Ft. Mason is a hub of infinite activity, and year after year we find ourselves here for the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon. We’re doing a “staycation” weekend for our fifth time at the Salon, checking into the Suites at Fisherman’s Wharf and touring the City through food. Fitting that our last stop this weekend would be at Ft. Mason, so was our first one for Off the Grid.
We’ve been to enough Off the Grids (like this one, this one, this one, and this one, twice), so many of the trucks here this night we have seen before. But, with a space as big as the parking lot at Ft. Mason, there were over two times as many vendors here as any of the OTGs we’ve been to before, so we found plenty of delights from trucks (and canopies!) that were totally new to us.
At our previous OTGs we had never seen canopies, but they were aplenty here. Fritas Shack was the first of the non- truck food stands that caught our eye for their lamb tacos. The two deep fried taco shells were super crispy and very reminiscent of Jack In The Box tacos, but with luxurious and luscious lamb. With very few, simple ingredients (onions, cilantro, cotija cheese), the meat was allowed to shine. It had been braised and then pulled, so it had a smoother, more delicate texture than any chewier meat you’d find in almost any other taco.
While ordering, waiting for, and eating our lamb tacos, we surveyed Bok Ssam next door and we couldn’t resit their version of chicken and waffles with coleslaw. The chicken was all thigh meat with a supremely crunchy batter, drizzled with a lightly sweet and salty soy glaze. Backed by traditional buttermilk waffles but with a hint of vanilla, the flavors of the chicken, its batter, and its glaze melded so well with the vinegar-based coleslaw. The freshness of the coleslaw lightened up what had the potential of being a heavy dish.
Drewski’s had been on our radar before, so this time we didn’t let it blip by. Zach’s kicking himself just a little for not trying them out before today, because “hands down, (this is) the best fried mac I’ve had so far. There’s a lot that have good flavor but they’re really greasy, or the ones that aren’t greasy are super dry in the center.” The trio of deep fried mac and cheese balls with smoky bacon and a proprietary spicy sauce was served so piping hot, we had to crack them and let the heat ascend into the rapidly darkening night sky. Proportionately, the ratio of breading to macaroni center was on point. The glue holding together the macaroni center was creamy and cheesy, not at all dried out from the frying process. We didn’t catch what made the sauce spicy but Zach suspects it was chipotle; it was creamy but it packed a bunch that sneaked up on us.
Because Zach can’t resist a tagline like “Eggs On Everythang!” we tried the sliders from Hula Truck. The Twin Peaks sliders, made of succulent Kalua pork and each with its own fried egg, were served on Hawaiian rolls with “Bacon JAMMMM and our special Hula sauce.” It’s quick and easy, simple, Hawaiian comfort food, so if the ingredients sound appealing to you, then you won’t be disappointed.
Dessert came in two rounds tonight, the first from 3-Sum Eats. As a special for St. Patrick’s Day only four day’s away, the truck was making whiskey espresso whoopie pies as big as teacup saucers. The cookies’ texture was somewhat cake-like with chocolate morsels scattered throughout to give something to chew on. Between the two cookies, the buttercream filling was smooth and rich. This treat is suitable for children despite the name – the whiskey flavor translated into a muted smokiness to highlight the dark coffee and chocolate. We weren’t about to dissect the whoopie pie just to pinpoint where precisely the whiskey and espresso laid among the cookies and the filling, so taking it bite by bite as a whole, it was overall a delightful goodie.
For the coup de grâce with a little je nais se quoi made à la minute, we had foie gras and raspberry cotton candy – an avant-garde and risqué pairing of haute cuisine by Sugar & Spun, whose owners love to experiment with molecular gastronomy. The tangy tart and sweetness of the raspberry cotton candy base would have been overwhelming on its own without the salty foie gras to balance it, and all at a fair price. The foie gras had been freeze-dried, powdered, and liberally shaken onto the mounds and mounds of cotton candy. Combining sweet, savory, tangy, and tart, with the richness of foie gras and the sprightliness of raspberry, this is something to put on a bucket list. To eat this, one must be wary of the weather: wind can transfer the foie gras from the fairy floss to your clothes, and the humidity will make the fluffy clouds shrink after not too long.
We must admit, we were a little daunted by coming to Ft. Mason on a Friday night. We had only ever been before arriving on a Sunday morning, early enough to find very close parking and also in broad daylight. But parking is vast and you’ll no doubt find some, just as long as you’re ready, willing, and able to amble next to an expansive view encompassing a myriad of boats with bosky hills in the horizon. There are broad walking areas, public restrooms, and multiple driveways, so non-locals should have no issues going on a foodie adventure any time there is one at Ft. Mason.
Sunset Mercantile is an opportunity for the community to come together, enjoying a day of music, food, shopping, and children’s activities. It’s a pop-up festival at Francis Scott Key Elementary and Pi Day 2015 was the second run; an event coordinator told us the goal is to make this a quarterly event.
There was a set list of musicians and story tellers throughout the day, but in the first hour we listened to a variety of competing music warming up: the capoeira booth had a batch of percussion instruments against the middle school choir doing scales, and passing car radios staccato’d by every now and then. Perfect weather accompanied our ambling among the vendor canopies, featuring artisan foods, handmade housewares and jewelry, non-profit representatives, and produce stands.
One vendor who particularly caught our eye was Lexie with her Dino-Mite! collection from Arcata, who makes mugs, printed towels, and essentially any craft she dreams of. The scenes within books are captivating, and the dinosaur mugs absolutely adorable! She makes mugs for her friend’s coffee shop but the patrons’ kids liked them too, so she started making smaller sizes (for hot chocolate, surely not coffee!). She was sharing her booth with her cousin of Andytown Coffee Roasters, offering samples of deliciously dark coffee.
We took this in while waiting for Adam’s Grub Truck to warm up. They knew we were coming for Zach to try the Ultimate Adam Bomb challenge.
Six pounds in 30 minutes, featuring six slices of bread, grilled chicken, fried chicken, spam, pulled pork, bacon, eggs, waffle fries, dinosaur chicken nuggets, coleslaw, cheese, and sauces, a majestic tower of street food staples. Zach had heart that he would triumph.
He started really strong, taking out the top layer quickly, but soon found that there was more spam than anticipated. There’s nothing wrong with spam in our book, but, well, this was a lot of salty meat.
Avocado was a surprise ingredient, a food Zach can handle in conservative moderation, so he separated the “not my favorite” parts in order to figure out how to tackle them later.
Getting caught up in eating and forgetting about the “not my favorites,” Zach hit a little wall and began to doubt his ability to finish.
He started to pair small portions from each paper bowl so as to knock down the pile of “not my favorites,” but in the end, the Ultimate Adam Bomb claimed another opponent.
For his second attempt at a food challenge, he did not do so bad. Part of what did him in were his personal preferences for ingredients, but taking on a challenge is not meant to be easy. Had it been an hour, or had there not been avocado, it would have been a slam dunk. The fun, though, is looking your opponent straight in the eye, muttering “I’m going to eat you,” and giving it your all no matter the outcome.
Can you believe it’s already March? And how’s that New Year’s resolution going for you? After our extended break from blogging, we’re refreshed and committed to our resolution of continuing to find spectacular restaurants and amazing events to bring to life so that you may vicariously enjoy them. A common resolution is to be bold and try new things, so while you, dear reader, are trying new things by proxy through our blog, Eventbrite is helping share new experiences with people throughout San Francisco. The Yes Address by Eventbrite is a series of 15 events spanning 10 days from February 28 to March 8, with a variety of options like workout classes, a skeeball tournament, and of course, plenty of dining. The Yes Address collaborated with SOMA StrEat Food Park for a memorable March 1 evening called “Beat the (Sunday) Blues!” featuring breakfast for dinner as one of the ultimate comfort foods to “chase away the #SundayScaries”. Normally the collection of food trucks is closed for dinner on Sundays, but when we found out that this was going on, we got on our way across the Bay Bridge – with about eleventy bazillion other cars and an extra 45 minutes of traffic. So although we didn’t get there quickly enough to enjoy games and 80’s movies as advertised, we still had a great time sampling some inventive dinnfast.
Ultra Crepes is a family-operated business based on Sebastapol with a storefront, not just a food truck (lucky local Sebastapolians!). Serving an assortment of sweet and savory crepes, we could not not try one of each. The Monte Cristo sandwich is a hot contender for August’s favorite breakfast sandwich, and Ultra Crepes’ version further helps to secure its seat. With ham, Swiss cheese, raspberry jam, and powdered sugar, it was everything a traditional Monte Cristo would be, but with an edge on texture because, while August likes French toast, she likes crepes more. The naturally tangy sweetness of the raspberries contrasted well against the smoky cheese and salty ham, so even with the jam and sprinkling of powdered sugar, this was definitely on the savory side in comparison to our second crepe, the Palachinka. Palachinka is the Eastern European version of a crepe, and this one was treated to taste like s’mores. Just the right amount of Nutella to keep it from being overly gooey, crumbled Plazma Biscuits (Serbian graham cracker-like cookies), marshmallows, and whipped cream combined to make this our favorite Nutella-filled crepe we have tried so far. Had it had any more fillings or toppings, it would have been simply too rich but as it was, it was just right.
Before getting too deep into dessert-type breakfast items, we needed something else savory and substantial so we walked not far at all to temporarily neighboring Savourie Streets. To keep with the theme of the evening, they added a fried egg to their “famous BLT” with pork belly on lightly toasted sourdough. The bread would have been cutting our gums had it not been for the thick, juicy tomato slice. The fresh produce was a nice backdrop for the perfectly cooked egg and hearty amount of pork belly. To be frank, we were a little nervous to order this because we have had some unfavorable experiences recently with gelatinous, undercooked pork belly, but Savourie Streets restored our faith. We found no fat strips, only tastiness.
It’s not like we arrived in the last minutes of the event, but about half of the trucks were already closed half way through the evening so our options for savory breakfast items were slim. Sweet ones were plentiful, on the other hand. In spite of the cool weather, we couldn’t pass up Frozen Kuhsterd, one of our all-time favorite frozen dessert trucks. This evening, they brought a treat crafted by their landlord specially for this event: liège waffle bites made with sugar cane. Sugar cane is the secret ingredient that provides an extra bit of crispiness for this type of waffle, making it seem as if there are tiny caramelized nuggets of sugar within the waffle. Drizzled with thick burnt caramel and a touch of whipped cream, we were left to choose one scoop of smooth and creamy frozen custard among four flavor options. We stood by the breakfast theme and went with the maple butter, and it was encouraging that that was truck manager Frank’s recommendation as well. We really enjoyed our choice, down to the last drop of melted frozen custard in the bottom of the cup.
Johnny Doughnuts was our last stop, and good thing for it because they loaded us up with an assorted dozen. Whether for being towards the end of the night or that we got along well with the crew, we have to show our appreciation for the half-off deal we were offered because we got to sample plenty of deliciousness. We didn’t think a dozen doughnuts would make a box so heavy (Zach almost tipped the box when picking it up), but since we were ogling them for more than a few minutes observing shape, size, and glaze, the heft of the box shouldn’t have been a surprise.
We had two old fashioned doughnuts, one vanilla and the other chocolate salted caramel. They had an excellent cake-like texture with that little bit of exterior crunch expected in an old fashioned. The vanilla would pair perfectly with a coffee for breakfast, and the chocolate salted caramel was decadently different and delicious. Another four of our assortment were raised doughnuts made with fresh mashed russet potatoes, to make them tender, moist, and more hearty and filling compared to the standard from typical doughnut shops. The classic glazed raised is great for the no-frills doughnut eater, but when glazes and fillings are made with real fruit and chocolate and the flavors are natural and true to their names, they’re hard for even the minimalist to pass up. The chocolate-on-chocolate frosted and sprinkled “sprinkly guy” was deep and rich, and the two fruity raised doughnuts were a strawberry with chocolate drizzle and lime poppy seed, each delightful and refreshing in its own way.
The Bismark doughnuts, also known as Berliners, are hole-less and filled like the traditional Berliner Pfannkuchen of the north of Germany. We sampled four: lime marscapone, strawberry apple, chocolate vanilla creme, and wild berry. What we loved most about the Bismarks is that it was clear the fillings were scratch-made and not spooned out of giant plastic tubs. Fresh fruit, quality marscapone cheese, and real chocolate made the centers sing. Not the shape we typically think of when it comes to doughnuts but a doughnut nonetheless (and tasty yet), we got a cinnamon twist with great texture. And to round out our dozen, we tried the wheat-free “That Fritter Thang!” with blueberries. Its texture was almost like that of an old fashioned with some crunch to the outside, just with more of an all-around chew to it.
Being that this event was unique and supported by the partnership of SOMA StrEat and The Yes Address by Eventbrite, the latter was on site to promote the awesome activities lined up through March 8 as part of spreading awareness about the features of Eventbrite. To spark conversation, Eventbrite set up a mobile unit with amiable spokespeople facilitating a prize wheel. Zach won a flask and August was bestowed an outdoorsy blanket with fleece on one side and tent material on the other. Had it not been for the prize wheel we wouldn’t have learned about how Eventbrite can be used to find new, unusual, and sometimes one-time events in our extended backyard of the Bay Area. Thank you, Eventbrite, for the schwag and the super fun and yummy evening at SOMA StrEat!