Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Than Chocolate at G.Square

I can't remember the last time I was at Ghiradelli Square at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. All I remember is that I never really bought anything from the stores at this beautiful red-brick complex that has fallen prey to the tourist-label.

But this weekend, the developers who are trying to revitalize this landmark square tried to entice back locals with free food and wine. OK, I'll bite.

The two-day "Savour the Square" event was supposed to be an unveiling of the "new" Ghiradelli Square. But when you arrive, you still see a lot of scaffolding and a few stores (including several big-name ones) still not open. So I really didn't get how this was an unveiling. I think if they waited a month, it would have been even more attractive and festive. But hey, no one called me to be their event planner. (They really should, though.)

One store that was definitely open and a welcome boost to the square is Kara's Cupcakes, which started in the Marina's Chestnut Street area and opened this second location late last year. (Now I hear Kara's Cupcakes is expanding to San Jose.) This Fisherman's Wharf location had the trademark pink cuteness, and I couldn't resist getting the classic Fleur De Sel cupcake, which is a chocolate cupcake filled with caramel and topped with a sprinkle of fleur de sel sea salt. Hmmm, so good. (But definitely one that can't be eaten without milk!)

A few of the stores yet to open set up booths to introduce themselves to the crowd that gathered this weekend. That included this table from the soon-to-open Crown Crumpet, a tea salon. I love the idea of another tea salon in the city, especially one with a very English motif. I hope it's good, though, because the cookies I sampled weren't very promising. It was a bit stale, but it may be from sitting in the sun all morning. It was a hot day so I didn't try the tea, but tried the iced tea, which was super cold and refreshing. What was odd, though, was I asked the girl what kind of tea was used to make the iced tea and she simply said "black." Duh, there are thousands of black tea and depending on what you use it can totally change the nuance of your iced tea. Oh well, at least it was cold.

One of the stores I'm really looking forward to opening is Marche on the Square, which is a French-inspired market. It's set to open next month. If you've traveled in Paris, you can imagine beautifully displayed aisles and exquisite food stations. At least that's the promise of Marche's U.S. owner.

Even though Marche wasn't open, that didn't stop it from promoting itself. It set up a booth outside for a sushi demonstration by its chef Mario Matos. [So a couple of people pointed out that this chef is actually named Mario Perez and he goes by “Mariomoto.” So I must have heard wrong. Who knew this guy was so popular?] Sushi will be a regular offering at Marche along with more traditional French offerings like crepes. Chef Matos demonstrated how he plates a tuna sashimi dish and he made nigiri sushi as well as maki rolls. People swarmed around him grabbing the free samples as soon as he cut and plated them. They went fast! I got to try only one piece of maki roll with fresh tuna and salmon and it was great.

The highly touted and anticipated second restaurant from Gary Danko will open at Ghiradelli Square, which is actually just a few yards away from his current fine-dining restaurant. This one is supposed to be an American brasserie, but not sure if that's the actual name as well. I would be interested in trying this more casual outlet of Danko's, but not sure how it can attract more locals to shop at the square. When I go for dinner, I usually don't shop afterwards. But that's just me.

There actually aren't a lot of stores to really stroll and visit and I still felt Ghiradelli Square is very touristy. Most of the other levels once used for boutiques have been transformed to luxury apartments. Great, that's all we need is another luxury condo in San Francisco. But of all the stores that were at the square, Cellar 360 was the most interesting.

Cellar 360 is a huge space dedicated to wine. They have a wine bar for daily wine tasting and on the opposite end they have a food counter selling sandwiches and salads using fresh, organic ingredients. In the center are an assortment of wine for sale as well as cute wine accessories. Cellar 360 is also promoting itself as a culinary education center, so I guess they'll have regular classes or events at this special room in the back. On this weekend, especially for "Savour the Square," they had a special wine tasting and the people was like a mob behind glass as they packed themselves into the glass room.

See the crowds? It was crazy. But I guess that's what happens when words gets out that there's free food and wine.

They were pouring wines from Penfolds, which is an Australian winemaker. Here this woman is pouring a shiraz. It was OK, not really mature yet and a bit tannic for my taste. But nobody cared. They were all into the free tastings.

On hand for the event was Penfold's owner and winemaker, Peter Gago. He was like a celebrity winemaker (I didn't know any existed) because I saw one guy buy a bottle and ask him for his autograph. Those oenophiles are worse than groupies!

I have to say the free bites were more exciting than the wine. Here the Cellar 360 kitchen made asparagus spears wrapped with beef. Oh. My. Gawd. It was soooo good. The beef was seared to perfection. I didn't even bother with the dipping sauce because it had so much natural juices from the meat.

These little toast bites were also amazing. They were just roasted tomato chunks dressed in olive oil and topped with a thin slice of cheese. The toast was so crunchy and light, and everything just was so perfectly simple but well-balanced. Mmmm.

When I walked out I was surrounded by leashes and little dogs. Turns out there was a dog fashion show put on by boutique dog store Yap. These dogs were really working it. ;-)

It'll be interesting to see how successful the new Ghiradelli Square will be. So far it looks like it has a long road to go before locals face the tourists and expensive parking of Fisherman's Wharf just for a few moments of shopping at high end stores like Marche. Then again, there's a chocolate fair at the square in September. And chocolate is the universal language of success.


Anonymous said...

chef ben, I'm so glad you reported on this event because I wasn't able to go and wondered what I missed out on... Ghirardelli square has certainly come a long ways from just a few years ago (well except for the short and sweet rise and fall of the Oakville Grocery). It's just down the block from one of the offices I work at, so it's always exciting when new stuff comes in, I'm panting in anticipation to visit Marche!

Unknown said...

FYI - Marche on the Square's chef is Mario Perez, aka "Mariomoto".
Looking forward to the place opening so I can get some of that awesome sushi from a very talented chef!!

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks Carolyn, someone else mentioned his name. I guess I heard wrong. I fixed it now.