Friday, September 30, 2011

Eat Real Festival 2011: Jack London Square

A few months ago while perusing random food stuffs on the Internet I came across a group called ForageSF , a rogue foodie group out of San Francisco giving those without commercial kitchens or farms opportunities to share what the harvest or make. It's a very interesting concept and from reading deeper it sounded like they put together some very unique dinners and markets. I frequently have wanted to attend a gathering but had yet to get up the courage or the time needed to get to one. Recently on one of their e-mails they began promoting their attendance at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland's Jack London square. My first thought was total excitement! I had that Saturday free and I was ready for some tasty adventure. My second thought.... was a little bit of dread. I have been to Oakland exactly 1 time prior to this event for a meetings industry educational conference. I made it in and out as simply as possible and did not get shot. Growing up in the Bay Area I have been lead to believe that if you go to Oakland- you will be shot. Or shanked. Or car jacked. Or god knows what else. Bad things, bad violent things happen in Oakland. Well what a shame that I have wasted all this time believing that. Yes it maaaaayyyyy have a higher crime rate than you know... like... I dunno most everywhere else. BUT there are perfectly lovely parts of Oakland that deserve your attention. Jack London Square being one of them. Since I had dinner plans with my parents in SF Saturday night I let them tag along to the festival with me (more mouths to try more things and Dad to drive to Oakland!). I had no idea what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised as we got off the freeway and drove to the square in not-the-ghetto and parked in a totally reputable parking garage (it did not appear we would be getting car jacked today- things were off to a great start!)

We followed the crowd and soon found ourselves in the square. WOW! I had only done a little research on the festival and the few things listed on ForageSF's website did not even begin to encompass the enormity of this festival. In my mind I saw 10- 12 vendors and maybe 100 people. Try well over 100 vendors and what I can only Imagine was at least 1,000 people. The place was packed! We made our way cautiously through the crowd just trying to get a feel for everything around us. The lines at the different booths and trucks were huge and it was daunting to make our first choice but as we wandered up to a small pavilion near the front we settled on some popular (and yummy!) looking tacos at Cholita Linda. As we stood in line waiting to order we realized that if we wanted to try the selection of different items we planned on we maybe better off splitting up since this line was not moving and there was still the pick up

 line to wait in. My mom dashed off out of no where when she spotted a booth selling Knish, a Jewish street food made by filling dough with an herbed mashed potato mixture and then grilling on a hot flat surface. I made my way back down from the pavilion to one of the first trucks I saw, Vesta , that was selling flat bread sandwiches. While the line at this truck was long they were much more efficient and I got my Citrus Pork sandwich almost immediately after ordering, while my dad was STILL waiting in line for the tacos. My Mom returned triumphantly with two knish for us to share. In recent memory I can't say that I had ever tried a knish before and these were awesome! The outside dough wrapping had a nice chewy crunch to it giving way to the soft silky mashed potatoes inside that were bursting with herb and garlic flavors. While it was delicious it was also filling so even though I was starving I had to hold back and not finish mine since I knew there was still a lot of eating to do! While still waiting for the tacos my dad suggested we make our way to one of the demonstration stages that I had wanted to check out. We found a spot at the Whole Food Market stage and patiently awaited the tacos arrival. My dad finally was freed from the line and made his way to us. We quickly lined up our treasures and began our feast! Since I had already pretty much demolished my knish I went next for the tacos. We chose one fish taco and one carne asada. 

Whole Foods Butchery Demo
Cholita Linda Taco's
As you can see in the picture to the right both were dressed in a spicy red sauce and topped with shredded cabbage. While the tortillas were unremarkable the meat on both tacos was really delicious. The fish had a nice firm texture and not too much fried batter on the outside. The sauce had a nice kick of chili but also a nice balance of acid and the cabbage brought it all together providing some crunch and a cool element to the spice. I tried not to be greedy and just enjoyed two bites of each before moving on to the flat bread sandwich.

Vesta Citrus Pork Sandwich
  The coolest part about the Vesta Sandwiches was that they make the bread in the truck in their mobile hearth. They start with flat dough and it poofs up in the hearth to create a pocket as you can see below on the left. They stuffed the inside with their citrus marinated pork, and a slaw of fennel, napa
I quickly jumped up and chased her down to find out what she had. It turned out to be a selection of items from the Whole Foods truck parked just to the left of the stage. What luck! Double the luck as I approached there was hardly any line so I was able to get what I wanted right away. The truck was serving 4 little specialties- Figs Roasted with Honey and topped with goat cheese and crushed Marcona Almonds, Mini Corn Dogs topped with a sauce, A Yuba Salad, and lastly the Meat Whip. With their three for $10 option I made the difficult choice to skip Yuba Salad, while it looked interesting... it also looked like slaw which I had already had my fill of that day. I got my tray of cones and headed back to our seats. I knew already that I would like the figs. They were nice and ripe and slightly warm glazed with the honey for added sweetness. I could definitely have gone for more goat cheese as figs and goat cheese are one of my favorite combinations and the creamy tanginess would have been a welcome contrast to the sweet figs, but I did really enjoy the nice crunch the crush marcona's added. That textural difference really made the whole thing pop. The mini corn dogs were delightful (corn dogs are my weakness) they had a great crunchy coating with nice grainy cornmeal texture and they were drizzled with what tasted like a cheesy sauce. What I thought was most adorable was that since they were bite size they were served on toothpicks vs sticks!
Figs, Corn Dogs, & Meat Whip
We approached the "Meat Whip" with some trepidation.  It had the appearance of a light pink fluffy dip, sprinkled with crushed pistachios and served on a bed of arugula with three herb toasted crostini. A very retro seeming dish the signage described it as a "mousse" made with mortadella (an Italian pork sausage). While the idea was a little off putting the actual product was tasty. Nice light salty meaty flavor with a smooth airy texture. The pistachios added a nice crunchy and the crostini was good. I think we could have used maybe one more piece (but isn't that always the way with crostini- why do they never give you enough pieces for what you are eating!) but overall this was surprisingly enjoyable. I can't say I would search it out but it was certainly fun to try!
After sitting and eating for about half an hour we finished up and moved on to check out the rest of the festival. It seemed to go on for days. We passed the ForageSF booth with promises to each other that we would return and made our way down to the main stage. Across from the stage was a booth Cynful Eats, that declared themselves to be west Indian home style eats. Their menu on the other hand... sounded decidedly mixed (Chicken Creole, Cuban Style pork, braised cabbage onions, & carrots). My dad was still hungry and something about it caught his eye so he bought one of their bowls. Although it seemed exciting (the heirloom garlic was what hooked him) he said the bowl was nothing to write home about.
 We continued to check out the booths near the stage and my mom (always the sweet heart) couldn't help but buy some sorbet "from those nice people with no line poor things!" Turns out the sorbet was delicious! She chose the Pink Pearl Apple flavor and it made a lovely palate cleanser both tart and sweet and subtle this was a nice refreshing
 treat! (And look how cute it is! They had 3 sizes we went for the smallest since we just wanted to try it and it was perfect for a few bites for everyone). We were quickly coming to the end of the road at this point. There was a nice collection of food trucks capping of the strip and while everything looked enticing by this point we were feeling a little too full so we mostly just looked. The most exciting attraction at this far end was the set up by King Aurthur flour.
All day they had been performing hands on dough making demos and had a super cool looking stand alone wood fire oven going in which they were making little flat bread appetizers with roasted peppers and tomatoes. It was really fun to watch them stoke the fire and it was amazing how quickly the flat breads cooked in the high heat it was able to create. I made sure to grab a flyer for some of their upcoming classes in the area (they are free and sound fun!). I hope to some day have one of these beauties in my back yard there are so many fun things you can do in one of these ovens (pizza!!!)We decided to start winding down the day with a dessert. As we walked down to the end my mom had spotted a pastry stall, PieTisserie, That she really wanted to try. Since it was later in the day they were down to their last selection in their mini pies- Beet! The young woman working the booth assured us that it was very tasty and not unlike Pumpkin Pie. Boy was she right. It was really good a little sweeter than a
 pumpkin pie but similar texture. They had quite a few other exciting sounding flavors like Pecante (what I could only assume was a spicy pecan pie) and a chocolate cream with a pretzel crust. As we enjoyed our pie we took some time to check out the indoor area where vendors were selling items to take home like honey's, jam's, and pasta's. We enjoyed browsing their wares and even bought a couple of flavored honey sticks (a favorite of my childhood summers visiting my grandma up in Sebastopol). By 5 o'clock we were ready to call it a day. We came, we saw, we conquered, and we will be ready next year to take on even more! I am already preparing my plan of attack which involves getting there at opening, staying to closing, and bringing as many friends as I can so we can all try lots of yummy different treats!

This was such a great day (followed by a great evening to be outlined in my next post about our dinner that night at A16 in SF). It is a really unique pleasure to share your adult passions with your parents, opening their eyes to new things and letting them see a part of you that they helped create. I'm very lucky to have immensely supportive parents who listen to my ideas and foster my interests!

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