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.
Al pastor is one of our favorite styles of meat when dining at a Mexican restaurant. The actual making of the special pork marinade and the tacos themselves is not all that difficult. What’s difficult is waiting for hours for delicious food while the meat marinates for up to a day in the fridge!
Makes 12 tacos
2 lbs. of 1/4″-thick sliced pork sholder
12 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cup of chopped fresh pineapple
1 roughly chopped white onion
3 dried ancho chili peppers
3 dried guajillo chili peppers
3 chipotle chili peppers (from a can of adobo sauce)
2 tbs. of adobo sauce
2 tbs. of apple cider vinegar
2 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbs.
2 tsp. of kosher salt
1 tbs. of butter
1 tsp. of ground cumin
1 tsp. of Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
Salt to taste
Boil about 5-6 cups of water in a small saucepan to rehydrate the dried peppers. Once the water is boiling, remove it from heat, then add the ancho and guajillo peppers and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain from the water, remove the stems, split in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Put all ingredients except the meat, tortillas, onion, 1 tbs. of olive oil, butter, and salt in a food processor, and pulse until smooth.
Coat the meat with the sauce on all sides. Marinate in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours in a glass or ceramic dish covered with plastic wrap – do not let marinate on metal, because the pineapple would soak up a metallic taste. The longer you marinate, the deeper the flavor. However, if you happen to use canned pineapple even when the recipe calls for fresh, you will need to marinate the meat for at least 24 hours.
After marinating, you can either grill the meat on a propane grill over high heat for roughly 3 minutes on each side, or pan fry in a nonstick skillet, also over high heat and for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove the heat from the heat source – at this point they are nearly 2/3 cooked – and transfer to a cutting board.
Trim away any excess fat and take the meat off the bones. Cut the meat into 1/4″ pieces. Heat the remaining 1 tbs. of olive oil and butter to a frying pan over medium-low heat, and cook the chopped onion for about 10 minutes until roughly caramelized. At this time, turn the heat up to high and add the chopped meat. Cook for another 5-6 minutes until the meat gets nicely brown and caramelized.
Warm the tortillas on an ungreased nonstick frying pan or griddle. Load up the tortillas and add some optional garnishes: lime wedges, chopped cilantro, sour cream or crema mexicana, salsa verde, cotija cheese, Oaxacan cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo.
The word taco comes from Nahuatl, a language indigenous to Central America that was used by the Aztec and is still spoken by about 1.5 million people today. The tlacopan, aka taco, is now a staple across Mexico and its neighbors, and no wonder – one is just enough to tide you over until the next meal, or multiple tacos can be filling and fulfilling, so they please as a snack or an entree. Simple but scrumptious, make your own instead of visiting that infamous chain and you might not care to return there.
Makes 10 stuffed tacos
1 1/2 lb. flank steak
10 small corn tortillas
2 cups of shredded iceberg lettuce
2 tomatoes, diced
1 large avocado, halved and sliced
1 cup of canola oil (for frying)
1 cup of sour cream
3/4 cup of mild or medium cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup of soy sauce
3 tbs. of milk
1 tbs. of dried cumin
2 tsp. of dried oregano
2 tsp. of garlic powder
2 tsp. of onion powder
1 tsp. of cayenne pepper
Your favorite salsa to taste
Make a marinade with the soy sauce, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne. Mix together in a bowl. Put the flank steak in a large food storage bag, add the marinade mix, zip closed, and let sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Fill a deep-sided saute pan with the oil. Heat over medium heat. One or two at a time, place the tortillas in the oil; fry each side for roughly 1 minute, turning only once. The edges of the tortillas will be harder while the centers stay somewhat softer.
Using tongs and a long knife, as soon as you take a tortilla out of the oil, bend it over the knife.
Use brown paper bags to soak up oil and let the tortilla shells drain and harden. Mix the sour cream with milk and transfer to a squirt bottle for fancier looking presentation, but keep in the refrigerator for now.
Clean and then preheat the grill on medium-high heat. Grill the flank steak to your desired temperature, flipping once.
Roughly 10 minutes on each side would be medium-rare.
Remove the meat from the grill and transfer to a clean cutting board. Let rest for 5-6 minutes. Slice lengthwise, then each strip slice into thin pieces – the thinner the meat, the easier to eat.
Load up the shells with: steak, salsa of your choice, lettuce, cheese, avocado, sour cream, and tomato.