Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tastes of Slow Food, Part 1

The much-anticipated Slow Food Nation celebration in San Francisco is finally taking place this Labor Day weekend. With perfect Bay Area weather to order, I went to the marquee event today ... the Taste Pavilion at Fort Mason. With such a massive event, I'm going to have to give you a look at the event over two days. So here's part one ...

Slow Food Nation is the anti-fast food event, a celebration of local, sustainable food nurtured by farmers and cooked with natural ingredients for tasty meals. Several events are occurring around the city (primarily at Fort Mason in the Marina and the Civic Center), but the one that's drawing the crowds is the Taste Pavilion at Fort Mason's festival pavilion. This sold-out event showcases several pavilions dedicated to a particular category of food.

My ticket was for the day portion of the pavilion (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and I arrived at Fort Mason promptly at 11 a.m. and there was already a line to get in. I finally got through the gates at 11:20 a.m. and was given my "slow dough," which is a voucher worth $20.

With my slow dough in hand, I can eat tastings at various pavilions and they mark off points from my voucher. Most pavilions charged between $1 to $3 for tastings, which were organized as either individual tastings or flights, which is a combination of foods.

Of course, the first place everyone went to was the coffee pavilion (and also the bakery pavilion). But since I don't drink coffee, I went past this pavilion and straight to the cheese pavilion...

This actually turned out to be a smart move on my part. Even though there was a line, it did move fairly fast and I was in line maybe 15 minutes. Later in the day, I walked by the cheese pavilion again and the line was out the door! I'm glad I got a chance to taste things like ...

... this fresh Chevre cheese from Dancing Goat Creamery in Byron Center, Michigan. Now, some people might be thinking, hey, this is supposed to be local and sustainable so what's with the cheese from Michigan? Well, this is the Slow Food NATION so that means there were featured products from around the country because the idea is that people who live in that area who came to town for this event will learn about their local products and taste it when they get back home. And it was a treat for me to get to try this cheese, which was slightly tart, creamy and a bit like ricotta. I liked it.

Also being served was this Perdido, a cheese from Sweet Home Farm in Elberta, Alabama. It looks like cheddar and is firm like cheddar, but had a mild taste. I also liked this cheese, which was creamy yet firm.

My favorite cheese happened to be the local version, which was the Pt. Reyes Original Blue from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. up in the North Bay. It was so pungent, which is great if you love blue cheese, and I doooo. The texture was also so soft and creamy, not super crumbly. It was so enjoyable.

Here's my flight of cheese. They also served it with a tasting of apple butter from June Taylor, the Berkeley fruit compote and jam woman. I have to say I generally think June Taylor's products are a bit on the bland side, but this apple butter was amazingly bright and fresh with very strong flavor. I loved this too.

There were talks being done all day, and here's Wil Edwards of Artisan Food School talking in the cheese area. I wished I had time to listen to his talk, but with so many food places to try and lines to conquer, I had to move on to places like ...

... the seafood pavilion. I'm a big fan of fish and seafood so decided to try the trio of tastings served here.

This isn't it. This was just a display of whole fish and other seafood items. It's like an aquarium, but without the water.

Here's what I ate at the seafood pavilion. It was a trio of seafood, starting with this albacore tuna with white beans. This was prepared by Piatti Restorante & Bar in Mill Valley. It was OK. The tuna was very meaty but I thought the beans were too al dente for my taste.

Oh. My. Gawd. I looooved this offering from Nopa in San Francisco. Nopa is one of the city's most popular restaurants and I am going to run to this place soon if all the food is as good as this marinated squid dish with beans. The squid was tender and tasty and it was in a tomato-based sauce. As you ate it, you discover these little bits of bread crumbs that offered another texture to contrast with the silken squid pieces. As I ate this, I took notes and all I wrote was YUM.

Here's the third offering in the seafood tastes. It's a sardine stuffed with cheese, which I think was buffalo mozzarella, prepared by Dopo restaurant, which is my neighborhood restaurant! I live just 10 minutes from the restaurant on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It's another popular Italian place, and this particular dish was excellent. The sardine was incredibly meaty and tender, and blended so nicely with the cheese. So simple and so tasty!

Olive oil at the olive oil pavilion. I didn't get in line to check this out, but I loved their display.

Another place that I didn't really visit, again because of the amazingly long line, is the charcuterie pavilion. Of course, meat would be a popular spot. This "tail to table" themed pavilion had workers slicing up fresh charcuterie.

Here's a volunteer serving mortadella to a hungry taster.

Not sure what this is, but it got spared the slicing. I bet they were saving it up for the night crowd.

Saw this container at the chocolate pavilion of raw cacao. I thought it was so funny how they wrote the sign "not to be eaten." I wasn't too impressed by the taste offerings at the chocolate pavilion. It was just a small plate with maybe three pieces of chocolate, so I moved on to someplace worth standing in line, and that was ...

... the ice cream pavilion. You can bet this was also very popular, but the line at least wasn't crazy long like the charcuterie line, so I got ready for my flight of ice cream tastings.

I really loved how organized the ice cream pavilion was set up. They created three flights called "Classic," "Modern" and "Alternative." Each flight offers flavors that support the theme. I decided to go for the Modern flight, which included the following flavors: sweet corn/black raspberry (from Jeni's Ice Cream), ginger (from Bi-Rite Creamery of San Francisco), and Creme Brulee (from Divina).

Yeah, ICE CREAM! Here's my modern flight, and I loved each flavor. The sweet corn was distinctively corn-like (I almost said corny, ha!) but was nicely covered up with raspberry almost like a raspberry sauce on a sundae. The ginger from Bi-Rite (which I've had before) was just as intense and wonderful, and the creme brulee was sweet but not super sweet. All three ice cream from different makers all had amazingly similar creamy texture, just so wonderfully thick and rich.

Some paper umbrellas hanging from the ceiling of the "spirits" pavilion, which focused on alcohol. You can bet this was also a pretty popular pavilion, but I skipped it. Again there were so many pavilions, I had to be really strategic to decide which ones to stand in line for. In the end, I still didn't get to go to every pavilion. But I did see more than what I featured above, and I'll report on those tomorrow. So come back for more!

If you still want to take part in the Slow Food Nation events, you can still check out the farmers market and street food plaza (no admission required) at the Civic Center until Monday. Hurry up and get to Slow Food. (Check its Web site for details.)


David K. and Ann C.-K. said...

What a great writeup. Wish we could have attended but this was the next best thing. Also, you must try Nopa, one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Reminds us a little bit of Wood Tavern, but a bigger, bustling space.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Single Guy, sorry I missed ya at Slow Food Nation's Tasting Pavillions. Glad you had a fun time. Oh yes, wasn't the ice cream pavillion wonderful? I could have had seconds! ;)

Single Guy Ben said...

David/Ann, you can be sure I have NOPA on my list of places to try next.

Carolyn, I thought I might run into more food bloggers but I guess it was just too many people. Didn't you see me with all my camera equipment? :) I felt like I stuck out but I just pretended that I was part of the Food Nation crew. I did try to get seconds at the ice cream pavilion but time ran out! Darn!

agent713 said...

"It's like an aquarium, but without the water."
Great line!!!