ferry building

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.

eater's digest: boulette's larder

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

When I was growing up, I would do anything I could to avoid eating breakfast. It wasn't for a lack of hunger. Rather, I disliked the foodstuffs that made up this iconic meal. Scrambled eggs made me nauseous. Toast, pancakes and waffles, a bit bland. Even my 5th grade invention convention entry spelled it out: a "sog-no-more" cereal bowl, crusading against soggy breakfast. On weekends, I opted for leftover chili or other savory foods.

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So when 101 Cookbooks recommended I eat this most mundane of meals at Boulette's Larder, I didn't even consider it. But my sister (older and, in this instance, wiser) noted the tip.

Our trip to San Francisco was a last minute plan, sprung from a work trip to the annual IACP conference. Being that I haven't been to SF since I was 13, I enthusiastically tacked on a few days vacation to fully explore the city, and Lauren was all too happy to come along.

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Breakfast at Boulette's, which I experienced twice - on my first and last days in the city - is nothing short of a revelation. I try to reserve such seeming exaggerations for true stunners, and this is one of them.

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From the dreamy open kitchen - complete with copper pots and other elegant details - to the intentionally brief, curated menu, everything was rave worthy. The nauseating scrambled eggs of my youth are not remotely the same species as the impossibly light and creamy eggs at Boulette. Drizzled with lemon or mandarine oil and served with a dollop of fresh chevre, they were the single dish for which I returned a second time.

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The sheep's milk yogurt and quinoa granola that I sampled the first time were also more than noteworthy. Extra-tangy, luxurious yogurt was served with a nutty, crunchy crumble of home-toasted grains and seeds. It's hard to describe how something so simple can be so exquisite, but that's the essence of Boulette's.

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Perhaps the most fun thing to order is the many-grain porridge, which is served with an assortment of little wooden boxes, offering nuts, seeds and dried fruits, such as currants. While these three stand-bys tend to be offered in different iterations each day, the extended menu changes constantly, based on the local offerings in the market.

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As for the ambiance, the unusually tall and elegant waiters are as pleasant as the food, and the prime communal table seating offers a front-row view into the kitchen. Housed in the Ferry Building, which also hosts the city's best farmer's market, there is little not to love about Boulette's.

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If I had to offer one critique, it would be of the restaurant's sweets. Both the brown sugar/kumquat and the lemon meringue tarts (which I bought on other mornings for breakfast) were a bit too sweet for my liking. It's not that they were saccharine, but rather that the tart citrus accent I had hoped for was muted by other elements. That said, the textures, crust and meringue of both tarts were among the best I've ever eaten. So if you've a sweeter tooth than I, do dig in.

Boulette's Larder
1 Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 399-1155