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Trip report -- Farmer's markets (Berkeley, Ferry Plaza) + Joe's-Its

Prabhakar Ragde | Sep 11, 200503:45 PM

Berkeley Farmer's Market -- Still too much earnest correctness at too
high a price for me. The stuff at the entrance (I park at the Center
St. garage) gives the wrong impression right away: what do crepes
"like in Paris" (meaning Nutella, ick -- by the way, Trader Joe's has
a cocoa-hazelnut spread that doesn't have any of the crap that Nutella
has in it), vegan Mexican food, and shiatsu have to do with farmers?
My favourite choices were from the incorrect side of things: Blue
Bottle Coffee lives up to the hype as made-to-order drip, at least the
Three Africans blend I had. That's nice to know as Peet's continues
its slow decline. I asked where I could get their coffee as espresso
in the East Bay; I was given some names, but when I said, "Can they
pull proper shots," I got a wince and a recommendation to go to
Pizzaiolo, which eventually I ended up doing. Fatted Calf charcuterie
is also really quite good. Merguez, duck rillettes, and rabbit pate
formed the backbone of our lunch, back up the hill at home. The best
adjective for these was "balanced"; they have really gotten the
balance of salt, spice, and fat just right. The rillettes rank with
the best I have had in France. I couldn't find Dirty Girl, but I did
buy some Quetzal Farms dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes; they were good,
but to be honest, they didn't taste better than good heirlooms to me,
or even Berkeley Bowl Odorikos. I didn't like the looks of the bread I
saw, so we stopped at Andronico's on the way back to get a couple of
Acme loaves and a bottle of Bison Original Belgian Ale, which didn't
taste like any Belgian ale I've ever had, but was decent nonetheless.

Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market -- I will not make any classist
remarks. Nor will I compute the average size of the vehicles in the
Mission Street garage. I was there from a bit after nine to about
ten-thirty, and few people were carrying around bags. Most seemed to
be sightseeing. The degree to which samples are pushed has to
contribute to this. One could get most of one's daily caloric
requirements without repeating oneself. It was the day before we were
leaving, so for future consumption I bought only some Fatted Calf
rillettes and some Acme bread straight from the bakery, and the smoked
onions from Tierra Vegetables that my ten-year-old has been craving
for the last two years. (They don't list package sizes for their
chipotle powder on their website, and when I saw how small the packages
were, I abandoned that idea.).

I went to the Bluebottle stall at 9:10, paid for my espresso, and then
was told there'd be a ten-minute wait. I walked around a bit, and
returned at 9:19. At 9:31 I was served my espresso. Bluebottle has
invented a new oxymoron, the slow espresso. It was good, though. Good
crema, good body, good taste, good aftertaste. Still not
outstanding. It is probably the best espresso I have had in the Bay
Area, though I rarely have espresso here, as it is too
disappointing. It beat all the espressos I tried in Rome on my recent
visit. It is not as good as what I can pull on the Elektra in my own
kitchen, on a good day, with beans from Sweet Maria's that I roast
myself (Moka Kadir or Puro Scuro, taken thirty seconds into rolling
second crack). The booth people were friendly, they had good
technique, and they clearly care a lot about coffee. I can't imagine
what the wait is like at noon.

We also had a mini-breakfast at Della Fattoria. Their croissants are
rather small, too dense, with the right buttery taste but not flaky
enough (my standard is Stohrer in Paris). Polenta almond cake with
streusel topping was much better, sort of a healthy financier, but you
can imagine what this all cost. Cheaper than plane fare to Paris, but
just barely. After that I stuck to samples, though I am allergic to
most uncooked stone fruit, so I had to be careful. Most of the ones I
could try were pretty good, June Taylor Meyer lemon marmelade being
probably the high point. The stuff they call panpepato at the place
which claims to import things from Tuscany is not good, and I say this
as someone who just hauled back 1/4 of a huge wheel of panpepato from
Nannini in Siena. My kids were scandalized: this had the texture and
grittiness of compressed brown sugar. The spicing seemed right, but
that alone will not do it.

If I lived in the Bay Area and had the income to shop at the Ferry
Plaza Farmer's Market on a regular basis, which I do not currently,
I'm not sure that my upbringing would permit me to pay that much. Even
as food porn, I can take it only about once every two or three years,
I suspect. After brunch, we offered Ciao Bella gelato to the kids, but
they voted for a "Joe's It" at Joe's Ice Cream on Geary. That let us
walk around Clement, which was the equivalent of a shot of
freshly-squeezed lemon juice. When we got to Joe's, they didn't have
any It's-Its, so "Joe" (Mutsuhiko Murashige) made us fresh ones. That
was cooler than the entire Ferry Plaza Market. The ice cream was the
right texture, not hard from the freezer, which is important, because
unlike the commercial It's-Its (which long ago lost their appeal),
these are made with a spherical scoop of ice cream between the two
flat, round cookies, and the coating is thick and prone to fracturing,
making it quite tricky to eat without getting it all over one's
face. Not that we worried about it. --PR

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