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.
You can count on variety when you go to Off the Grid. Small mobile food businesses from all over the Bay come together with the help of this organization, which coordinates space, permits, garbage service, and live music. On a section of 10th St next to the Oakland Museum of California, every Friday from 5 to 9 pm admission to the gallery is half price, local beer and wine are featured, and music has an actual stage and lighting. With the acoustics of the buildings, the music floated all the way up from the bottom to the top of the block, entertaining all the diners out for the evening.
Kasa Indian, Sanguchón, Señor Sisig, WhipOut!, The Architect’s Kitchen, and KoJa Kitchen were half of a dozen vendors with broad and popular menus. We confess, we got here with a little less than two hours before closing, so we didn’t get to try everything but we did what we could.
Zach hasn’t had Indian food except for once, so he’s not an expert by any means on typical flavors of the subcontinent, but August felt the spices used by Kasa Indian were as authentic as they get. In fact, we were so swept up with the flavor, August forgot to snap a picture of the truck, so thank you, Kasa Indian, because we’ve borrowed one of your images for our collage above. And clearly, thank you for an impressive entree. The masala sauce was spicy and rich over the tender, juicy chicken. For how simple spinach and potato may seem, the palak aloo was deep in flavor. The crew is definitely well trained in their preparation of Indian cuisine, because even the pickled onion and fresh, refreshing cilantro sauce were tasty condiments.
Sanguchón offers up sandwiches with Peruvian flair. A sanguchería is a Peruvian sandwich shop, traditionally serving the types of sandwiches you might want at late hours of the night after lots of drinking. We can imagine that this pan con chicharrón would win favor with native peruanos. In fact, it is pretty special indeed because we noticed a plaque indicating that Sanguchón is a Peruvian ambassador in recognition for its representation and dedication of this sandwich with sliced pork loin, fried yams, marinated onions in lime juice, and crema de rocoto. Another type of sandwich we picked up here was the buttery, light cookies with dulce de leche. These were a nice treat for each of us when we got home. If you’re looking for an all-in-one meal with meat, vegetables, and bread, this is the thing to try.
The Filipino burrito from Señor Sisig was familiar in the basic burrito sense, but there were a few elements that made it new and zesty. The adobo garlic rice, pinto beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cilantro cream sauce combined for a slightly spicy yet slightly sweet flavor mix, with savor throughout as it was packed with garlic. This is a mild fusion of a Mexican-American burrito with Southeast Asian ingredients, so it is perfect for those with a craving but wanting to jazz up the taste experience. The truck spends a lot of its time in San Francisco during lunch, so keep an eye out.
August wished the split pea fritter slider from WhipOut! was bigger. Sure, she could go back in line to get more, but the line was long since the food is that good, and she still needed room for items from other trucks. Being a vegetarian option in respect to Oakland Veg Week, of which Sunday is the last day (we had no idea it was going on until tonight), this was super delicious and further proof that vegetarian food isn’t always bland. The patty was made from split peas and risotto rice, with a crispy exterior and creamy yet filling center. The mild Serrano relish was sweet and tangy, and the garlic aioli added an extra richness. Mustard greens were a surprising lettuce alternative, and the delicate brioche bun was perfect for keeping it all together.
ArKi (The Architect’s Kitchen) is all about fried chicken. We almost got individual pieces of chicken, but we wanted to see what they would serve it with; we tried it in a sandwich called The Works. All the sandwiches come on Acme Torpedo rolls, and The Works boasted coleslaw, hash browns, and sweet n’ spicy aioli. This is likely a college-student favorite.
Zach was lured to the KoJa Kitchen truck when the kamikaze fries flashed on the flat-screen display, then August saw the mochimisu. He enjoyed the crosscut fries with Korean barbecue beef, sauteed onions, kimchi, green onions, Japanese mayonnaise and the house’s special red sauce. The mochimisu, though, blew both of us away. It was definitely a traditional tiramisu as far as the main ingredients go, but the one variance was the addition of chocolate mochi. The mochi soaks up the coffee-flavored alcohol, blending in taste-wise with traditional tiramisu, yet the gummy texture is a layer of newness and innovation that made this dessert really stand out. Heads up, tiramisu lovers! Track down this truck and try it for yourselves.
We’ve gone to two Off the Grids and among 20 trucks total now, we only saw one repeat. We are very much looking forward to future jaunts in order to try more of the Bay’s diverse foods from some very creative minds. High five to the band, you were really spirited and maintained your energy through the evening! And thank you, Off the Grid crew, for keeping a big supply of chairs so that anyone who wanted to sit, could. Being able to sit when eating makes a big difference in the enjoyment of the food. See you guys again soon!
On our list of size food challenges in California we have Fentons Creamery for the banana split sundae with three gigantic scoops of hand-made, small batch ice cream and toppings. We decided to come because we wanted to try the sundae, not for the sake of the challenge, but to try the world-famous ice cream and toppings – Fentons claims invention rights to the Rocky Road flavor of ice cream. Since 1894 Fentons has been dedicated to crafting the highest quality desserts, and now over a century later there are two restaurants (here in Oakland; one by the Nut Tree) and a parlor inside the Oakland Airport serving up tasty treats.
Our server Sam was extremely accommodating and friendly! She invited us to take pictures of the open kitchen and the ice cream counter, to see the hardworking crew seamlessly put out dish after delicious dish.
There is a Reuben sandwich here with your choice of pastrami, corned beef, or turkey. A Reuben is typically August’s litmus test for a restaurant, but tonight the Sassy Sliders special immediately caught her attention and won out. Three mini charbroiled burgers of Durham Ranch beef with American cheese and Fentons’ secret sauce were just enough food; she barely made a dent in the seasoned curly fries that came with it. However, if you know you’d be hungrier than that, it’s only $2.25 for each extra slider. With a great char and a secret sauce of Thousand Island with a little spicy kick, just by themselves the sliders were tasty. Lettuce, tomato, and crispy dill pickle slices were on the side, as was the “sassy BBQ ranch sauce,” an excellent dip with the perfect balance of smoky tanginess from the barbecue and herby tanginess of the ranch.
Zach’s Fentons Club was a triple-decker delight, just like the menu said! It had sliced turkey breast, ham, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise between slices of grilled French sourdough bread (unless noted on the menu [or you request something special], all sandwiches come on such bread). Tender turkey, smoky ham, crispy lean bacon, ripe sweet tomato, fresh crisp lettuce, and superior and buttery bread layered for a club like few others. Normally sandwiches are accompanied fruit garnish and a pile of potato chips, but for a small charge he swapped out the pile for onion rings.
The only way you can take on this challenge is if you find a special coupon in the newspaper. This is to add another layer of the challenge, so that those who think they are worthy must prove it by going on a quest before even coming to slay the dragon, so to speak. Giant scoops of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate ice cream are piled onto a split banana, then each scoop has its own specific topping: strawberry for strawberry and hot fudge for chocolate, of course, and then pineapple for the vanilla. Finish it off with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry, and you’re facing a whopper that, in order win the challenge, must be eaten within 15 minutes by one person only, only with use of a spoon (no finger licking), and every morsel must be consumed (no drips or drops left on the bowl or serving plate). Oh, and vomiting equals immediate disqualification. Before you get to that point, we would recommend that you stop and get a to-go container specifically for your ice cream. Even getting a regular-sized sundae you may want a container to take it home, portions are that big here.
Besides making wonderful meals and desserts, Fentons supports the community in so many ways. Each month, a local non-profit organization is selected to receive proceeds from the sales of “Myrtle’s Creation Sundae,” the monthly special touted by the restaurant’s bovine mascot. This month it’s the “Zoo to You” which is topped with a house-made animal sugar cookie. Twenty-five percent of the sales of these sundaes go to the Oakland Zoo‘s “Zoo-to-Community” Fund, which provides outdoor education and experiences with science literacy for at-risk and underpriviledged elementary school children of the East Bay. To coincide, this coming April 21 at 1 pm the Zoo Mobile of the Oakland Zoo will be at the Fentons Creamery patio with animals, artifacts, and an educational specialist! We feel inspired to get a sundae here once a month so that we can contribute, even in a small way, to the betterment of our new community here in Oakland.