Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Taste of the San Francisco Street Food Festival - Part Two

I spent a long day at the third annual San Francisco Street Food Festival this past Saturday and had the opportunity to taste a multitude of dishes representing various ethnicities and flavors. Had the crowds been a bit lighter and the lines a tad shorter at the event presented by La Cocina, I am sure I could have stretched my tummy a bit more to enjoy even more of the delicious offerings. Still, in the six hours I was there, I ate my way down Folsom Street. The following are some highlights of my day.

I already shared the amazing food porn that was the Sweet Potato Pie Waffle from Pinx, the tamales from Alicia's Tamales los Mayas and the Watermelon Gazpacho from Commonwealth (read Part One here). While those were my top three favorite dishes of the event, there were many other hard-working vendors who also had amazing dishes that I was fortunate enough to try.

Roasted Corn Quesadilla from Mission Tortilla
We began our day by stopping at visiting vendor Skillet for a Fennel and Spice Crusted Fried Chicken Sandwich. Now I love fried chicken, and fennel is one of my favorite herbs, so this sandwich made me want to jump on a plane to Seattle so I could eat it all the time from their food truck. The chicken was juicy, the fennel was subtle and it was topped with a smoky, crispy bacon jam. It was delicious!

Continuing on down the street we grabbed a plate of Organic Roasted Lemon and Thyme Hummus with pita chips from Love & Hummus, which was full of lemon and garlic for a robust and homey flavor. I then stopped at 4505 Meats for a Chicharrones Party Bag, which I intended on saving for later. Well, that lasted me all of about a minute before I tore into the bag for the smoky, slightly spicy, melt-in-your-mouth sensation of the puffy pork rinds. The rest of the bag didn't last long, as my toddler kept reaching up into my purse to grab another chicharron, then another, until they were all gone.

Fried Oysters from Nettie's Crab Shack
As a festival passport holder I was entitled to a few "secret snacks" by some of the vendors. I only managed to make it to the Mission Tortilla truck for Chef Bill Corbett's delicious Roasted Corn Quesadilla. The corn was sweet, the tortilla slightly crispy and the quesadilla was topped with guacamole and a red pepper sour cream foam. I thought all of the flavors complemented each other quite well, and the foam was an interesting sensation for my tongue!

Crossing 24th street I came upon the shared booth of the festival's four Vote Your Vendor competition winners. I tried Pinx's waffle first and then stopped by Rau Om to try their Nem Chua (Vietnamese cured beef). It was completely not what I expected at all, as I erroneously pictured it to be more like beef jerky, but the citrus flavors were pleasant and the meat texture interesting. The fresh Vietnamese coriander gave it an herbal punch. I was also able to finally meet Jessica Shain from MAD-Abroad, whose business donates a portion of its proceeds to a different charity each month. For the San Francisco Street Food Festival she served up a wonderful Tuna Tartare on a crispy wonton, with sales benefiting the Touch a Life Foundation. I am a huge fan of tuna tartare, and I thought this was fantastic and fresh!

Chocolate Babka from Wise Sons Deli
One block further, and I finally came upon the stand that I had been seeking, Nettie's Crab Shack, who was dishing out Dungeness Crab Deviled Eggs for their small bite and Fried Oysters for their bigger bite. I chose both and was blown away by the oysters. They were perfectly fried, with a crunchy, salty coating and a juicy center. I actually ate my two and then finished off my son's oysters as well. I liked my oysters so much that I am now intent on planning a visit to their brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Marina.

I was quite full at this point, but then I saw someone carrying what looked to be a giant piece of chocolate decadence. With my map I figured out that this must be the Chocolate Babka from Wise Sons Deli. One bite and I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode with Jerry and Elaine. It was really yummy! Plus, Wise Sons gets bonus points from me for offering pickle juice shots, which I gladly accepted. I knew I was not the only one who likes to shoot it from the jar once the pickles were eaten! And to think, I used to get yelled at as a child for doing this...

Salts from Sal de Vida
Another strange childhood habit of mine (okay, I confess I still do it occasionally) was to eat salt straight up. I would just take salt from the shaker, sprinkle it into my hand and eat it. Ah, the glory days before we all knew the effects of too much sodium! Needless to say I was overly excited when I came upon the table of Sal de Vida. Another La Cocina success story, they offer flavor-infused salts in neat glass jars. After sampling all of what they had to offer I took home three: Black Truffle, Cabernet Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar. I only wish I had gotten there earlier so I could have sampled the Rosemary Lavender.

I now made my way back along Folsom and stopped in at Alicia's for a plate of three tamales. While I was eating I engaged in a conversation with two guys who were also enjoying what Alicia had to offer. After opining on his favorite dish of the festival (Kati Roll from Kasa India), Jason Arrick and his friend invited me to try some more food. So we made our way to Chaac Mool, where we all sampled their Taco de Cochinita Pibil, a slow-roasted Neiman Ranch pork taco, dry rubbed with Yucatan spices. This was really flavorful and delicious, and my taco swam in the juices of both the pork and the salsa.

Tacos de Cochinita Pibil from Chaac Mool
At last the line for the "Sainted" Arepa Lady was manageable, so I queued up to try what is a favorite food of many New Yorkers. Maria Piedad Cano was another visiting vendor, and her arepas are famous all over NYC. She had by this point sold out of her Arepa de Chocolo, but I was able to try her Arepa de Queso. It was a thick, buttery and somewhat sweet arepa. Made in the Bogota style, it was slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and filled with a gorgeous melted cheese.

I was officially stuffed to capacity at this point, but as I made my way back to my car, I couldn't help but grab a few Grilled Pork Banh Mi from Nom Nom Truck for us to eat at home. What can I say? I crave these sandwiches, and I could eat them every day and never tire!

Arepa de Queso from the Arepa Lady
Overall the festival was a great success and a wonderful opportunity for some of the smaller and newer vendors to introduce their food to the public. According to La Cocina Executive Director Caleb Zigas, the crowds could have reached as high as 50,000 people, and as you can imagine, that made for some lengthy and challenging lines. La Cocina added some additional space this year, but I think that the biggest problem is the width of the street. Many of the lines were too long for the short space and had to wrap around and go down the block, whereupon they created more of a gridlock. If they do move the festival to the parking lot near AT&T Park next year, I think it will do a world of good for crowd control.

Who else ate at the festival? What were some of your favorites, and what had you running back for more? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

San Francisco Street Food Festival (@streetfoodsf)
Skillet (@skilletstreetfood)
Love & Hummus
4505 Meats (@4505_meats)
Mission Tortilla
Rau Om (@rauom)
MAD-Abroad (@mad_streetfood)
Nettie's Crab Shack (@nettiescrabshak)
Wise Sons Deli (@wisesonsdeli)
Sal de Vida
Chaac Mool (@chaacmoolsf)
The Arepa Lady
Nom Nom Truck (@nomnomtrucksf)

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