At the tail end of September, between two of my freelance gigs, the Carnivore and I finally took that trip out to San Francisco. (Those of you with good memories may recall that we were supposed to go for his birthday last November, a long weekend that was put on hold because of familial health issues.) We stayed with friends, sorely missed, who had relocated from New York nearly two years ago; it had been more than twice that length of time since I’d last been to the Bay Area, and even longer for him, so we were well overdue for a cross-country flight.
We got in at mid-morning on a Thursday and took the scenic route to Bob and Nicole’s apartment; on our way, the farmers market at the Ferry Building had piqued my interest, but by the time we’d decompressed, showered, changed, and returned, the hours had flown by and the vendors had packed up for the day. Disappointing, but not a total loss—the Ferry Building hosts a multitude of less transient food options as well, perfect for kicking off the weekend.
Our first stop was Sidekick, a walk-up counter adjacent to and affiliated with Cowgirl Creamery, a small cheesery I became acquainted with during the Bay Area road-trip that Jill and I took together many moons ago.
It was late in the afternoon, so the cheese-based menu had been mostly depleted; after requesting both gougeres and raclette to no avail, we hit the jackpot with this toasty. A classed-up grilled cheese sandwich with Bellwether Crescenza—an herbed, Italian-style cow’s milk cheese—and sweet red peppers, we’d picked the ideal appetizer for our tasting tour. (It was so good that half of us wanted to go back for seconds, but knowing how much food was in our immediate future, I managed to talk him down.)
We took a moment to strategize, then headed to one end of the building to work our way through. First up, Boulette’s Larder. Both a restaurant and a prepared-foods kitchen, this was also the only place that scolded me for taking pictures. Feeling suitably embarrassed—and underwhelmed by the items on offer—we quickly moved on.
Our next bite came from El Porteño, a tiny, welcoming, and picture-friendly kiosk selling Argentine-style empanadas. After much negotiation, we settled on one savory (chicken with chorizo, raisins, and olives) and one sweet (the little banana-and-dulce-de-leche number advertised on the board above). Both were so good that I was disappointed to only try two versions, but as it was, I limited myself to a nibble of each to conserve my stomach space.
We noshed on those baked goodies as we wandered through the building, but didn’t get far before we were distracted by the beautiful collection of mushrooms at Far West Funghi. There was no kitchen activity on the schedule for the weekend (my list of to-try restaurants was way too long for such things), so it was easier to resist a purchase than it would’ve been otherwise; I’m a sucker for samples, though, and the jar of truffled honey-mustard was nearly irresistible. I shouldn’t have resisted so hard—thoughts of that earthy-tangy-sweet combination continue to haunt me, and it’s been nearly two months now.
Moving on, we picked up a few sweet treats at Miette: tiny macarons and a homemade ice-cream sandwich. Judging from the display pictured above, I think you’ll agree that we showed incredible restraint.
Torturously, the sandwich—chocolate cookies with peanut-butter ice cream—was too frozen to eat right away, and we completely misjudged the time it would take to thaw; it was ice-cream soup by the time we took another peek. I slurped up a mouthful or two, but after several close calls involving a stream of dairy and my only pair of jeans for the weekend, I threw in the towel and tossed it out. Sad face.
At least we managed to thoroughly enjoy the two-bite macarons. I saved mine for a post-coffee palate-cleanser, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Said coffee = a double espresso, courtesy of cult-favorite Blue Bottle Coffee. I needed both the caffeine jolt and the fortification for things to come. You see, friends, I’ve been holding out on you. All of the above was just a preamble to the main event…I had an ulterior motive in selecting the Ferry Building as our starting point for the day.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hog Island Oyster Co. and its incredible Monday-Thursday happy hour: half-price oysters, $3.50 pints, and deals on everything from wine to head-on prawns. We got there a little bit before 5:00 p.m., and by the time we were seated outside, at a table big enough for Bob and Nicole to join us later, the magic hour still hadn’t struck. Amazingly—to my New York-centric cynicism, at least—our waiter told us that we could just sit tight until then. And without our full party, even!
Of course, we were impatient and decided to order one round of oysters for now, one for later. We stuck with the West Coast varieties (I prefer those as a rule, even when I’m not there), and it should go without saying that they were deliciously fresh, cold, and firmly textured; on top of that, they were served with a chimichurri-like sauce that took them to the next level. Although an astringent mignonette is a common accompaniment, I anticipated that the strong flavors of onion, cilantro, and vinegar would overpower the shellfish; instead, a dab of that sauce heightened each mouthful of the briny bivalves. An unexpectedly great pairing.
The Carnivore, somehow still hungry, also ordered a bowl of oyster stew: plump representatives of the species in a bowl of oyster-liqueur-spiked cream. As I’d lobbied for the livelier-sounding Manila clams in a white-wine and basil broth, the aroma of which wafted by as our neighbors’ orders traveled tantalizingly close to our table, I was less than blown away by the stew. Thick and heavy, it wasn’t at all what I needed after our food-tour afternoon, and besides, I had my eye on one final item.
Well, let’s be honest here. I had my eye on several final items, but as I was about to burst and still had dinner plans—oh, yes—for later on in the evening, I limited myself to just one: these butter-roasted head-on prawns. The smell provoked some involuntary mouth-watering, but disappointingly, the prawns themselves were just OK; the flavor was all in the shells. I had one, and, at his wife’s suggestion, wrapped the rest up to take home as a pre-dinner snack for Bob—while the two of us were gorging ourselves, he was working late, and she, a vegetarian, couldn’t partake in the oyster madness. (Luckily, we’d picked a great restaurant for supper.)
Our mini-vacation was off to a good start, but if you think that was a lot of food, stay tuned—this was only the beginning.
Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, California