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Aug 29, 2008 03:52 PM

Slow Food Nation report (Civic Center)

I wandered over to Civic Center at 11:15 today. There are around 10 stalls serving prepared food, each doing one or two specialty items, and maybe 50 farmers or vendors each selling a single product, many offering small tastes. Almost all of the stalls and farmers were from the greater Bay Area, so a regular visitor to the Ferry Plaza and Alemany markets and regular eater at Chowhound board favorite spots won't find much new. I purchased prepared food at three stalls, making a point to try things from restaurants outside SF (much as I really wanted the Bi-Rite ice cream sundae, which I could have any day by walking a few blocks from my house).

I tried:
* hand-pulled noodles with beef stew and chili oil from Imperial Tea Court
* puri from Vik's Chaat
* muffaletta from Armando Batali's Salumi in Seattle

Aside from fact that those three items don't belong in the same meal, I enjoyed all three. The puri was my favorite -- cool yogurt and tangy tamarind on light, crispy puffs was the right thing on a hot day. Hand-pulled noodles had excellent chew texture, and it was fun to watch them pull out the dough and slice the noodles right there. Apparently Imperial Tea Court only serves this regularly at their Berkeley store, not at the Ferry Building. The muffaletta sandwich was too oily, but all is forgiven when Batali's mole salami is involved. I could eat a whole stick of that salami in one sitting (oh, wait, I once did).

Lines were already long. I can't imagine what the scene will be over the weekend, especially since both the hand-pulled noodles and puri are very labor-intensive made-to-order items. Very Slow Food Nation?

Each of the three items I had was $6 or $7. Two would have been enough for a meal for me; one would have been enough has a snack.

Side note: all the prepared food stalls and farmer/vendors are in front of City Hall, west of Larkin. The Sunday Heart-of-the-City market is scheduled to go on as usual.

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  1. Benton County Ham (lightly fried, fabulously and authentically salty) was wonderful on a biscuit. Man I love me some country ham. Served two to an order, this would be a good dish to share. $6

    Slanted Door Pork and Rice Noodles/Salad - Tasty but fairly muted flavors. No hot sauce available. Wish I had tried something else. $8

    I bought the muffaletta from Salumi for my husband but am currently eating it as I type. Mine is not too oily in fact I thought it was the opposite. I hate it when there are six inches of meat and none of it can be tasted through the condiments. This is actually really nicely proportions. And I agree, the mole salami is perfect.

    Plus, Tiny JudiAU liked the drums.

    8 Replies
    1. re: JudiAU

      I also really enjoyed the Benton County Ham on a "Scott Peacock" biscuit. At first I thought they were just using a Scott Peacock recipe but then noticed he was in the back of the stand rolling out and baking biscuits on site. I wonder if he will be there all weekend or will move to the Taste Pavillions Saturday and Sunday.
      The other ham on offer at the same stand was also tasty, served with a coffee cream gravy that they said was inspired by something served at Momofuko at New York City.
      Other than this booth with the two ham offerings I didn't see that many other prepared food that couldn't be easily obtained at a farmers market or on a quick swing through the East Bay and San Francisco (though I do wish I had bought a muffaletta).

      1. re: JudiAU

        A friend and I shared the muffaletta yesterday and it was one of the worst things I've ever had. No mortadella, mozzarella in place of provlone, pesto in place of olive salad. Wish I had the presence of mind to return it.
        Lemongrass pork from Out the Door was better.
        The Victory Garden was gorgeous.
        Kudos to Vela Jack for wonderful cheese priced for taking home.
        Holy Smokes sauerkraut tasty and different

        1. re: JudiAU

          Do you mean Benton Country Ham ( )? It reads as if it's made the same general way as the Missouri country ham I grew up having (but not often; it was a special treat). I'm glad to see (in another post here) that they didn't soak it before they fried it because that removes much of the authentic flavor (hey, it's supposed to be salty). Later as an adult I remember when back visiting family, going to a friend's house and sitting in the kitchen carving slices off a large country ham and washing the bites down with straight bourbon. I guess some things don't travel well.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks for the photos! I realize that I don't have the full info on that event. I just went to the website and I'm still not clear. Do you have to pay the $45-$65 to get into the area described above as "10 stalls serving prepared food, each doing one or two specialty items, and maybe 50 farmers or vendors each selling a single product, many offering small tastes"? That's what I got from reading their site but I can't imagine that.

              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                No, that's the free area at the Civic Center. The ticketed pavilions are at Fort Mason.

                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                  Here's the page for the happenings in Civic Center that are open to the public.
                  I think tomorrow would be particularly interesting with the Civic Center's regular farmers market set up across the street in its usual place, UN Plaza (7am to 5pm). Also, note that the prepared food vendors hours are 11am to 4pm, whereas the market starts at 9am.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Thanks. If you do enough clicking on the right links, you do get the Civic Center schedules.

                    Even if I don't go, the discussion of Benton Country Ham got me go to the website of Burgers' Country Ham (Missouri) and send them some questions so I know I'll be getting the real thing when I order some (they sell a ton of other things now).

          1. just posted my experience in the other slow food thread. oops. so you saw them hand pulling the noodles? i didn't see any actual noodle making, but when i peeped into people's bowls, i though they just looked like a hand-made dough that was sliced, rather than pulled.

            2 Replies
            1. re: augustiner

              I was watching them prepare the noodles and looked like they 'pulled' the dough into a flat thin oval shape and cut it into noodles with a cleaver. So it was sort of 'pulled'

              1. re: mochimunchie

                I didn't get to see the final step, glad you did and could tell us about it. Here's another discussion of these noodles,

                I overheard the owner ssay that he had only prepared for 100 orders. He was shocked by the demand.

            2. I assume the FB market is continuing as usual? There are a lot of overlapping vendors. Maybe it will be less busy - ha ha.

              1. I wandered by and had to check out the noodles made by Imperial Tea's noodle girl. I was surprised to find her there, but pleased that it saved me a trip across the Bay to the shadow of what once was Berkeley. There's been some confusion due to IT's labeling of her noodles as "hand pulled" which usually evokes an entirely different type of noodle (namely la mian). The subject noodle dough is actually pulled into a long rectangle, and pulled apart into strips after scoring, so there is some pulling involved; however, watching the young woman make them and eating a bowl of them convinced me that they are basically what is known in Xi'an as "Biang Biang" noodles. These are known as much for their name (the character for "Biang" has 57 strokes, and the poor signmakers have to render it twice) as for their width and length. I would call these hand-torn rather than hand-pulled.


                The noodles with beef (alas, no lamb) were $7.00 for a small bowl. They were a bit narrower than the Biang Biang noodles I had at a Xi'an food stall in New York a couple of months ago, but toothsome and fresh. The saucing and garnishing, however, lacked the complexity of flavors which made a dish of Biang Biang noodles a real winner in my previous experience. On the other hand, the beef came with a broth that was, er, beefy, spiced up primarily with dried red pepper and was tasty enough to make me want to repeat the dish if the portion was larger or the price smaller, and the location convenient.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  no experience with "biang biang" noodles here, but i knew i wasn't crazy when i decided that imperial tea wasn't really offering hand pulled noodles. the noodles were rough and flat, and your description makes perfect sense.

                  i've never tried linking a post before. i'm such a dinosaur for my age. anyways hopefully here is my post?


                2. My favorite bite was the ham biscuits too. Benton’s uses Berkshire pork raised in Missouri to make its Tennessee country hams. This ham wasn’t soaked, just sliced and then griddled on the flat top, The fat was so delicious, and just the right amount of salt and smoke for traditional flavor.

                  I also tried the salumeria sandwich because the muffalettas were sold out. OK, too dry, and maybe not the best way to show off the salumi from Biellese.

                  I was pleased to find a booth from ALBA Farmers of Salinas there, but it was deserted. Not on the online list of purveyors, apparently it was a late entry. I emailed my contact there to find out the story. They’d brought up DOUBLE the quantity recommended to last the whole weekend, and yet their heirloom tomatoes were sold out by 1PM! They’ll be returning today with 30+ crates of tomatoes for the remaining two days of the market. Also, she said the cherry tomatoes are at a really sweet spot now and would be a good thing to munch on while attending the other events.

                  I sampled the strawberries from three different vendors. As someone else pointed out J&P Organics of Castroville was charging $2 per basket. That’s the local price in my hometown of Salinas, not inflated for travel to the big city. He’s offering Albions and I thought they were the best of the three vendors. Excellent balance of sweet flavors and acidic lift and the scent was amazing. Even though a brisk breeze had kicked up, the sweet smell of these ripe berries was potent. I don’t know how this ripeness will fare overnight.

                  Here’s a link to a few pictures of the afternoon.

                  Photos from Friday at the Marketplace @ Civic Center
                  (select on “slideshow”, click on lower edge for captions


                  And, some links to past reports on some of the farmers. While some of the stands may sell at the City’s farmers markets, I didn’t feel it was the majority and that most did not.

                  ALBA Farmers

                  Valley End Farm and Greenstrings Farm

                  Dry Creek Peach

                  Vella Cheese, Grindstone Bakery, Oak Hill Farm

                  Lagier Ranches

                  Organic Pastures Dairy

                  Charlie Frank’s sweet potato peach pie

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong


                    I’m glad I went back this morning, as some of the farm stands had more variety for sale. Also, it was more pleasant to be there in the cool of the morning rather than yesterday’s warm afternoon. I went early because I didn’t want to face sold-out booths. I’ve uploaded more photographs from today, same link as the post above.

                    I picked up a sweet potato-peach pie ($3 small), and Charlie said that he couldn’t believe how fast they went yesterday. I’ve decided I really like Grindstone Bakery’s gluten-free breads, especially the seasonal Espresso al Cioccolato bread. Catalan Family farms was featuring a colorful array of sweet and hot peppers today vs. only squashes yesterday. I didn’t like either of the melons --- hagofen and charentais --- both too mushy, that I sampled from Full Belly Farms. New to me was the ricotta from Harley Farms in Pescadero, a firmer and larger curd and deliciously fresh milky flavor. Ancient Organics ghee, warmed to liquefy and tasted with some bread, had a lovely nutty flavor beneath the buttery richness. My favorite of LouLou’s Garden preserves was the sour cherry.

                    I stopped by the Blossom Bluff stand to try the elephant heart plum and to ask the lady what she thought about Zuni’s nectarine-gate. She laughed and said a friend had called to tell her, “you gotta read this!” She said that it was interesting to read the many different customer opinions, and added that the nectarine in question was a freestone (most are clings) and would be easy for a diner to slice and eat at the table.


                    Harley and Bodega & Yerba Santa goat cheeses

                    Philo Apple Farm


                    Massa Organics Rice

                    Ancient Organics Ghee

                    LouLou’s Garden

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      how was the sweet potato-peach pie from Charlie Frank?

                      1. re: hhc

                        I liked Charlie Frank's pie quite a bit. Didn't get around to tasting it until the next day, but just freshened it up in the toaster oven. The idea of adding peaches to sweet potato is a good move, gives a much fruitier taste and a little lightness. It's a four to one ratio of SP to Peach. The label also had pineapple on it. On the 3" size, the crust was quite thin. It's a shortening crust, not much taste, just there to hold the filling. Charlie said that he was sold out on the first day by 1pm, well before I arrived on Friday. He was shocked to move that many pies in one day. Glad I went back so that I could try for myself.

                        Charlie Frank's Pies
                        Oakland, CA, Oakland, CA

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Good catch . . . bet he used electricity too.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Nor does he say where he gets his peaches or sweet potatoes. He says he invented the recipe when shopping at the supermarket on Christmas, so maybe out of cans? His business seems generally contrary to the slow food spirit, if not quite as extremely so as the hybrid corn farmer.