produce

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.

au marché: pike place market

While preparing for my recent trip to Seattle, I started having "fish fantasies". There I'd be, in a yellow rain slicker, steaming cup of coffee in hand, hanging with the Pike Place fishmongers at 5am. pikeplace_1

Needless to say, my co-travelers weren't having this. But I did motivate them to head to market around 8:30, on a surprisingly sunny day, with the promise of coffee in their near future.

pikeplace_2 For all my fantasizing, I really didn't know what to expect. I knew they might throw fish, a quirky gimmick I'd witnessed in the opener for Seattle's Real World. Given the market's tv-ready renown, I assumed I was walking into a relatively delicious tourist trap.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3vcGax9ojE

First, let me attest that throwing fish is a pretty efficient way to move the product. When we arrived, there were very few other onlookers, so we got to chat a bit with the 'mongers about their fish flinging style. They also let us taste their smoked salmon (I hate this "word", but mouthgasm seems an appropriate descriptor), and sold us a bit of salmon jerky for the road, while I wantingly eyed the king crab legs.

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As impressive as the fish was, the biggest surprises at Pike's were the flowers and fruit. Generously bursting bouquets of cabbage flowers sold for the New York price of a bad bunch of dyed carnations. The range of local,  vividly-hued produce was also impressive, especially the iconic-ly tart local citrus: satsumas. We were also seduced by one vendor's chili-spiced spin on huckleberry jam. In short, the whole market was a series of sensory revelations.

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If I did have one critique of the market, it would be this: when the other tourists did arrive, few of them seriously shopped. It's hard to support a market on tourism alone, and you could hear it in the mongers' banter. "Step right up, anyone with money." "Someone here who actually wants to shop?"

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It killed me not to have a kitchen. Next time I go to Seattle, I'm cooking for myself.

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