au marché: the san francisco ferry building

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

There are cities that you assume have a phenomenal market, and San Francisco is among them. The Ferry Building more than meets expectations, with a combination of indoor purveyors, outdoor stalls and in-house restaurants that could make other culinary cities jealous.

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Among the edibles that made me most envious: peppercress. I've never tasted this baby green before, and boy is it fantastic (and spicy!!). So is anchovy cress and mustard cress. New York, you seriously need to work on the super-flavored greens. Washing it down with the sweetest little nub of a carrot makes the experience all the better.

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Also enviable: the airy, spacious—but protected—atrium of the market. On a sunny day, of course,  outside is better, but in the drizzly rain the Ferry Building still seems gorgeously lit.

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A pit stop at Hog Island Oyster reminded me of my days in Paris, where I used to slurp oysters stall-side with nary so much as a slice of lemon. (They have condiments and bread at HIO, but the proximity to fresh produce is the point.)

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It was there that I tried my first Alaskan oyster. From Glacier Point, this particular mollusk boasted a mellow salinity and remarkably clean sweetness that made it prime for condiment-free slurping.

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For those of us who need more than a mollusk in the morning, the nearby biscuit shop will do you well. I opted for the lemon/rosemary, which had actual tart chunks of candied citrus. The crumbly texture was actually like a soft scone, but I'm no stickler for terminology.

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Those with more ample appetites would enjoy the breakfast bars slinging hot sandwiches, such Cowgirl Creamery. I, myself, frequented Mariposa, whose faux rye bread made for a delicious smoked salmon breakfast sandwich.

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If you've funkier tastes, consider the array of local 'shrooms. I eyed them from Mariposa each morning, wishing I had a kitchen in which to play.

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But of all the things I envied most, it was the incredible fruits. Strawberries whose fragrance seduced from yards away. Kumquats so sweet you wouldn't even make a lemon face. (Though, admittedly, I do like my kumquats sour.) Dried pluots from Bella Viva Orchards that quite literally blew my mind.

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That first day, I left the market with an incredible taste of place. But I returned, almost daily, to dine at the Slanted Door or Boulette's Larder, to graze on samples of dark chocolate coffee toffee or to simply daydream about the things I'd do with such produce in my kitchen.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who comes here for inspiration, as I spotted local food legend Alice Waters perusing the stalls at the larger Saturday outdoor market. A vote of confidence if there ever was one.