entered it appeared to be a smallish place, we quickly realized that the restaurant is L shaped with a lot of seating, a large bar off the other entrance and a beautiful main space with fireplace and lots of character. The food was tasty and fresh and the service was friendly. Definitely a great space which we may return to on future visits. In the evenings they frequently have live music and local seasonal menu. All for very reasonable prices. Definitely a great find.

Great food and drink near the Moscone Center San Francisco

29 April, 2010 (03:08) | food | By: Shannon Clark

Before Web 2.0 Expo starts next week here in San Francisco I am posting this updated list of my favorite places near the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

This is not intended to be comprehensive there are literally 100′s of restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels within a half mile of the Moscone Center in San Franciso. Rather this guide is a list of a small, selective set of restaurants, cafes, and a few bars which are notable and worth trying. These are places that as a local to San Francisco I return to frequently, these are the restaurants where I personally entertain – whether it be for an afternoon meeting over coffee, a light dinner with friends, a professional working dinner or a business entertaining event.

My focus is mostly on great spots for coffee or daytime meetings and on dinner. I’ve included a few options for lunch but in the interest of networking I would usually suggest you eat the conference lunch if one is provided.

Breakfast meetings

My personal favorite breakfast meeting option in SOMA is Blue Bottle Cafe (66 Mint St – corner of Mint & Jessie, between Mission & Market just after 5th St, Mon-Fri 7-7, Sat  8-6, Sun 8-4) which offers a small but seasonal and very good selection of breakfast food along with their world renowned coffee. Their coffee is among the best in the entire country. Before you doctor any beverage, make sure you taste it, most do not need anything.

Two options which are worthy alternatives are Epicenter Cafe (746 Harrison St – between 4th & 3rd, Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat-Sun 8am-10pm) and Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft (868 Mission St – at 5th st, Mon-Fri 8-6, Sat-Sun 10-6).

Epicenter has amazing coffee from Barefoot Coffee Roasters, excellent food, fantastic wine and beer in the evenings. As a large space with ample wifi and power Epicenter is a great place for a working business breakfast or meeting. However one note, many local tech bloggers and journalists also enjoy working at Epicenter so it is not the best place to discuss your still in stealth company.

‘wichcraft is the San Francisco location of a small NYC chain. I mostly get lunch at ‘wichcraft but they have a great selection of breakfast options as well and their space is convenient to the Moscone with large tables on two levels offering plenty of room for a productive and tasty breakfast meeting.

Meetings during the daytime

As I noted above, Blue Bottle Cafe or Epicenter Cafe are my two favorites for great coffee and a productive space for a business meeting.

For non-coffee drinkers, or just for a change of pace, I recommend Samovar Tea Room inside of Yerba Beuna Gardens (730 Howard St. Literally above the Moscone North, stairs are just to the left of the conference entrance. Sun – Wed 10-8, Thurs-Sat 10-9). Samovar serves amazing teas accompanied by a selection of light food. This is a calm, peaceful oasis above the Yerba Beuna Waterfall and sitting above the Moscone North entrance. This is not where to go for a fast, quick, hurried meal. But it is a great spot to take a break from a conference and to have a highly civilized and usually productive business conversation. My personal preference is to meet at Somovar in the afternoon, after lunchtime. For small groups Samovar is also a good option for post-conference dinner. Not a heavy meal but a tasty one and not a place to drink (other than great teas).

Lunch

As I noted, if you need to get lunch while at a conference there are many great options near the Moscone. These are a few which I go to regularly, for more see the pearltree below.

First, ‘Wichcraft as I noted above is a great option for a quick and very tasty lunch.

Second, Out the Door (basement level of the Westfield Center). Ignore the minimalist website, Out the Door is the more casual spinoff of the world renowned Slanted Door restaurant, one of the finest Vietnamese restaurants in the country (and also at times one of the hardest to get a reservation at). Out the Door offers quick and very tasty Vietnamese food, prepared artfully and skillfully and served in their large and spacious dining room. A great option for a group of nearly any size for lunch and just blocks from the Moscone. They are also open for early dinner, though I prefer them for lunch. The food court in the basement level of the Westfield Center is a very good one (much better I think than the food court in the Metreon) with options for any palate.

Third, Straits (4th floor of the Westfield Center). Straits offers upscale Singaporan food, though it is a small scale chain (here in California, Atlanta and Houston) I highly recommend them for great and unusual food. In particular I like Straits for working business lunches. The food is fantastic, though not cheap, and the space lends itself to a small group serious business lunch.

Dinner

San Francisco is a food and restaurant town, there are 100?s of restaurants, dozens of great ones throughout San Francisco. Here are a few of my absolute favorites in SOMA within close walking distance of the Moscone Center, this is by no means a complete list.

Town Hall (343 Howard on the corner of Fremont, Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30, Sun-Thur 5;30-10, Fri-Sat 5:30-11). Townhall offers amazing, contemporary food in a venue that is also exceptionally well designed. Great food at a price which is a great value for the quality and service. They also have a private dining room which can handle up to 40 people seated or 80 people for a standing reception ($1000 min for lunch, $2000 min for dinner, offers full audio-visual capabilities and Internet access). One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco and a place I suggest to locals and visators alike.

Salt House (Mission between 1st & 2nd; open Mon-Thur 11:30-11, Fri 11:30-12, Sat 5:30-12, Sun 5-9:30). Salthouse offers contemporary American food, locally and seasonally sourced, with a fantastic selection and level of quality. It can be a bit loud so is best for relatively small groups, no more than about 6, but offers some of the absolute best food in San Francisco. I have business contacts who insist on a visit to Salt House everytime they are in San Francisco and I’m more than happy to comply.

or Anchor & Hope (83 Minna St, just off of 2nd, Mon-Fri 11:30-2, Sun-Thur 5;30-10, Fri-Sat 5:30-11). The third restaurant from the trio who founded Town Hall and Salt House, this is their take on a contempory American seafood shack.

For a large group dinner, especially on a budget, my goto suggestion in SOMA is Canton Seafood and Dim Sum (655 Folsom St on the corner of Hawthorne betwee 3rd and 2nd, Mon-Sun 10:30-9:30). For lunch and on the weekends they offer cart service Dim Sum at very reasonable prices and of exceptional quality. But what I really love going to Canton for is to bring a large group for a banquet. They can almost literally accomodate any sized group (upstairs they have a dining room that seats up to 450+ people, downstairs they seat up to 300, though a reservation is advised). I generally modify one of the banquet menus ending up with a 7+ course feast, including Dim Sum (which I request as a substitute for other appetizers and fried rice) for a price of about $25/person. Typically this feast includes a whole fish, Peking Duck, Salt & Pepper Crabs and more. Amazing, tasty food, very reasonably priced with inexpensive drinks and friendly service.

I’ve had dozens of group events at Canton Seafood over the past few years and have never once been disappointed – and they have done great whether I’m dining with a few friends or have brought 100+ people.

Professional networking quality drinks

San Francisco has many great bars and has become well known for some of the most serious wine bars and serious mixed drink bars in the country. If that interests you, I encourage you to do further research (or leave suggestions here as a comment) but here are a few great to know about venues nearby to the Moscone Center.

House of Shields (39 New Mongomery between Market and Mission, New Montgomery is between 3rd and 2nd, Mon-Fri 2pm-2am, Sat 7pm-2am, closed Sun). A 100+ year old San Francisco institution. Not the fanciest of drinking estabilishments by far, but a goto establishment for afterwork, post-conference networking over cheap drinks. Not fancy, but also likely a spot where many speakers at tech conferences may end up (and certainly a spot favored by locals).

The Press Club SF (20 Yerba Beuna Lane, just off of Market across from Yerba Beuna Gardens between 3rd and New Montgomery, tasting room hours Mon-Thur 4-9, Fri 4-10, Sat 2-10, closed Sun). An urban wine tasting room, this large space features 8 bars serving wines from 8 different wineries, with representatives from each winery pouring the wine. They also have a selection of light foods to pair with the wines and upstairs a retail store featuring wines from all 8 wineries. For business purposes besides being a very upscale place for after conference drinks and conversations, they also have a private dining room/boardroom with full a/v which can be rented for private events.

I will keep the pearltree below updated with additional suggestions. This is not intended to a comprehensive list, rather it is a list which reflects where I eat myself, the places I take friends and where I have my own business meetings.

Lunch with David Chang and other tales of SF

7 November, 2009 (21:01) | food | By: Shannon Clark

This afternoon I had lunch with Peter Meehan and David Chang at the Il Cane Rosso at the Ferry Building here in San Francisco.

Now the Full Disclosure bit – Peter Meehan is a very long time family friend, he’s been dating my sister for over 15 years and is the father of my soon to be born niece. So I’m biased – very much so – he’s family.

He and David Chang have been in San Francisco for the past few days promoting their new book, Momofuku here in SF. It is a great book full of well told stories and challenging yet makable recipes. Not easy recipes but ones which you can, in fact, make in a home kitchen. But testing that is for another, future post.

This is about my lunch with Peter and David and more broadly with some thoughts I have had about food here in San Francisco over the past few days, sparked first by their event at Cafe Du Nord on Wednesday and continued over lunch conversations this afternoon.

7x7 Momofuku panel7x7 and Momofuku at Cafe Du Nord

Observation one – Chefs & professional food critics do not eat or drink like I do

This isn’t a good or a bad thing, just a statement of fact. I have never been drunk in my entire life, not once, my heaviest drinking night ever involves having had multiple glasses of wine in the course of a single, long, evening. In the course of one evening if my rough count and the stories I heard later is true, I believe that the chefs and professional food critics at the 7×7 event – both before, during and later after the event drank more than I have drunk in my entire four years of living in San Francisco. Seriously, chefs (and food critics) seem to drink quite a lot.

Anthony Bourdain makes much the same point repeatedly in his books and tv shows – and it is a point echoed many times on various cooking related reality shows – something about working as professional chefs seems to lead to a lot of heavy, if also often quite friendly, drinking.

Observation two – chefs and professional food critics, at least when really hungry, eat much faster than I do

I am a slow eater – also a big fan of Slow Food but that’s a different matter – but I eat slowly, savor most of my bites and try to enjoy my food whether a quick burrito or the fanciest of tasting menus.

However, at least on anecdotal evidence, when chefs and food critics are hungry, like say after having flown across the country before a signing or as in today having not eaten anything for many hours and just completed interviews and a mass signing, they devour their food in rapid fire fashion. They order a lot and eat it even quicker.

At lunch today, for example, I ordered a single pork sandwich (which was amazing btw). Pete and David ordered two other sandwiches, the half chicken plate and the roast pork plate. In the time it took me to finish a half sandwich they had polished off most of all four dishes (Pete and I swapped halves of sandwiches so I had a half of a brisket sandwich first then finished with the pork). I had small tastes of most of the other dishes but they were finished and enroute back to their hotel and their next signing event this afternoon in Menlo Park long before I had finished my second half of the sandwich.

Observation three – San Francisco has great food and a food culture I’m only barely a part of

I take food seriously, my friends (and strangers and blog readers) rely upon me for food recommendations on a regular basis. I’d like to think that I steer them well and that I know the local SF food scene fairly well. However as I attended the 7×7 event this past Wednesday and as I observed the discussion which unfolded at Cafe Du Nord and today as I have been following some friends via Twitter, I realize that there are huge portions of the food culture of San Francisco and the Internet which I know very little about. This weekend there appears to be a Food Blogger conference happening this weekend here in San Francisco, though somehow I hadn’t heard about it until just recently and still can’t figure out how (if) I could have participated. There is also a conference/trade show relating to food on the Design Concourse this weekend, again I had only heard about it at the very last minute. Even more, there seems to be a circuit of restaurant openings and special dinners which I only occasionally hear about and almost never attend. Furthermore I’ve yet to make it much out of San Francisco or the near East Bay (Berkeley & Oakland and those only rarely) so I’ve yet to experience any of Napa or Sonoma from the wine clubs to the fine dining.

The conversation Wednesday night which was moderated by 7×7 magazine’s food editors was sparked by David Chang’s off the cuff discussion about the food here in SF – about the trend towards “just serving a platter of figs and calling it dessert”. In the discussion multiples times there was an assumption about a uniformity of the “diners” here in the Bay Area – about what they would/wouldn’t accept from restaurants and dining experiences.

A quick sample of some of the assumptions mentioned over the course of the evening

  • San Francisco diners will not pay premium prices for “ethnic” food
  • There is no late night dining (or drinking)
  • While the Alice Waters/Chez Panisse family tree is extensive and creates tasty food there is too much of that style and too little risk taking in recent restaurants
  • A trend towards both the “beets and goat cheese salad” and “specialty pizzas and pasta”

As I listened I found myself thinking about many exceptions to these assumptions. By itself the world famous Slanted Door restaurant and their newer locations are exceptions for most. A very high end, expensive, ethnic restaurant in Slanted Door and in the case of their newest restaurant, Heaven’s Dog a high end, open until very late (1am or later) restaurant serving high end, premium Chinese food.

And Heaven’s Dog is no longer an exception, there are a bunch of newer restaurants which have opened here in San Francisco in the past year which are offering more late night dining options. In many cases offering food which is not just in the Chez Panisse family of simple, local food  with mostly frensh inspired techniques but food which takes fresh, seasonal ingredients (in most cases) and combine it with a range of techniques and spices from around the globe. Radio Africa Kitchen, the twice a week nomadic restaurant here in SF for example combines spices and flavors from North Africa with techniques from throughout Europe and the best, freshest local ingredients of the season.

I write this as I sit in a great local cafe (The Cafe at Cafe du Nord), drinking local coffee (beans from Ritual Roasters) and nibbling on foods made from scratch, including a savory apple tart with apples from the chef’s own garden a few blocks away. In the past few weeks I’ve eaten many meals from local food carts and other new food businesses which have been starting up all over San Francisco – some as mobile carts, others as reinvigorated food counters and takeaway locations. I also dine frequently at inexpensive but cooked with seriousness ethnic restaurants in San Francisco and I shop and cook almost entirely locally. The SF I know has a vibrant food culture – but one which is very different from New York’s to be sure.

Building your brand by telling stories

31 August, 2009 (17:20) | branding, food, social media | By: Shannon Clark

cc licensed photo by Richard Soderberg

cc-licensed photo by Robert Soderberg
photo by Ewan Spence

photo by Ewan Spence

I am spending the afternoon at my friend Ross Dawson’s Future of Influence Summit here in San Francisco (it is also running simultanously in Sydney Australia) I will have much more to write about this topic in future posts, but as I walked here this morning I was thinking a great deal about how brands are built today.

Telling great stories is the best way to build great brands

Here in San Franciso in the past year the local food scene has seen dozens of innovative, small scale food related businesses being created. Many of them are broadly speaking food carts, others are chefs who only cook a few nights a week, or other new forms of food and craft driven businesses. At the same time dozens of more traditional food businesses have opened in San Francisco. However I have observed that there are some common traits to the new businesses which are emerging with strong brands compared to those which have only a minimal if any brand recognition.

A great example here in San Francisco, though far from the only one,  is 4505 Meats, which is a local food business started by aclaimed chef Ryan Farr. He is building a fantastic business making a range of locally sourced meat products – Pork Chicarronnes which are available for sale in cafes and specilized markets throughout San Francisco and he is growing in acclaim for his handmade sausages, hot dogs and when he makes them hamburgers. He sells these products directly at the Thursday Ferry Bulding Farmers Market as well as select food festivals around town, but he is also increasingly a supplier of choice for many other small scale, innovative local food businesses.

In the process he is building a great, local brand, one which I suspect will only continue to grow in value in the years to come.

And his blog as well as the design choices he makes, including selling limited edition lithograph prints, all tell his story – that of food products made from very carefully sourced local providers made with care, old faashioned skill and a great sense of taste and quality control. He charges fair prices boh directly to customers at the markets and clearly to the many local businesses who are gladly doing business with him. As a result his business is growing and his brand is growing as well.

Take a look at how he is using twitter – follow him at @chicharrones – he’s using it to promote his events & specials exceptionally well.

And here in the Bay Area he is far from unique, there are some dozen or more similar, small scale, innovative food related businesses who are using Twitter as in many cases their primary form of marketing and advertising to promote their appearances, daily specials and over time to build up their brands – often in no small part by helping to promote each other’s businesses.

A few notable examples – but look at any of their Tweet streams for more are:

@adobohobo – a local food cart that makes Adobo Chicken (and occasionally other dishes), tasty, fairly priced street food.

@eatrealfest – a local, first time Street Food Festival which drew over 60,000 people to Oakland for three days of street food and farmers markets. They promoted the event throughout the Bay Area via posters and postcards but also benefited extensively from the social media usage (especially Twitter) of so many of the businesses who were selling at the festival, many of whom sold 1000′s of dishes in a single day.

@cremebrulecart – a local chef who makes a range of flavors of creme brule which he sells in parks and at events throughout the Bay Area, I’ve yet to see him fail to completely sell out at an appearance, his product is very tasty and fairly priced and not surprisingly quite popular. In addition to using his growing Twitter followers to announce where he will be, he is also using Twitter to get people to come out to help keep a favorite local park clean through volunteer efforts.

@missionstfood – a local Bay Area business which started as a food cart, then moved to their current format where they take over a local Chinese restuarant in the Mission area of San Francisco on Thursday and Saturday evenings. Each evening a different guest chef creates the menu, much of the proceeds of the evening go to a different charity (chosen by that evening’s guest chef). They use Twitter to promote the menu and over the course of the evening to inform people about what they have sold out of at the moment. They draw over 200 people most evenings, many of whom gladly wait over 1 1/2 hours for a table and they almost never have an empty chair from the moment they open until just before they close for the evening (usually having sold every dish they were ready to make). Just a few weeks ago they expanded further to now have a regular daily business, Mission Burger, selling beef & vegetarian hamburgers and occasional specials from within a local Mission market.

All of these small businesses along with dozens of others are using emerging media, such as twitter, as a core part of how they tell the story of their brand, in many ways using these tools to help them build and define a brand as it emerges in partnership with customers. While many of the businesses I have linked to have active online blogs and websites and many are increasingly attracting the attention of the media both online and offline, they are also using tools such as twitter to help them tell their own stories.

So Shannon can you cook brunch for 40 tomorrow?

24 August, 2009 (01:01) | food | By: Shannon Clark

That was the question my friend called to ask me Saturday evening as I was walking home in the Mission. I thought for a bit, then said, sure, could we meet up in a bit and buy all the ingredients.

So in less than 24hrs I sourced everything for a brunch for 40+ people, cooked most of it the evening before the party and had almost everything else prepped and ready to go for the brunch as people started to arrive (thankfully many arrived a bit late).

Here’s the menu which I came up with and sourced everything to make in less than 3 hours.

Appetizers:

Country Bread from Tartine w/olive oil

Baked Ling Cod w/whole, large salt cured caper berries - this disappeared quickly and was incredibly simple to make. I bought about 5 lbs of large Ling Cod fillets (two fillets in this case), made sure they were cleaned of any scales and placed them in a large glass baking pan. I then washed the salt off the caper berries and sprinkled them liberally over the fish. I finished the dish with some of the salt which I had washed off the caper berries. I put the pan into a preheated over at 325 and let it cook for about 30 minutes (until the fish flaked easily). Very simple but exceptionally tasty – the caper berries added just the right flavor & salt.

Salad:

Mixed greens w/heirloom tomatoes and fresh figs in a simple Balsamic dressing - I made this salad four times over the course of the brunch as it was eaten quickly. To keep everything simple I used a prewashed, packaged selection of organic mixed greens and a package of mixed heirloom tomatoes from Rainbow Co-op. Alas, as it was organic I did have to check the tomatoes carefully and some of the larger tomatoes in two of the packages were spoiled (so I discarded them) and I made sure to wash the others carefully. I took the stems off the cherry tomatoes and sliced the larger tomatoes into thin rounds (having a very sharp, high quality knife was key here). I then washed a handful of fresh mission figs and sliced them lengthwise into thin slices. The dressing was very simple – great quality olive oil, Balsamic vinegar (in roughly 1 to 1 proporation), salt, fresh pepper all mixed in a jam jar I reused – the trick being to reseal the jar and then shake it, the shaking mixing the dressing perfectly. I drizzled it over the salad and then tossed it.

Entrees:

Slow scrambled farm eggs with sauteed sweet onions and Shitake mushrooms – a simple dish but one that does take some time to get right. I first sauteed a finely diced sweet onion in some olive oil, then sauteed sliced Shitake mushrooms also in olive oil. When each were finished I put them aside in a bowl. I then took a small pat of butter and melted it on the bottom of the largest pan I could find (ideal for this is one with large, deep flat sides). I then cracked a dozen eggs into a bowl, broke the yolks and mixed them vigorously (but briefly) with a fork and poured that into the pan, I then mixed in the onions and mushrooms and cooked the eggs over low to medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The goal is to cook slowly enough that the resulting eggs are light and fluffy, a far cry from the scrambled eggs of my childhood. I cooked this dish three times and it was never on the table long

Roasted dry rubbed Duroc Pork loin w/homemade apple sauce and quick pickled onions – I roasted the pork loin the night before the brunch. I rubbed the pork loin with a spice mixture I made (I started with a base of a dry rub from the Salt Lick BBQ in Texas but added dried lime peel, powdered cloves, Indonesian cinnamon, salt, fresh pepper and maple sugar in powdered form). I rubbed this generously over the fat side of the lion and the ends. I placed the loin in a roasting pan, fat side up the roasted it until the meat reached 150 degrees uniformly. While it roasted I rotated the pan a few times to ensure even heating.

To make the apple sauce, I halved 3lbs of apples, put them in my largest copper pot and added some Indonesian cinnamon and then simmered them with the lid on the pot (very important) on low heat until they broke down naturally. Very simple, no added sugar needed and amazingly tasty. You could then pass this mixture through cheesecloth if you had it, but I didn’t so just trusted that people could eat around the cores, stems & seeds.

For the quick pickled onions, I peeled and sliced one large purple onion into very thin slices (again having a very sharp knife helps a great deal). I put the onion slivers into a large tupperware style container, poured rice wine vinegar over the onions and added generous amounts of course salt (Kosher salt would be ideal, I used a coarse rock salt I had on hand). I then sealed the container and let it marinate in the fridge. Again a very simple dish but also quite tasty – the key is to use very thin slivers.

Roasted Leg of Lamb w/fig-mint sauce – a reprise of a dish I made for my Fig & Olive dinner last weekend. With the only (albeit somewhat important) difference being that here I used boneless legs of lamb which my butcher prepared for me (the bones which I asked him for I’ll use in a lamb stock I’m making tomorrow). I also didn’t have the butcher’s twine which I should have used to tie up the roasts as they cooked. I rubbed the lamb with olive oil, then inserted garlic clove slivers, whole fresh rosemary and fresh mint. I then added salt and chopped fresh mint to the outside of the lamb and put the 10lbs+ of lamb on my roasting rack (the rack is a key factor in why my roasts tend to be very good – it allows the fat to drip down as the meat cooks and to then be out of the way. I roasted the lamb along with pork until the lamb was at the right temperature as well (which ended up being almost the same time as my pork but that was unintentional and a bit surprising).

To make my fig-mint sauce I followed much the same recipe as I did last weekend. I took fresh figs (Mission Figs in this case) choosing the ripest (overripe would actually be ideal for this dish) and then very thinly sliced them. I put them into my small Le Creuset sauce pan, poured in apple vinegar and fresh mint (which I quickly cut with a very sharp knife into course slices) and added a small amount of salt. I simmered this on low temperatures, stirring occasionally until the figs softened and mixed with the vinegar. I then added this mixture to a large glass container (reused) and added more apple vinegar to fill the container (about 1/4 more of the container being the additional vinegar. I then let this cool in the refrigerator. The sauce was sweetened by the figs but not overly sweet and complimented the lamb very well.

Roasted baby carrots w/fresh ginger – another simple dish which I could make while my meats roasted. I took bags of pre-cut and cleaned baby carrots and fresh ginger which I julianned and tossed them with a small amount of olive oil and sea salt in a large mixing bowl so that every carrot was lightly coated with just a hint of olive oil. I then put them in a single layer onto a chef’s pan and roasted them until the carrots were soft (and generally a bit crinkled). For the brunch I served the carrots cold, for past meals I have served them hot and sometimes added a hint of Balsamic to this dish.

Dessert:

Roasted Mission Figs – another very simple dish. I washed fresh mission figs then put them in a glass roasting pan, taking care that no figs touched. I then roasted them in a 350 degree oven until the figs were glossy and their juices were just running. I served some of these with a drizzle of Balsamic which I think adds a great contrast to the sweetness of the roasted figs.

Maple Madelines – the only dish I make regularly for which I always start with a recipe from a book (though I almost always modify it). The recipe I use is roughly 1/3 cup of flour to 1/3 cup of plain, nonfat yogurt to one large eggs and a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. To this I then add either savory or sweet flavors, today I added maple sugar (in powdered form). In the past I’ve often made this with herbs, occasionally with cheese. The other key to making Madelines is to use the right baking pan, I have an amazing Madeline pan which is metal but nonstick. I cook at 450 degrees until the tops are a bit bubbly (and the bubbles are just breaking) usually just a bit under 10 minutes. I then cool and pop them from the pan (which thanks to the nonstick coating is easy. These didn’t last more than a few minutes. Very simple, light, flavorful and not too sweet.

And that is my menu, most of the big dishes I prepared ahead of time and the others I cooked on site but had designed them to be easily done multiple times over as more guests arrived. If I had had a bit larger of a kitchen and slightly more time my plan was to have made a variety of Madelines, probably with some savory flavors evocative of the meal such as rosemary and mint.

While many of the dishes I made were not vegan friendly quite a few were – the carrots, salad and apple sauce were all entirely vegan as were my roasted fig dessert. The fig-mint sauce was also vegan albeit with little to serve it on top off in this case. I also made a couple of roasted portabella mushrooms w/Shitake mushrooms for some of the vegans who wanted them.

All together for 40 people this meal cost my friend about $500 for everything we needed to make the meal and while there are a few leftovers for the most part people ate nearly everything I had been prepared to make. We ran out of pork, apple sauce, carrots, salad, fish and figs. I could have made another batch of the eggs and we had a few lbs of the lamb left over as well, along with one whole loaf out of the four loafs I bought from Tartine.

My Figs & Olives dinner

15 August, 2009 (23:27) | food | By: Shannon Clark

This evening I had 9 friends over for a formal, multi-course, plated feast to celebrate the Fig season here in the Bay Area. Many photos were taken, alas not by me, so I will hopefully update this post with some photos from the meal in a few days.

The menu arose out of an email from the CEUSA (who run the wonderful Ferry Building Farmers Market here in San Francisco) which noted that this weekend at the market would be a celebration of figs. With that as a theme I set out crafting a menu from ingredients which were in season, local, fresh and I hoped tasty.

After I sent out the invitations multiple who were coming (though in the end did not) were vegans so I did make some choices which resulted in a nearly entirely vegan meal and as I’ll note below, I had dishes planned for the vegans as alternatives to the few dishes which involved meat (or dairy products).

My menu:

Appetizers

Roasted seasonal organic local figs w/Cowgirl Creamery marscapone - for this dish I used medium sized figs which weren’t overripe. All I did was place them on a chef’s pan into a 350 degree oven until they looked done (juices started to flow out)

Sauteed Patron & Shiso peppers in olive oil w/gray sea salt – local peppers from a farm that specializes in peppers. Patron peppers are a Spanish pepper, Shiso are a Japanese. I sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil (very thin layer on the bottom of a pan) turning them occasionally until they were crinkled, I then transferred them to a platter with kitchen tongs & sprinkled with sea salt (if you choose to wash the peppers make sure they are completely dry before cooking them in oil to prevent splatter) This takes only about 5-6 minutes.

Local bread w/pepper infused olive oil – I chose a very simple, basic sourdough bread from a local bakery. I then sliced it into about 1cm thick slices which I then trisected – i.e. to get to about a few bites sized portions. The olive oil was the oil in which I sauteed the peppers which I let cool then transferred to a small glass bowl. The pepper flavor was infused into the oil.

Salad

Fig & Tomato Basil salad – this was a very simple plate, intended to be a great mix of flavors without an overly large portion. I used two types of organic tomatoes from the farmers market. In the center of the plate I put a large, orange colored heirloom tomato, cut in a single circular portion. Around the edges I placed one small dry farmed Early Girl tomato which I cut into small wedges. I also selected two varieties of small figs and quartered them, placing a half of each fig on each plate. I then added torn leaves of Lemon Basil as well as more traditional Italian Basil (all from the farmers market). Finally I drizzled the plate with a splash of a local Californian Balsamic vinegar (also from the market) and finished with sea salt.

Pasta

Fresh pasta w/roasted heirloom tomato sauce w/olives, mixed mushrooms and figs – Earlier this afternoon I took a selection of heirloom tomatoes and quartered them then roasted them with a few cloves of garlic in the oven. After they had roasted I transferred them into a large, copper pot (taking care not to use an aluminum clad pot as tomatoes react with aluminum) and added to that pot a can of Italian tomatoes for additional color and flavor. I then let this simmer on the lowest temperature for a while. After about 30-45 minutes I added to the pot slivers of Kalamata olives (taking care that no piece of pit remained) and then continued to let the pot simmer. To finish the dish and sauce I cut a variety of large figs into thin slivers and also sliced up some mixed mushrooms also into thin slivers. I put both in a pan, sprinkled it with a light, local olive oil and sauteed it for a few minutes, adding in the roasted tomato & olive sauce until it formed a thin layer in the pan. I then cooked the fresh pasta – I used a fresh, eggless pasta from the market, my guests described it as a bit like Italian Udon noodles. I put a small portion of pasta into each bowl then spooned a small portion of the sauce onto each. The goal again was to have a great mix of flavors without an overwhelming portion size. The result was quite good, if I do say so myself. My intention was that the Kalamata olives and the roasting of the tomatoes would add depth, the figs a layer of sweetness and the mushrooms some unami as well as other earthy flavors to counteract a bit of the sweet. I did add a little bit of sea salt the sauce as it cooked but mostly the salt in the sauce came from the olives. The pasta being fresh was a great complement to this sauce.

Entree

Bone-in Leg of Lamb over roasted Purple, baby red and baby yukon gold potatoes w/a fig-mint sauce – The first part of this dish I made was the sauce. I selected the ripest figs I had purchased, the ones that were almost overripe and very soft to the touch (even already splitting). I quartered the figs and then put them in a small Le Creuset saucepan I have (their smallest size). To this pan I added apple vinegar, finely ground sea salt, and roughly cut (but in small pieces) mint. I simmered this on fairly low temperatures mashing it as it simmered to meld the flavors. Once it had all come together I transferred it to a reused jam jar to which I then added more apple vinegar (about the remaining 1/4 of the jar’s worth). Cooled this resulted in a tasty, very minty, slightly sweet sauce.

The second part of the dish was the legs of lamb. I had two legs of lamb, each about 3lbs. I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, then added ground course sea salt & ground fresh pepper. I inserted julianned cloves of garlic into the hollow in the middle of the leg of lamb cut. I also added a half stick of rosemary into the same hollow. Then I added roughly cut fresh mint to the outside of the meat. I placed each leg of lamb onto my roasting rack and put them into my oven which I had preheated to a bit over 400 degrees. I check them with a meat thermometer (taking care to check each leg in a variety of places) and removed when the meat was uniformly at (or over 140 degrees) as I like my lamb a bit medium/medium rare. The lamb finished earlier than I had expected, taking only about 1 1/2 hours.

The third part of the dish was very simple, I took the three varieties of small potatoes I purchased at the farmers market (from a farm that specializes in potatoes) and put them into a large bowl (I quartered the larger purple potatoes but kept the baby potatoes whole). I then drizzled a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, course sea salt and fresh pepper. Using the bowl I tossed the potatoes making sure that each was lightly coated. I then put them onto a large chef’s pan and roasted in the oven at 300 degrees.

As the potatoes (and the lamb) had finished long before we were ready for the entrees, after the potatoes finished cooking I turned the oven off but returned the lamb and left the potatoes in the oven to heat back up a small amount.

To serve I put a small selection of the purple & baby potatoes into the middle of the dinner plates. I carved a leg of lamb and put two slice of lamb sufficient to just cover the small amount of potatoes. I then drizzled a small spoonful of the fig & mint sauce over the lamb and potatoes. I finished each plate with a sprinkle of Hawaiian Black Volcanic Salt both for the flavor & the color contrast.

Again not a huge portion for each guest but everyone, even the guests who don’t usually like lamb enjoyed it.

Planned vegan alternative – since the vegans I expected did not actually attend, I did not make this dish (but will probably make it later this week). My plan was to make roasted portabella & miatake mushrooms over potatoes. I would have cleaned and trimmed the portabella mushrooms and put them and whole miatake fronds onto an oven suitable pan (probably one of my trusty chef’s plates). Then i would have drizzled a bit of olive oil over each mushroom. I would then roast them in the oven. To serve I would have plated the mushrooms on the side of the plate with the potatoes on the other side and would have finished the potatoes with the fig & mint sauce (which I might have also added to the roasted mushrooms depending on taste)

Dessert

Figs two ways with fig ice cream and olive oil shortbread – I made the olive oil shortbread entirely from scratch and from a recipe I made up myself.

Olive Oil Shortbread

  • 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
  • 5 oz extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pastry flour (I used a whole grain organic flour)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • seeds from one whole vanilla bean + additional generous pinch of vanilla powder (which I buy from The Spice House and prefer over using liquid vanilla as the powder imparts the flavor without the alcohol)

I mixed the sugar and olive oil, then added the vanilla, sea salt and flour. I used a medium sized metal mixing bowl (which I highly recommend, metal bowls are quite useful) once fully mixed and dough like (I mixed it with just my hand) I put the metal bowl into my freezer. I left the dough in the freezer for a bit over 30 minutes. I then spooned the dough into my Madeline pan after first adding a few grains of gray sea salt to each. The dough had a similar texture to a Madeline dough, though the results were a bit flakier and crunchier than Madelines. I baked them at about 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. My pan is an excellent one so the cookies just popped out (I did not use any spray or the like – my pan is a non-stick specialized baking pan. I then let these cool on a rack while I cooked the rest of the dinner. The resulting cookies had some sweetness, but tempered by the olive & salt flavors.

For the dessert I mixed two roasted figs with two fresh figs, taking care to ensure that every person had at least two varieties of figs (over all I purchased 5 different varieties of figs for this evening’s dinner) I scooped a small scoop of fig ice cream (from & made by a local shop) and layered the cookie on top of the ice cream in the middle of the bowl.

My original plan was to buy Fig Sorbet instead of fig ice cream. Had I managed to do so, this dessert would be an entirely vegan dessert. The sweetness of the figs contrasted well with the olives and salt of the shortbread.

And that is the menu. I ended up making a second portion of the pasta and as people arrived in two main waves of guests, I made two batches of the peppers for the later arriving group. Over the course of the meal we drank two bottles of Musketal (both excellent), a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of sparkling apple cider and with dessert a half bottle of a very good port.

All in all a very successful experimental meal – an experiment in that I plated each dish for all ten people (myself included) for every course and experimental in that most of these recipes I made up on the spot (including the shortbread)

Great meals in Santa Cruz – my first visit

13 July, 2009 (00:51) | food | By: Shannon Clark

This weekend I have been in Santa Cruz for a family wedding, before leaving I emailed some friends who have vacation homes in the area for suggestions and I did a minimal amount of research online but I wasn’t able to do as much as I might usually have done before visiting a new town as I also had to prepare for the TechCrunch/August Capital party Friday evening and figure out how to get from that party to my family in Santa Cruz.

Thanks to the kind folks from NextSpace and 12Seconds.tv as well as the wonders of Twitter I was able to get a ride back to Aptos to the rental cottage by the ocean my mom had found for us.

Being a foodie I sought out great meals & shops while I have been in the Santa Cruz area, this post is my report on the best of my finds. I’m sure there are plenty of other great hidden gems I should try on a return visit – please leave suggestions in the comments and I am definitely going to be trying to come back again in the future, i’ve really enjoyed this my first visit to Santa Cruz and am just sorry I had so little time (and still haven’t managed to get into the water since I moved to California now 3 1/2 years ago!)

Best Dinner especially for large groups in Santa Cruz:

Saturday evening I was in downtown Santa Cruz my parents, aunt and assorted cousins were all going to meet me somewhere for dinner a few hours later, all in all we were 9 adults looking for a great meal with just a few hours notice on a Satuday night.

I had scouted downtown Santa Cruz and hadn’t found any place I liked, so I searched a bit further and found The Cellar Door Cafe at Bonny Doon Vineyard. I called and though they were sold out of the Prix Fix menu for the evening they were able to accomodate us at 8:00pm. I made the reservation, passed along the address to my relatives and made my way there via the Santa Cruz bus line from downtown.  I also noted that both the vineyard/cafe & Randall Grahm the winemaker are on Twitter.

As it turned out the meal at The Cellar Door was exceptional in all respects. The perfect space & table for party of 9 people, amazing food, fantastic & varied wines and truly exceptional service. Oh and a real bargain as well.

I should have taken photos, every dish we ordered was a work of art – presented beautifully – and each dish was eaten down to bare plates quickly.

As I perhaps too often do, I did all of the ordering for the group, ordering most of the menu, starting with multiple orders of the small “snacks” – house cured olives, boccarones (white anchovies), fingerling potatoes in an exceptional aoili. The boccarones were so exception I quickly ordered us a third plate.

For the rest of the meal I ordered at least one of almost every dish on the main menu, leaving out what I’m sure were a great salad and a dish which included a fried farm egg (as sharing those would have been hard). We enjoyed every single dish – each was unique, expertly prepared and truly memorable. My favorite dish was the hallibut which I had almost not ordered, the tri-tip was another winner, but so too were the baked goat cheese crustinis, the smoked mackeral, the light but excellent pizza, the german style housemade pork sausage over spatzle and everything else.

For dessert we had two orders of the cornbread with a sauce of red wine soaked blueberries – sweet but not too sweat with bursts of flavor and sweetness both from the blueberries as well as the few whole kernals of yellow corn in the coarsely ground cornmeal of the cornbread.

And then we shared a double order of the cheese plate featuring three excellent cheeses – an Italian goat cheese, a local cheddar and Rogue Ale Blue Cheese accompanied by fantastic bread, apricots and golden raisins.

Over the course of the meal we shared three bottles of Bonny Doon’s wines – starting with a white then two reds, each were a suggestion of our waitress and matched up to each stage of our meal perfectly.

The table we were seated at was in an extended oval shape with partitions styled as a wine barrel surrounding us on three sides, most of were seated along a curved bench which wrapped around most of the oval table. The result was a table that allowed for easy sharing of dishes amongst all nine of us, while also making it easy for everyone to see and talk to everyone else at the table – with the high surrounding walls also providing privacy and quiet.

in the end with a generous tip & tax our bill for nine people was $340.

So as I said initially – both an amazing meal, great space & drinks and a bargain. Highly, highly recommended.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room & The Cellar Door Cafe is located at 328 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz CA. They are open Wed-Sun, serve dinner only Wed-Thur (though the tasting room is open in the afternoon) but serve food all afternoon Fri-Sun starting at noon. For dinner I’d suggest a reservation especially for a larger group – call the cafe at 831.425.6771.

Best Coffee (and tea) in Santa Cruz

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I am a serious coffee person. After exploring downtown Santa Cruz fairly extensively I found a few cafes and stores of note, though there are a few others I need to try on a future visit.

Lulu Carpenters (2 locations just blocks apart)

In the course of a long day spent in downtown Santa Cruz I stopped into Lulu Carpenter’s twice. First I had a fantastic cappucino at Lulu’s at the Octogon in the early afternoon, then I researched dinner options over another fantastic cappucino at their Pacific Ave location. At both locations I really enjoyed the seriousness and skill with which they made their coffee and the care which showed in how they roasted their beans. The Octogon Room location specializes in single orgin coffee and has some truly amazing coffees (as well as some of the best equipment of any cafe anywhere in the US). This is serious coffee and I really enjoyed myself at both locations. If I had had my laptop I would have gladly worked all afternoon from either location – as many other people at both were doing each time I passed by. I take my coffee seriously – Lule Carpenter’s is good enough that if I were to spend more time in Santa Cruz, I know I ould be a regular.

Santa Cruz Roasing Company

Before I found Lulu’s I stopped by Santa Cruz Roasting Company to pick up whole beans for my parents to enjoy good coffee as they have a lifelong habit of making a pot of coffee every morning. I was impressed by the wide selection of well blended beans including a large selection of organic, fair trade beans – both single origin and nicely balanced blends. All for reasonable prices with friendly service. I had a single cup of one blend and picked up a small amont of fresh beans for our rental. The service was friendly, the space spacious and were Lulu’s not right up the street I’m sure I’d be a regular – and I probably would still frequent Santa Cruz Roasting on a regular basis. At a farmer’s market we went to on Sunday I had a single cup of freshly made coffee which was a blend from Santa Cruz Roasting and it was a great cup of coffee, especially while shopping the farmer’s market.

Chaikhana Tea Culture – 317 Cedar St Santa Cruz  (831) 423-4200 (no website but the owner mentioned that they are launching one very soon).

While I am a serious coffee drinker (though unlike my parents I rarely drink coffee in the morning or make it at home) I am also a very serious tea drinker and fan. I have an extensive collection of teas on home – literally dozens including what are now I’m sure extremely aged Pur’h teas – bricks I bought nearly 15 years ago and haven’t yet prepared). I have blends of teas I treasure and which have intense personal meaning.

For one, a blend which was the blend I shared with my most serious girlfriend of the past on our very first date, which was at a tea shop in Chicago – we shared a high tea, a pot of tea, then moved to a table outside and had a second pot of melon tea which the owner recommended to us. A date which moves onto a second pot of tea is, I think, a very good one – certainly worked out well for me.

But I am not a collector or a serious fan of Pur’h teas but my friend who lives in Santa Cruz had insisted that I stop by Chaikhana. So as I walked towards the boardwalk, I stopped in and ended up spending nearly an hour browsing the small but packed store, smelling teas, and sampling teas which were being poured by David the owner – mostly for the benefit of the other, even more serious tea fans who were also in the store at the same time, but I was happy to try the teas myself as well. I ended up buying a 2009 green tea from China, a premium grade Yellow Tea (also from China and a type of tea I’ve never previously seen – even in my many visits to world class tea shops across the country) and also bought a few other smaller items to try.

Chaikhana is a store which if you are a tea drinker could rapidly become a mecca, I picked up their old catalog, but am looking forward to the website launch. Even if you are not a tea drinker, if you are in Santa Cruz, give yourself some time to stop in and explore, smell a few teas, taste othes and most likely you will walk out with some teas and a great experience.  You can spend as much or as little as you want to spend at Chaikhana – I spent $14 on an oz each of two different teas as well as few balls of black tea to try but he also has some aged teas which are $100′s of dollars an oz which he has collected from frequent trips to China and purchases of private collections.

Best BBQ – better even than my last trip to Austin TX!

After the wedding and reception we returned to our rental cottage and my mom, aunt and I took an extended walk up the beach here in Aptos for a bit. On returning to our cottage I was a bit hungry but my parenta and aunt weren’t up for going out to a restaurant. Instaed I suggested that we find a nearby restaurant and just pick up something. I looked at the collection of menus provided to us by the owners of the cottage (if you can call a 2 level, 3 bedroom house a cottage) and one in particular stood out.

It was the phrase “real smoked BBQ”

I was hooked.

We called, they were open, we called back and placed an order to pick up.

Where? Aptos St BBQ at 8059 Aptos St in Aptos Village.

This is serious, slow smoked, prepared with skill, care and attention to detail BBQ. I suggested it because I was hungry – my parents & aunt were not – they ended up eating nearly 2/3′s of the order – which was only a single full slab of ribs. The ribs were better than any I have had in years – perhaps the best I’ve ever had – so good I’m quite seriously seeing when I can come back to get the ribs – and to try the rest of their menu.

They slow smoke their ribs – no grills, no broilers (certainly no boiling) just slow steady smoke over many hours. The result is amazing flavor – meat candy for a BBQ lover like myself.

Years ago I made an observation – which Aptos St BBQ lived up to – you can tell a great BBQ place by their coleslaw. I’m sure there is an exception somewhere – perhaps a BBQ place that doesn’t serve any coleslaw – but it is a simple dish that many places get wrong (if they don’t make it themselves but instead order it in bulk – they clearly cut corners and you have to wonder what corners they cut with your meat).

But if they make a great coleslaw, which Aptos St BBQ does, then it means that they care enough about the smallest details of the food they sell to do so. Coleslaw isn’t why I choose a BBQ place – but when it is great I’ve rarely had bad BBQ.

Unfortunately Aptos St BBQ is closed on Mondays – otherwise I would insist that we stop there on the way out of town and pick up a slab (or two) for my dinners in the week to come. I suspect my next visit to Aptos I will place a large order on Sunday night just to have leftevers to enjoy back in San Francisco.

So those are a few of the great finds I found in my time in Santa Cruz. I’m certain I iwll be back – though when I don’t know. Please leve comments if you know of places I should try on a future visit.

I will try to update this post with photos & more URL’s.

Coffee in San Francisco – my current favorites

10 June, 2009 (02:34) | food | By: Shannon Clark

San Francisco Coffee is among the best in the world.

I am a serious coffee drinker, I started drinking coffee seriously in high school, spent many hours in college in cafes throughout Hyde Park. However in College my focus was cheap, free refills, and a good working environment, I was less concerned that the coffee was really high quality.

But I was always passionate about local, independent cafes and while I lived in Chicago I grew to know and love many great small local cafes, spending most of my time in the ones that had great atmospheres and great coffee. Including among these was the amazingly high quality Inteligentsia Coffee which I was a customer of from their first cafe which opened up in Boystown and then later their locations downtown in the Loop. In the years since they have expanded to a cafe in LA and are among the growing Third Wave of cafes and local coffee roasters which have spread the serious coffee movement throughout the US and indeed around the globe.

I have now lived in the Bay Area for 3 1/2 years, in this time I have seen an explosion of great coffee roasters and cafes, led by a group of local coffee roasters and a growing and large coffee culture here in San Francisco. In this post I will write up some of my current favorite cafes in San Francisco, from time to time I will update this post as new places open or old places close.

As a frequent cafe customer I look for a few things in cafes I frequent on a regular basis.

  1. Great coffee. This should perhaps go without saying, but it makes a huge difference. There are some cafes whose space & location I love, but which I rarely frequent because the coffee does not match the space.
  2. Big tables. I have a theory of cafes. Small tables (think the tiny bistro tables of the traditional French cafe) make it hard to share a table with a stranger and make working on laptops awkward. My favorite cafes have always been the ones with large, oversized tables that promote sharing tables with strangers and allow for easy working with laptops.
  3. Free Wifi & Power. Though here I am will to make exceptions. Serious coffee trumps wifi – I just use my time in those cafes in different ways – for conversations, for time to catch up on my reading, for time to write offline. Later this year I expect I will have a portable data card (or tether my iPhone 3GS) so wifi will be less of an issue. Power too is easy to work around and it isn’t the worst thing to get up and move after 4+ hours in front of my laptop.
  4. Happy employees. The best cafes have happy, passionate employees. Employess who are treated well, who do their work with attention to detail and passion for quality.

There are many other factors I look for in great cafes. Good food is always welcome especially if locally sourced. And being open late fits my lifestyle well. Thankfully in San Francisco I have many options.

My not so short list of great cafes in San Francisco:

  • Blue Bottle – The coffee of choice for most of the top chefs in the Bay Area Blue Bottle is one the best coffee roasters I’ve ever tasted and their cafes are among the finest I know of anywhere in the world. It all started with their Kiosk in Hayes Valley at 315 Linden St and at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Markets. Now they have an amazing new space at 66 Mint St, a full cafe inside of the Ferry Building and a new location in the rooftop garden of the SF MOMA. At their full cafe on Mint in addition to great coffee prepared with serious attention to detail and more methods of preparation than any other cafe I’ve seen, they also have a small but great selection of food options which change during the course of the day. No wifi, but one of my favorite spots for business meetings, especially around conferences at the nearby Moscone Center.
  • Ritual Coffee Roasters – Ritual is rapidly overflowing their storefront location at 1026 Valencia St in the Mission where they removed couches and many tables to make room for their roaster and coffee storage in the back. They don’t have any power outlets, but still manage to almost always have full tables and a line for their fantastic coffee. With only a small selection of food (albiet tasty baked goods) Ritual is a destination for coffee drinking and a spot where many people sit and work. I’m the Foursquare mayor of Ritual on Valencia as a result of my many times a week visits. Ritual also has a smaller cafe inside of Flora Grub Gardens in Bayview at 1634 Jerrold Ave and a new cafe inside of the Oxbow Public Market at 610 First St in Napa. Ritual coffees are served by many great restaurants and cafes as well.
  • Four Barrel Coffee – Before they opened their well designed space at 375 Valencia St which features a large onsite coffee roaster and furniture built from reclaimed lumber, Four Barrel served coffee from the rear of their space via a kiosk open to the small alleyway. Founded by serious coffee people, Four Barrel is an example of a cafe that is all about the coffee, they have only a few baked goods and do not have wifi, yet are usually full until closing. They have a few wholesale customers here in SF and are a fantastic addition to the local coffee scene.
  • Epicenter Cafe – another new addition to San Francisco, Epicenter Cafe is located at 764 Harrison. They are not a coffee roaster but take coffee and food very seriously. Their beans are from Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara (who also provide coffee to Google – a company that takes food and drink fairly seriously). The coffee here is fantastic, what I love about the cafe is the space, high quality food, lots of tables, power outlets and free wifi. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in SOMA to work and have meetings.
  • Coffee Bar – Probably my favorite overall cafe in San Francisco. Coffee Bar is located at the corner of Mariposa & Florida in Potrero Hill. The coffee here is from Mr Espresso in Oakland (one of the owners is part of the family that runs Mr Espresso) and is prepared with great attention to detail both as espresso shots or on their reasonably priced Clover machines. But it is the space and food which is why I so love Coffee Bar. They have a great menu of food and drinks including wine and beer and a multileveled space which has been designed with great attention to detail. They have a long bar with underbar power outlets perfect for working alone as well as many oversized tables perfect for groups or for sharing with others. On Thursdays and Fridays they turn the kitchen over to Radio Africa Kitchen which offers some of the best food in San Francisco at extremely reasonable prices. I find the location, food, and ambiance combine to make Coffee Bar one of my favorite cafes and a highly productive space either for working on my laptop or for having great business meetings.
  • Philz - Philz coffee is a family run establishment here in San Francisco which has been expanding rapidly in the last few years, going from just a few locations when I first moved here to a growing number of locations throughout the Bay Area. Philz does not make espresso, instead they make coffee one cup at a time from their 20+ custom blends. Blends whose exact mixes they keep secret, but which are each unique and quite tasty. This is a $3+ single cup of coffee which is worth every penny. They have free wifi and a small selection of baked goods, but the main attraction is the amazing and very unique coffee. Coffee which is quite unlike any cup I’ve had anywhere else. Philz is a unique and welcome addition to the coffee culture in San Francisco and now the greater Bay Area.
  • Haus Coffee - a very new addition to San Francisco, opening just weeks ago, Haus Coffee is located at 3082 24th St. A beautiful, if minimalist space which soon will have a fantastic back patio, Haus serves coffee from Ritual Roasters. They have free wifi, large tables and very bright and airy space, with a fireplace for cool San Francisco evenings. One of my new favorite spots. note – I can’t find a URL for them, if you know it please leave a comment and I’ll update this post
  • Velo Rouge – Velo Rouge Cafe is a small cafe just blocks from Golden Gate Park at 798 Arguello Boulevard. They serve coffee from Ritual Roasters expertly prepared along with a great menu featuring local foods. Tasty food, great drinks and a fun space with a small be welcome set of tables outdoors. One of my favorite cafes in the Richmond district of San Francisco and a frequent stop on long weekend walks.
  • Hollow - by far the smallest cafe on my list, Hollow is a tiny space in the Inner Sunset at 1435 Irving St. In a space smaller than my first studio apartment, around 400 sq ft nestled between other retail shops,  coffee from Ritual Roasters compliments the small but carefully selected products for sale. They have two tables inside with seating for only a few people, but the coffee is fantastic, the shopping excellent and owners friendly. A small gem of a cafe & design shop. Later this summer they will add a table outside. I spent a wonderful afternoon on a recent weekend drinking coffee and chatting with the owner.
  • Mojo Bicycle Cafe – A cafe in the front, a bike shop in the back, Mojo Bicycle Cafe at 639A Divisadero St is a cafe and bar, serving a small selection of food and coffee from De La Paz & Ritual Roasters. Great coffee, good drink selection and you can buy a bike or get your bike repaired while you hang out. A small but fun space with a devoted customer base.
  • The Cafe at Cafe Du Nord – Another fairly new addition to San Francisco, the Cafe at Cafe Du Nord is a small cafe which opened up earlier this year next door to Cafe Du Nord nightclub & the Swedish American hall event space. Located at 2168 Market St the cafe features coffee from Ritual Roasters and very tasty food. The sandwiches are particularly good and go well with the great coffee. The free wifi is nice, though the space is a bit small and tables slightly crowded together, I have worked here but it isn’t ideal for long working sessions.
  • Cafe Du Soleil – A French cafe at 200 Filmore, just a block off of Haight St, has good but not fantastic coffee which is more than made up for having great food and a very French atmosphere. This is an adult cafe where you can enjoy great food, wine and coffee along with the free wifi and large communal table. The baked goods are exceptional and the ambiance makes this one of my favorite places to work in San Francisco. The coffee is good, but not as serious as at most of the other places on this list.
  • Samovar Tea Lounge – And to end this list a place that does not serve coffee at all. Samovar Tea Lounge has three locations in San Francisco (297 Page Street at Laguna, Yerba Buena Gardens at 730 Howard St above the Moscone Center, and 498 Sanchez St in the Castro). Samovar is a place for serious tea and great food. I love coffee but I also am a serious fan of Tea, Samovar has the best tea I have found in San Francisco, served with patience and food that compliments the teas exceptionally well. The Yerba Buena Gardens location is another of my favorite spots for downtown business meetings but also for first dates. It transitions well from a relaxed environment for long conversations and relaxation to a great place for a first date.

There are many other great cafes in San Francisco, cafes with loyal fans, friendly staff, tasty food and beverages but these are the places I return to again and again, the spots I take out of town guests to, the places I plan my day around visiting.

What are your favorites? What are places I should also try?

The difference local, simple foods make

10 November, 2008 (01:30) | food | By: Shannon Clark

I made myself some eggs and bacon for breakfast recently, nothing too fancy, a few slices of bacon, a couple of fried eggs, but as I ate I realized that what I consider “simple” is not – and that it is also a bit of a case study in the difference that a few simple things can make. What I put on my plate is a far, far cry from what you get as a few fried eggs and bacon from most breakfast places, even here in San Francisco, and for that matter is probably quite a different experience from what most people make for breakfast.

You might ask what this has to do with branding – but bear with me – I’ll get there – but first let me describe what I did to make my breakfast and as I do so, the things which though simple helped make it taste quite good. 

A great meal, like any great product, starts with the ingrediants you use. Instead of using foods from industrial farms, sold in a huge big box supermarket, my breakfast was purchased locally in my neighborhood from a merchant who, in turn, purchased from local farmers. The bacon I used was a local to the Bay Area brand, Niman Ranch, which is a relatively large firm that purchases from a large number of family farmers and offers very high quality meats. The eggs I used were also purchased from my local butcher’s shop and were free-range, cage free, farm fresh eggs from a local farmer. 

The prices I paid, however, were if anything less than the cost of industrial eggs and bacon available at my local supermarker, Safeway. At the butcher’s I paid ~$7.00 for 6 slices of thick cut bacon and a dozen eggs, the bacon was ~$7/lb and the eggs were $3.00/dozen. For comparison while prices varied a bit national brand bacon at Safeway was between $6-8/lb and eggs where also in the $2.50-4/dozen range (with some even more). 

A three egg, three slices of bacon breakfast at a typical diner in San Francisco would run around $7 before taxes with coffee, taxes and tip probably at least $10, often closer to $12-15.  

The second part of a great meal like making a great product, is in what you do with great ingrediants. I start with the bacon which I generally slice in half (to make it easier to manage as it cooks). I heat up my skillet so it is warm when I add the bacon, taking care to use medium heat not high heat so the bacon doesn’t cook too quickly. 

I then add the bacon slices to the pre-heated skillet. As a final touch I sprinkle a small dusting of maple sugar – a great and versitle product I buy at a local grocery co-op, if you don’t have granulated maple sugar a small drizzle of pure maple syrup would also do but the granulated sugar is inexpensive and easy to work with. This little dusting adds a hint of sweetness and cuts the smokeness of this particular brand of bacon. 

After the bacon has started to clarify a bit, to get a bit glossy, I turn it and let it slowly cook. As it does, i take out my eggs and let them sit for a bit as I prepare the rest of my meal – slice bread for toast, start water for coffee or tea. I try to avoid turning the bacon too many times, generally I flip it only two or three times letting it reach a nice golden color on both sides but avoiding getting too dark or dried out. 

When the bacon is done I remove it to my plate and then start the eggs. I cook them also on medium heat in the same griddle as I prepared the bacon. Cooking on a medium heat is a few minutes slower than using high heat, but results in a very nice flavor and texture to the eggs. I like my yolks mostly hard so I flip the eggs after a few minutes to let the yolks firm up, after about a minute I then transfer the eggs to my plate.

I finished my eggs with a pinch of pink salt from the Himalyas which added another layer of flavors but equally a pinch of any good salt and some fresh ground pepper would have been tasty. I prefer natural salts to finish my eggs for the extra flavor the minerals in those salts add. 

As you can see from the photos above, the color of farm fresh eggs cooked correctly will be quite vibrant. And it all tastes amazing as well. 

So what does all of this have to do with branding? 

All too often people are willing to accept low quality products in part because they have never had really good quality items. Take bacon it is such a staple item, often prepared in a manner than renders it dry and though still tasty fairly simple as a flavor. But there is a vast difference available when you get truly high quality bacon – the flavors are more complex, look and texture anything but dry or boring. 

Likewise with eggs, they are one of the most common items in any kitchen, but most eggs are as well fairly bland, basic items. But once you have had fresh eggs from a local farm which raises the chickens with care you will see just how much flavor you have been missing all this time. 

And remember though my breakfast may have taken a few minutes longer than a fast food version – I did not use a microwave and my eggs were not “minute” eggs, it cost the same, perhaps less, than the identical meal from a large supermarket, and much less than a breakfast from a local diner. 

What can you do with your products to shift from mass, good enough, incrediants to much higher quality components? Can you take a little bit more care, perhaps a bit more time, and end up with a significantly better product? Have you even considered what is possible, just how good your products could be?

And when you do, don’t then be afraid of charging for that quality. If I were selling my bacon & eggs in a restaurant, I’m fairly sure many people would be happy to have paid $10 (or more) for my breakfast.

Slow Food Nation 2008

31 August, 2008 (06:13) | food | By: Shannon Clark

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(image cc-licensed by aaron_anderer on Flickr)

This weekend the many events of Slow Food Nation have been occurring around San Francisco. On Friday I made it to the Marketplace and Victory Garden in front of the San Francisco City Hall however I arrived late so many of the vendors were closed and sold out, I still managed to pick up some amazing artisinal jams directly from the makers of the jam, some phenonmenal local heritage varities of fruits, and a very tasty late lunch.

This evening I went to Fort Mason in the what I thought might be vain hope of finding a way to get a ticket to the completely sold out Slow Food Taste Pavilion for the 5pm evening tasting. I arrived at a bit after 4:30, waited around the lines and just as I was getting ready to leave, the line having all entered and only a handful of late arrivals still wandering in, I was talking with the volunteers at the gate when a very nice woman who had just arrived spoke up and said “hey, I have an extra ticket, here have it…”

Turns out that she works in the industry (restaurant manager for Boulette’s Larder at the Ferry Building here in San Francisco, a shop I frequent and love) and had both been given two free passes and had been unable to find a friend to take her extra free pass, so in the interest of good karma she passed it along to me for free.

So I was in and stayed until the very end. Before I get into my feedback and suggestions for next year’s Slow Food Nation (especially for the next year’s Taste Pavilions) a few basics.

  1. Everyone had a great time, the drinks (at least alcoholic) were flowing, the foods were great and all of the producers who were there and serving up their creations were thrilled to be there and seemed to be enjoying sharing them with everyone.
  2. Other locals and I were reminded just how truly lucky we are to live here in the Bay Area, quite a few of the great producers were local, most were shops and products I buy on a regular basis, stuff I can at times almost take for granted (forgetting just how amazing the quality can be).
  3. There were some surprising finds even in the very last minutes. Dishes I would have gladly purchased to take home. Happily one from a restaurant a relative of my grandfather’s third wife manages (okay the complexities of modern life, multiple marriages and long life).

But.

And there are a few buts, I have a lot of feedback and suggestions, things which did not work well or which I hope they improve on for the future. And broadly speaking many of these reflect the mixed branding which Slow Food as a movement has, especially here in the US. You might have thought I had forgotten this a blog about branding (well branding and the occasional long post about food such as this one).

What do I mean by “mixed branding”? Well the main objection to Slow Food is that as a movement it is, especially here in the US, very much about and for the elites (as the article in that link notes as the common perception) – a movement for people who can really afford to spend anything they want to spend on food so the only people (so the critics claim) who can support the goals (as sometimes misunderstood) of Slow Food. As a movement Slow Food has both in Europe and in the US had problems explaining itself to others (and heck to members) – is it a political movement? A reaction to “fast food”? A movement focused on local production? On the support of “heritage” brands? A movement to support producers or about how people cook at home or how and where they dine out or all of the above?

  1. The pavilions reflect a mostly Western, European food culture.At this year’s Taste Pavilions there were: Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutney, Spirits, Tea and Wine. The Bread pavilion had pizza on one side and Indian naan on the other but that is about the only non-Western food which was served. The tea pavilion had a wide range of tea’s from across the world. But that’s about it for food that wasn’t based on a European cuisine. Certainly little that celebrates the strong Chinese, Japanese or Hispanic cultures of the Bay Area.
  2. The “slow dough” cards caused nothing but confusion.

    When you presented your ticket this year you received a “Slow Dough” card with 20 boxes on it, each tasting or beverage you took had, in theory, a cost of 1 to 3 boxes. If you ran out you could purchase more Slow Dough at a rate of 5 SD for $10. Beverages were a great “deal” with Wines being just one box for a 1 oz pour (not sure what a beer was but I think just a few). But just what each food would cost you was difficult to understand, there was not a single chart which showed the costs at each pavilion, rather each pavilion (again in theory) had signage showing what the costs were – though in practice most did not or if they did I couldn’t find the signs. In fact the Coffee Pavilion rejected the entire idea and refused to punch anyone’s cards, the Pickles and Chutneys pavilion flat out told me that instead of charge one box per tasting plate as in theory they were supposed to they would mark one box then let me take a tasting from each provider.

    My suggestion for next year do away entirely with the Slow Dough concept for all of the food, teas, coffees, and non-alcoholic beverages (which this year was only water but I’d strongly encourage the addition of serious slow providers of non-alcoholic drinks). Replace it with some form of counting and charging for extras for only the alcoholic drinks (Beers, Wines, Spirits) perhaps also for the speciality non-alcoholic drinks such as Root Beers and Ginger Beers that might be served at the same Beer pavilion. Give everyone enough for a few beers or a couple of wine flights or a cocktail, then charge the drinkers for more.

    Mostly the Slow Dough caused friction between the attendees and the producers of these amazing foods. Lines are understandable (see my next points about queues) and should be able to restrain people from taking more than their fair share, but the cards turned what I had hoped would be an evening of pure celebration of craft into a calculation game – if I get X will I also be able to still try Y…

  3. Bring in some real experts on queues and design a more consistent experience across the pavilions. The longest line, by far, was for the Cheese Pavilion. The shortest line was the Beer Pavilion. And yes, people noted that this was probably the only event they had ever been too where that was the case. But every pavilion used a different flow of the queues, some such as the Cheese had a single, continuous queue wrapped around the pavilion (and indeed outside of the building) in a spiral. Others had two lines entering the pavilion in different directions (and serving different foods in the case of the Charcuterie, the same food but from two stands in the case of the Fish pavilion). In short every Pavilion flowed considerably differently and there was nearly no signage about any of the queues, so as I was trying to wait in one of the two bread queues (I gave up, I think it was the line for the pizzas) someone came up and asked if this was the line to get into the building. Again not having anywhere a single document (or any posted maps and signs) which showed what foods were available for what cost and in how many different lines at each pavilion meant you got into a line not quite knowing what was going to happen next.

    The wine pavilion had a process where you were supposed to get a glass as you entered, then pick up a many page booklet listing the nearly 400+ bottles available, each with a number, you then found a section by number and waited your turn at the bar (in queues that were amorphous at best) and once there tried to decide on the basis of minimal information what you wanted to drink, or you could try one of the flights which were in four other areas but which I couldn’t quite figure out how to try.

    The confusions started at the very beginning of the event, the line stretched from the venue to nearly the entrance of Fort Mason but there was nearly zero signage about Slow Food Nation anywhere near the Fort Mason entrance, and what looked like a gate/checkpoint was not actually where your tickets were checked which was, in fact, further into the venue.

    And there was an entire section I never did find where sparkling water and Salsa Dancing was, I think, taking place. Not to mention I couldn’t easily see where the bathrooms were. Many, but not all, of the Pavilions had exhibits but due to the layouts of where the food tasting tables were, here I’m in particular thinking of the Fish Pavilion, I’m probably not alone in missing the exhibits nearly entirely. In the case of the Chocolate Pavilion I nearly missed the entire Pavilion because walking past I almost thought it was just a set of walls, didn’t see that inside there were some presentations, which when I entered I then also realized there was a large line entering from another entrance so I couldn’t, in fact, try the tasting as I entered the wrong way. All too confusing.

  4. Non-drinkers were seriously underserved.

    If you are a drinker and love craft beers, wines and spirits the Taste Pavilions were an amazing opportunity and serious bargain. There were 400+ different wines, dozens of different beers, and a lot of different mixed drinks (don’t know much about the later as I don’t drink spirits).

    But if like me you are either a light drinker or if you are a non-drinker your options were water, tastings of teas or coffee (which were serious tastings not beverages you could easily take with you and sip) or I think some sparkling water but as I noted I couldn’t actually find that section. There were no juices, no producers of craft sodas, ginger beers, organic bottle grape juices, iced teas or the like. I drank a lot of water, but I really found myself thirsty and wanting something to complement the foods, both savory and sweet I was eating but not being a heavy drinker I had no options.

  5. Vegetarians and non-pork eaters had very few options

    The bread pavilion which I never did manage to sample did have some vegetarian options as did, I think, the Native Foods pavilion (at least one dish I think) but the selection was fairly light elsewhere. The Charcuterie was not entirely surprisingly almost entirely pork products (a handful of beef jerkies as well – but which were as far as I could tell only available as part of a flight so if you didn’t eat pork you were out of luck). Anyone with other food allergies or other issues would have been faced with a lot complications in trying to decide pavilions to try because of the lack of signage and information – in part because what was being served did vary over the course of the evening – so a simple bread at one time might be replaced by a nut bread minutes later.

    Yes I know the theory of the Taste Pavilions was to highlight producers but I was frankly shocked that there was not a Fruit or a Vegetable pavilion. All evening I was craving a perfectly ripe peach and I, for one, would classify many of the local farmers squarely as slow food producers (Frog Hollow Farms which is phenomenal orchard which is carefully set up to have different varieties of stone fruits ripen every couple of weeks for the entire growing season from spring into the fall).

    There are also plenty of amazing vegetarian slow food producers who could have been highlighted. Here in the Bay Area there are some amazing local Tofu producers, local Yogurt companies, Udon noodle shops which use techniques passed down for 7+ generations and much more.

  6. Locals were not given the option to only try non-local producers

    I love the many amazing places I can buy food here in San Francisco and I was thrilled to see familiar companies and in many cases familiar faces at the Slow Food Nation Taste Pavilions, I said hello to the barista who pulled my machiato and whom I knew from when Drew worked at Ritual Roasters.

    But I attended Slow Food Nation in part to celebrate a nation of producers so I wanted to “spend” my calories and time sampling items I don’t get on a weekly basis here in San Francisco, I wanted to try things which were new to me, not just taste things I already love and buy for my dinner parties. Yet the way the Pavilions were set up I was unable to avoid getting many items I’m quite familiar with in my trying to sample new things. In particular in the Cheese Pavilion they were only serving three types of cheeses at a time as part of the flight, when got there this included a cheese I had, in fact, just bought for a recent dinner party and which is served on restaurant menus throughout the Bay Area. It is a great cheese, but I really wish I could have sampled something else new instead (and no getting two tastes of another cheese isn’t the same as getting a chance to savor a third new one)

    Sure, as I noted, I was happy to reminded just how luck I am to be living in San Francisco, but I would have really liked to see more representation from outside of San Francisco, to have seen a more truly national character to what was served. I would have also liked to have seen more emphasis on American slow foods – not just American businesses making craft examples of European foods (salumi, olive oils, etc). Where were the regional (US) foods? The maple syrups, the smoked Northwestern Salmon, etc.

I will be back for Slow Food Nation 2009 and I hope I can help in any way I can with the future events. I applaud them as well for trying a lot of different things – beyond the Marketplace and Taste Pavilions there are also many series of talks, workshops, a pretty serious Rock two day festival, conferences, films, dinners, walks and field trips being held all week. But for me, at least, the overall impression from the website, marketing efforts, and ticketing process is one of too many ideas, too much without an overall cohesion. Ticketing in particular was confusing and unclear – “discounted tickets at local Whole Foods” for example without ever noting what, in fact, that discount would have been!

Since I was given my ticket to the Taste Pavilion on my way out I spent some of what I had planned on spending for the evening on buying a year’s membership in Slow Food.

But then I went and spent the rest on some takeout from one of my favorite Thai restaurants in San Francisco which happens to be just a few blocks away from Fort Mason. I was hungry. And Sunday I will probably go to a Thai Food and Culture Festival which is also being held this weekend here in San Francisco, at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. For an admision price of $5 I’ll get a chance to see some demonstrations of Thai Culture and if the reports on Chowhounds are any evidence eat some serious Thai food prepared on the spot by skilled artisans. Food that I would claim is definitely “Slow Food” but which was not, alas, represented well at the Taste Pavilions this year.