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.
Asparagus is 93% water. That’s what Stockton, CA felt like on the first Friday of the 2014 Asparagus Festival, as it rained enough to shut down the first of a three-day foodie event. Thankfully the rain stopped long enough on Saturday for droves of people to come out and celebrate asparagus together under an overcast sky. Most of the droves drove and the numerous parking lots within blocks were filled quickly, but at least street parking in Stockton isn’t metered on the weekends.
We attended last year and sampled every bite (and sip) of asparagus. Of course this year we wanted to enjoy some more, but to avoid redundancy we also wanted to try other creative cooking. If only there was time to do it all in just one visit!
The festival takes up a large area, so there is plenty to experience while shuffling from food stand to food stand. While we walked around, we listened to Berlin as they played on one of several entertainment stages billed to host a variety of bands and singers. There were also chef demonstrations, shopping vendors, children’s activities, a farmers market, eating competitions, dog agility competitions, a hole-in-one golf competition, paddleboats for rent, and a sea lion exhibit.
Food, beverages, and alcoholic drinks are generally purchased with tickets, which are found in the white tents that are conveniently marked on the map in the free brochure – make sure to pick one up when you enter. The cost is $1 per ticket and most items were three to six tickets, but lots of food vendors were accepting cash, as well. We did not have any alcoholic drinks, but we know from trying them last year that they are good. These folks were happy to let us snap a shot of their yummy asparagus margaritas.
Asparagus Alley is the legendary collection of gigantic tents where groups of volunteers produce an asparagus spread en masse. Last year we tried the asparagus beef burritos, asparagus steak hoagies, and asparagus pasta, but the most popular item that people flock to is the deep fried asparagus. The batter itself was light and crunchy, sprinkled with a good amount of sharp Parmesan cheese. The asparagus itself was cooked perfectly – not mushy, and not stringy. It was hot and fresh, too, so the crew of volunteers was really working well together this year.
Did you think we wouldn’t have another round of asparagus ice cream? Truly it is tasty. Tasty enough that we each got our own instead of just “sampling.” The asparagus flavor is light over a rich and creamy vanilla base; anyone saying they didn’t like it was in denial and couldn’t get over the fact that there was asparagus in the ice cream. Little chunks are visible but it does little if nothing to the texture, so this is a delicious dessert despite a doubtful disposition.
We’ve met Castro’s BBQ Shack and Filipino Food before at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, and we appreciated that they embraced the theme of that festival. They did the same here, with asparagus lumpia added to their menu for the weekend. While we waited for our order, we were gifted a sample of their famous traditional lumpia with a spicy, tangy dipping sauce. We noticed the traditional lumpia was more popular than the asparagus lumpia, but that’s not to say that the asparagus lumpia wasn’t selling fast.
No offense to the volunteers making the deep fried asparagus over at the Alley because it was great, but Castro’s asparagus lumpia had them beat. A delicately thin and crispy wrapper was fried just right so there was little excess oil, and there was zero difficulty in biting through the fresh asparagus. Of the three dips for choosing we went with the ranch; maintaining a balance of herbs and tanginess, it was a good choice to highlight the celebrated vegetable.
We admit, we walked by many food stands because they either 1) didn’t provide something new and/or different, or 2) we had tried them before and they had nothing new and/or different to offer. But of all the festival, the one non-asparagus item that made us melt was Castro’s deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If we had to sum it up on one word, it would be “ohmmfggd.” Pretty sure we actually said that as we chewed the first bite. It was similar to a Monte Cristo sandwich in terms of texture and presentation. The creamy and savory peanut butter mellowed the bright sweetness of the strawberry jelly, and together they oozed between slices of standard white bread. Despite being deep fried, since you’d think that the bread would soak up excessive oil, it was not greasy. In fact, all we needed to wipe our fingers when done was the wax paper on which it was served.
Barring event-cancelling weather, we encourage you to attend the Asparagus Festival at least once in your life, although it’s likely something you’ll want to return to. This was its 29th year, so it is reliably a festival that can be made a tradition for families to enjoy through generations. All those in your company will have a good time, whether or not they like asparagus.