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Friday, March 29, 2013

Off The Grid Food Truck Rally Full of Firsts

Off The Grid's Fourth Season at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Last Friday was a first on several accounts. It was my first Off the Grid event ever. Off the Grid is a huge roaming food fair that brings an eclectic culinary combination at 19 weekly markets with 150 vendors all over the Greater San Francisco Bay Area. Last Friday was also the first event of their fourth season at the Fort Mason Center which will run every Friday night until the end of October. These rain or shine gatherings feature street food, local bands and DJ's from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. My foodie friend, Stacie Tamaki, and I both went Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center and to see her recap of the evening just click here.

Fort Mason Center is home to Off the Grid every Friday night between March and October.
Another first was the debut of 13 new vendors joining the established roster of 19 for this season. We were invited to sample some of the offerings by several of the new purveyors of street food. This chalk board map shows how the line up looked for the entire evening. Vendors fall into one of five types including carts, bars, prix fixe, tents or trucks.

This chalk board map shows the entire circle of vendors.
Our first stop was at a wine bar presented by Quality Beverage Company. They will be featuring a different local winery every month and they kicked off the 2013 season with wines from Green Barrel Wine Merchants. They were pouring Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, a Syrah blend called Rocker, Cabernet Sauvignon and a cool climate Syrah. Being a Sauv Blanc lover I tried it and I was very happy. However, it was way too early in our evening for me to try all of the varietals. :-) The very generous pours ranged from $7.00 to $11.00.

Quality Beverage Company's Wine Bar will feature 
Our next stop was at Bok Ssam that fuses Korean and American Comfort food. Chicken Waffle sandwiches are classic American diner fare but Bok Ssam brines their chicken in host of spices then kicks up the Korean flavors with a choice of of sesame soy or spicy sweet "gochujange" sauces. This
perfect hand food was poised to fly off the shelves at $6.00. Also on the menu were Korean BBQ Beef Wraps for $8.00.

Korean Chicken Waffle Sandwiches from Bok Ssam
Next stop was another first for me to try Nepalese food from Bini's Kitchen. Bini herself was adorable and kind enough to make us a vegetarian plate which meant substituting the turkey meat inside the Momo dumplings with tofu, cabbage and carrots. She served it with a tomato cilantro sauce and a yello rice called Jeera. It was tasty and my first trip to Nepal made me very happy.

Chef Bini, purveyor of Nepalese cuisine also caters and teaches cooking classes.
Veggie Momo plate with Jerra rice and tomato cilantro sauce.
Just when we were dazzled by Bini's enthusiasm and delicious food our next stop was another eye catching booth called Side Pony. The owner/chef is Dana Croteau and her background is art so she brings a real sense of style to her culinary adventure. Her sign completely stands out with her logo
woven with yarn.

Side Pony catches your attention and peaks your curiosity as to what's on the menu.
Side Pony's specialty is a Duck Larb Sandwich served on a baguette with kaffir lime aioli, cilantro mint pesto, pickled onions and romaine lettuce.

Side Pony's Duck Larb Sandwich
At foodie gatherings where great stories flow like water off a duck's back my vote for the best one of the night came from Chef Dana herself. When asked about the origin of her company name, Side Pony, she said it was simply based on how she wears her hair. Her hairstyle is her trademark and became her moniker because her pony tail is always worn on one side.

Chef Dana Croteau's signature pony tail to the side.
Next up we segued quickly into Japanese Izakaya right next door at Chotto. With just two small bites of very big flavor we got a real taste of what they serve at their restaurant at 3317 Steiner Street in San Francisco. Shown here is applewood smoked Bacon Mochi wrapped with a strip of nori seaweed and an Albacore Tartare, Japanese cucumber, jalapeno, shiso and seasame on a fried Gyoza chip. This chip full of great textures has me wanting to visit their restaurant for more of the small plates for which they are known. At Off the Grid the Bacon Mochi is $8.00, Tartare is $7.00. Rounding out their mobile menu is Ramen for $12.00 and Gyoza for $5.00.

Two small bites reveal the big flavors of Chotti San Francisco.

Now it's time for a Disclaimer. As much as I was loving our mini tour preview of some of the new O.T.G. vendors I simply could not keep up with pace of eating, shooting and note taking so I completely missed the next stop at Sticks Corndogs. Their specialty is handcrafted corn dogs made on-site with a unique honey batter. They feature the famous products of Taylor Sausage store in Oakland. Sticks is no stranger to the mobile food scene in S.F. with an active presence at farmer's markets, social events and Yelp reviews.

Next I finally caught up with everyone where the sea meets the barnyard at Fins on the Hoof. It's a gastrotruck that specializes in land and sea preparations. What caught my eye immediately was a Grass-fed Lamb Burger topped with salsa verde, feta, red onion, arugula and spicy mayo. Then I must have caught a few eyes myself looking rather silly as I crawled all over this burger trying to get a decent photo of it in the extremely harsh lighting of the setting sun. :-)

Lamb Burger served up by Fins on the Hoof Gastrotruck.
Just when it felt like our culinary excursion had already been around the world we hit the Old World Food Truck. Chef/Owner Kenny Hockert actually delivers Eastern European and Jewish Soul Food on wheels. Pictured here is a beautiful sampler plate full of distinctive flavors and textures. Included in this  medley are Chicken Schnitzelwich with chopped liver schmear, caraway-paprika spiced honey, poppy seed slaw and horseradish aioli served with zesty pickles and paprika chips. Also featured is a Ruben Redux trip to the kosher deli which was a slab of house cured corned beef, with sweet mustard glaze, savory rye bread pudding, sauerkraut and brandied Russian dressing. Finally, a Polish style dumpling called a Pierogi stuffed with Yukon gold potato and goat cheese topped with smoky pepper relish, caraway sour cream and crispy onion. While noshing it is easy to forget you're standing in a parking lot in San Francisco and not some European eatery. OWFT also serves Russian Beet Borscht soup below.

Old World Food Truck Sampler Plate from Eastern Europe and Jewish Soul Food Flavors.
Beet Borscht Soup – From Russia With Love
Empanadas are wildly popular in the mobile food world and new to Off the Grid this season is El Sur. El Sur's truck boasts five varieties of empanadas including Traditional (beef), Pollo (chicken), Parisien (ham), Verde (chard/spinach) and Champinones (mushroom). I opted for the mushroom version and here are two photos of it. First untouched to show you the beautiful color on the crust and then after I took a bite to show you the fabulous inside loaded with tasty shroomers.

El Sur Mushroom Empanada Before...
...and the After shot because I couldn't wait another second to partake.
Our next stop was a real surprise because we saw first hand how street food has expanded to include liquid libation too. Off the Grid is now longer just trucks, carts and stands. Four bars including the new Derby Cocktail Company dazzled us with their creative cocktails and beverages. All of this superb libation took place inside a space they have created called The Lounge.

The Lounge at Off the Grid elevates the street food experience.
The Derby Cocktail Company presented by the Stag Dining Group
The Derby bar buzzes with mixologists at work making really creative libations.
Here was the lively libation line up offered by the crew at Derby Cocktail Company.

Derby Fruit Cup: Botanical liqueur, gin, vermouth, blood orange, berries, fresh mint garnish.
Rose Garland Coolers: Aromatized rose vermouth, pisco, rose water, bergamot, and bitters.
Triple Crown Snowcone Cocktails in three flavors:  Bramble, Hurricane and Brown Derby

And not to leave us hungry the Derby dudes also paired their great libations with a tasty appetizer.

Grilled Lamb Shoulder with salsa verde and Tempura Asparagus Spear with Gribiche Aioli
Also inside the Lounge area we enjoyed the unique flavors of Californios. Chef Val M. Cantu calls his fusion of Northern California and Mexican cuisine, "Modern Alta" and he got my presentation award for the evening with his Hamachi Aguachile. The flavors were a fresh and refined combination of Coriander cured hamachi, candied kumquats, miner's lettuce, clover flower and citrus aqua. However, what really made it pop was the interactive presentation. We were each presented with a bubble about the size of a softball which was covered with plastic wrap and instructed to unwrap it. When we did a great aroma of smoke evolved. Major kudos to Chef Cantu for bringing such elegance and sophisticated flavors to the streets.

Another cool mobile libation unit was parked directly behind the Derby Cocktail bar called brewtruc. It is not exactly a truck but a converted vintage school bus that brings the beer to the party. Actually, it will hold 26 passengers who can rent the rig and take it to anywhere the party happens to be.

Riders in the converted old school bus now study the attributes of a variety of brews on tap.
The taps are in the rear of the bus serving from local breweries.
While enjoying all the offerings of the vendors inside the Lounge we met another new Off the Grid vendor for 2013 named Azalina. She is from Penang, Malaysia and brings her fifth generation Malaysian food street smarts to San Francisco. She just seemed to appear out of nowhere with a tray of the most delicious Fried Banana Fritter (Pisang Goreng) bites ever.

Azalina's Malaysian Street Food Handmade in San Francisco
Fried Banana Fritter with coconut jam and pinch of Cojita cheese for a sweet/savory contrast.

Don't like lines and eating just hand food? Off the Grid now has table seating and reservations. Yes, you can get the soul of street food with the convenience of a restaurant. This tent within The Loungearea was bustling with those diners enjoying the best of both worlds.

All the comforts of a restaurant with all the uniqueness of street food served at your table.

Food is only one part of the festivities at Off the Grid at the Fort Mason Center on Friday nights. Meet DJ Lady Ryan who was spinning great tracks to keep us entertained and moving. She was sharing the billing tonight with La Gente who came on after dark.

DJ Lady Ryan provides the soundtrack for noshing at Off the Grid.
  I found the bigger picture easy to view from atop a fire escape on one of the Fort Mason buildings.

Off the Grid is a vast circle of food purveyors surrounding the seating and entertainment stage.
My parting shot is of the Off the Grid gobo shining on one of the Fort Mason Center buildings. We left satisfied and a bit surprised by our first visit. Even though I only sampled just a few of the new vendors I felt like I had experienced an entire food truck rally. When actually I had only tasted much less than half of what was available. I will do this again and it will take several visits to say I experienced all that Off the Grid has to offer. I highly recommend going and getting there right at 5:00 so you can grab your favorite foods then enjoy the people watching and music. Off the Grid is definitely Off the Charts!

Off the Grid Fort Mason Fridays after dark.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How To Make Gruyere Popovers


Popovers are a steak house classic that are easy to make and a delightful alternative to bread or rolls. I especially like serving them with soup. I bite the top off and scoop some soup inside like a cup. Yum! Popovers are simply these four very common ingredients found in many baked goods plus the cheese.

All purpose flour, milk, salt and eggs make the base and Gruyere cheese tops them off.
Like every recipe prepping your ingredients keeps the mess down and makes the steps much easier. These quantities make one perfect batch in my popover pan. The size of your pan greatly determines how much batter to make. More to follow on exact measurements at the end of my story.

Wet and Dry ingredients prepped and cheese grated.

Step #1 – Place pan in oven during preheating to 350 degrees.
  Step #2 – Warm the milk. Do not heat or boil it.
  Step #3 – Whip the eggs until frothy.
  Step #4 – Slowly combine eggs and milk.
  Step #5 – Sift the flour and salt.
  Step #6 – Gently combine wet and dry ingredients in a pourable pitcher.
 Step #7 – Remove heated pan and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray.
 Step #8 – Carefully pour batter until each well is 2/3 full.
Ready for cheese topping.
 Step #9 – Fill each well with the grated cheese then place in oven for 50 minutes.
Popovers at 10 minutes.
Popovers at 20 minutes.
Popovers at 30 minutes.
Ready To Serve!
NEVER rush the baking time. It takes a full 50 minutes regardless of how done they look beforehand. Serve them quickly right out of the oven because they taste best and can deflate when cooled.

Measurements: For this batch of popovers I used the following quantities which make one perfect batch in my mini popover pan. The following quantities yield 2 cups of batter which perfectly fill the twelve wells in my pan leaving room for the cheese. There are larger popover pans available and you can even use a standard cupcake pan to make bigger popovers. The key to not wasting batter is to learn how much batter it takes for your particular pan.

These ratios are a good baseline and remember while pouring to always leave space at the top for the cheese as they will rise.

1 cup of milk
1 cup of all purpose flour
2 eggs
1 tsp. of salt
2 cups of shredded cheese

If you love popovers like so many people do, I strongly suggest investing in a popover pan. It will make better popovers and waste less batter once you calculate the volume necessary for one batch.