Ferry Bulding Market Report: Fatted Calf Foie Gras, Primavera, Andante, Boulettes, Cowgirl, Prather Ranch, Downtown Bakery
I'm incredible loyal to the Berkeley Farmers' Market. Though drawn to the glitz and glamor of the Ferry Building, most Saturdays I'm happy to stay local. However, sometimes the eco-fascists running that run Berkeley's market force me to shop elsewhere. Thus, twice a month I head to Temescal or Lake Merrit to pick up the most delicious, sustainable, and humane beef in the state from Prather Ranch. And twice a year, right around the holidays, I head out to San Francisco to score foie gras from the Fatted Calf.
Fatted Calf has two types of foie this year - terrine with vin santo and salt and pepper cured torchon. Both are among Fatted Calf's finest products. If forced to choose between the two, I would probably favor the torchon. The terrine is lovely, and the dessert wine does a nice job mellowing out the foie flavor. But the torchon delivers that pure foie punch I was craving. I will be back for more torchon on the Saturday before NYE (when the Berkeley market is mysteriously closed - those wacky eco-fascists). The torchon is $80/lb and sold in 2-4 ounce pieces. The terrine is $65/lb and sold in 4-6 ounce pieces. Order in advance through their website - they will sell out.
This was my visit to Primavera. Wow. I completely understand what all of the fuss is about. When I saw the size of the line I knew this was the right place to eat. I ordered the crispy tacos with beef brisket. It may be the single best Mexican dish I have has in the Bay Area. Tender, flavorful meat, perfectly crisped taco shells, delicate pickled vegetables, pristine avocado and a dollop of fresh salsa and sour cream. I was in heaven. They hit the right balance between authentic flavors and superior ingredients. This will definitely be my "go-to" lunch spot on any future market visits.
Andante is a must-stop. Her cheese is just so clean, so pure, so delicate. I went for some fresh goat cheese and some slightly aged goat cheese - both were delicious. I wish I could get cheese like this in the East Bay.
Boulette's Larder is the type of place where I could spend my entire paycheck without hesitating. However, I practiced discipline and stuck with what I was there for - the elusive Anson Mills grits and polenta. I've enjoyed Anson Mills products in restaurants before, and I'm thrilled to have a stock of them in the freezer. Mrs. Mousse cooked up some grits with a Scottish cheddar I picked up at Cowgirl and they were just lovely. The flavor and texture of Anson Mills products puts others to shame.
Cowgirl Creamery was a fun stop, though I wouldn't trade it for the Cheeseboard any day. My basic observation comparing the two is that Cowgirl stocks more high-end cheeses, where as Cheeseboard is more focused on value. Don't get me wrong, Cheeseboard carries some $30/pound+ cheeses that are worth every penny, but they also have a great selection of cheeses under $10/pound. Anyway, I picked up a lovely pecorino (it's reflective of the Cowgirl culture that I was told this was a great value at $16/pound) and the Scottish cheddar, as well as some decent Parmesan Reggiano and the always-delicious Bellweather Farms Sheeps Milk Ricotta. Also, I had to wait in line at Cowgirl three times (once for my cheese, once for my ricotta, once to pay) which was kind of annoying.
I love Prather Ranch. I've written about them at length in the past. What else can I say? Incanto uses their beef. Fatted Calf uses their beef. It's the best beef available in the Bay Area and I feel priveleged to have access to them. I bought a hangar steak which is one of my favorite cuts. Mrs. Mousse used some fresh horseradish from Knoll Farms to whip up a horseradish cream, and we ate it with Anson Mills grits and Knoll Farms rapini. Fantastic.
Finished the visit with Downtown Bakery. Their stuff was really good, better than Frog Hollow. I particularly enjoyed the donut muffin which was just that - the shape of a muffin, the texture and flavor of a sugar donut.
It's a great market. Easy to get carried away with spending, but a pleasure to shop at nonetheless. Of course, ya gotta get there at the crack of dawn - by my 10:30 arrival there were no good eggs to be had and no croissants. Ah well, that's why I'm so glad the Berkeley market opens at 10 - I can sleep in and still arrive early.
Morton - I agree, great post - thank you for all the detail. I work literally across from the Ferry Building so it's my common '"go to" lunch spot 2-3 days/week. However I'm completely clueless as to Primavera - I looked them up on some other postings, and it appears they are a Farmer's Market booth - how could I have missed them? What should I be looking for on those days.
BTW, one of my favorite Farmer's Market items is the Prather Ranch cheeseburger - it's as pure a grilled burger as I have found in the Bay Area. It always mystifies me to see the lines at Taylor's Refresher on the same day that the Prather Ranch booth is up and running...
Great report Morton. My favorite at Downtown Bakery is the Como bread. I love it especially during the summer, a thick, dense yeasty slab topped with juicy summer tomatoes. In the fall I like their buttery apple turnovers ... real turnovers and not gallettes. I might be working up in the North Bay next year and am kind of excited about being to stop in the bakery more often.
Does the vendor booth at the farmers market offer anything the store doesn't ... or visa versa?
Doesn't Primavera sell at the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers Market too and its products are at Berkeley Bowl? I know it is not the hot food though, just tamales and tortillas. I like their squash tamales Haven't been able to warm up to the tortillas.
If I still lived in SF, I'd just consider Cowgirl the option I'd have to settle for instead of Cheeseboard. They are good, just not as good to me as Cheeseboard.
I can understand a Farmers Market being closed the weekend before New Year's. It's usually dead. Christmas is more home-based, while New Years is more of an eat-out night.
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1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
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1 Ferry Bldg # 32, San Francisco, CA
Good report. I'm in total agreement with Mr. Mousse.I would also recommend Marin Sun Farms for their variety of both cuts and species. Pig's head and goat shanks, mmmm. I would shop at Cowgirl more often than I do (which is hardly ever), but I am suspect of their price structure. It's hard to tell with a lot of their cheese since I am not a cheesehead and many are so obscure as to defy price comparison, but the last time I looked a pint of Strauss heavy cream was $5.95. It's $3.50 at Mollie Stone's, and we know Mollie is no cheap date.
I disagree on this one to some extent. If you can find an item elsewhere, it is usually less expensive. The keyword is IF. Sometimes the only place that will carry a gourmet item will be Boulette's ... and it will be good quality ... you get what you pay for.
I like the food. It can run along the Chez Panisse lines where it is deceptively simple. Every now and then there's something that is kind of eh, but mostly good though pricy. Nice view too. I like it best when its not busy in off hours