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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The 2013 Off The Grid Picnic season at the Presidio has begun

After attending the kick off of Off The Grid Fort Mason a month ago, my foodie friend Carl and I were invited back by PR Company Wagstaff Worldwide to experience the new and improved 2013 Off The Grid Picnic which this year includes a weekly Farmers Market for the very first time.

Upon our arrival we found the Wagstaff team had arrived early and laid out picnic blankets for us in the center of the lawn. I met up with Carl there (read his recap by clicking here). All we had to do was sit, eat, take pictures, and enjoy what felt like a perfect summer day in "The City by the Bay." We were, coincidentally, right across from the Bay and could watch a seemingly endless stream of sailboats cruising between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island to the north. Surrounding us on the other three sides were all of the food trucks and booths to the east, the Presidio to the south, and the farmers market to the west.

Hubby and I carpooled up to the city as he was heading off to Twin Peaks to take his own photos but he dropped me off along the way. We entered from the south end of the park and headed to the north end. We knew we were close when we saw this sign.

The Main Post Lawn at SF's Presidio National Park.

There were already a lot of people there. My best advice is:
  1. Gather 4-5 friends together, bring plates and a knife, everyone go get something, then meet back up and share everything so you can sample several booths all at once. 
  2. Go early! There's two reasons why. One is so that you don't have to wait in long lines to get your food. The other is because the booths and trucks do sell out and that would be far too disappointing and depressing to miss out on the dish you're most craving for.

While the Friday nights at Off the Grid Fort Mason provides plenty of folding chairs there's a small section of picnic tables and benches at OTG Picnic and a whole LOT of lawn.

And then the eating began. . .

We started off with Peruvian food from Cholita LInda. Their Baja fish taco made with soft corn tortillas, crispy fried tilapia, salsa roja, cabbage salad, and baja crema (2 for $7.00 or 3 for $10.50) were superb. The tilapia was tender on the inside with just enough batter on the outside to add a nice crunch to every bite. The slaw was fresh and tasty and the soft corn tortillas offered some depth of flavor. With each bite I had the sensations of creamy and spicy, crunchy and tender, all rolled into one.

Next we had dessert as our second course from Go Streatery. Lemon and Ricotta Italian Donuts ($3.00), also known as Zeppoles in Italy, arrived in a folded, origami-style paper cup. You could definitely taste a delicate fresh lemon essence and I can report that this dish, more than any other that day, drew the most attention from passersby who stopped and asked us "Where did you get the donuts?"

Next up were fresh Summerset, WA Miyagi Oysters ($3.00 each) by Hog & Rocks. That day I saw only oysters but visit the Hog & Rocks restaurant in SF's Mission District and you'll find the city's first Ham + Oyster + Whisky Bar. I did not partake in the oysters (I'm allergic to them and have given up eating most meats) but I still wanted to show them to you because you may like oysters and they were part of our experience that day.

And then came a trio of dishes from The Whole Beast. Half of a pumpernickel bagel, smeared with a layer of cream cheese, scattered capers, thin gleaming slices of smoked salmon, and thin rounds of tiny chives was oh-so-savory ($5.00).

The "Whole Roasted Willie Bird Turkey Sandwich" with double smoked bacon, avocado, and pepper jelly on an Acme sourdough roll ($10.00) would be the terrific lunch for a turkey and bacon lover.

The Smoked Potato Salad ($5.00) is a large enough portion you can easily share it with several friends if you're noshing your way through lunch together.

It's worth noting that The Whole Beast is one of the restaurants that serve Prather Ranch beef, the only red meat I'm eating at this point in time.

Our libations included Orange Cucumber Mimosas, assorted beers, and Bloody Marys. I had a glass of water then moved on to a mimosa which I have to say I quite enjoyed. Normally I can taste the alcohol in the champagne too strongly but something about the cucumber must have neutralized the flavor making the drink refreshing, smooth, and very delicious.

Part of the new OTG Picnic is the addition of a weekly Farmers Market. We were able to sample some of the goods by vendors who took the time to drop by our picnic blankets and bring us small bites to nibble on.

My favorite was the California Crazy Curd (Herbie Curd flavor) by the Achadinha Cheese Company (pronounced Osh-a-deen-a). The small cubes were flavorful and creamy made of an unusual blend of both goat and Jersey cow milk. The herbs brought an unexpected savoriness to the cheese, almost like you're eating meat, but you're not. Tiernan told us they use a Montreal-style steak seasoning blend making this one of the most unique cheeses I've ever tried. It really had a lot of character. I would have bought some that day but we weren't going straight home and I didn't plan ahead and bring an ice chest with me. Bummer.

Blue House Farms was there offering fresh produce that included perfectly red Albion strawberries. I didn't really get a chance to chat with the nice man who brought this box by to show us but did hear him say they're located in Pescadero and learned on their website they also offer a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

OK, here's a foodie admission. For some reason, I have no idea why, in the past year I've become like a crazed, pickle craving, pregnant lady. Except for that I'm neither pregnant nor would I call myself a lady. LOL. Nonetheless I have been craving pickles of all types and Jarred SF Brine held a very special treat for someone as infatuated with them as I currently am. Their award winning, oven roasted, Golden Beets and Shaved Shallot pickles were fan-freaking-tastic. After sampling a bite I couldn't resist and purchased a jar to bring home with me (16.75 oz jar for $11.00).

Some of Jarred's pickles are unusually seasoned with spices like curry. Others use interesting vegetables and fruits like lemon cucumbers, spiced pickled cherries, and soy pickled shitake mushrooms. I'm now a huge fan of Jarred and suspect you will be too once you've had the chance to sample their products.

Fortunately we were able to sample Marla Bakery's Seeded Sour Rye bread with flax, millet, pepitas, sunflower, & sesame seeds earlier in the day because by the time we walked around the market at 3:00 PM they were sold out! In fact, a lot of vendors were sold out by early afternoon partly because it was the first day of the season, so they didn't know how much to bring, and partly I'm sure, because the crazy great weather made a lot more people turn out than would have if it had been a cooler, cloudier day. At Marla Bakery Joe told us they sold 55 loaves of bread in just 2 hours!

Either way, I'd highly recommend purchasing a loaf of Marla's bread and a container of the Crazy Herbie Curd cheese and pair them up. They were a perfect complement to each other, kind of like the old "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter" commercial only I'd welcome your cheese on my bread (or vice versa) at OTG Picnic.

At Dandelion Chocolate anyone can experience a chocolate tasting! There were three flavors to choose from and bars to purchase from this chocolatier located in the Mission in San Francisco. We even got to sample a roasted cocoa nib straight from the bean. It was interesting, not sweet. For me it was very sour, not bitter, and I needed another piece of Patanemo Venezuelan chocolate to chase the flavor away, stat! Or, maybe I was just looking for an excuse to try another piece of chocolate. I guess we'll never know.

Fair Share Community Supported Fisheries

A very unique booth was the Fair Share Community Supported Fisheries. It's like a CSA, but with seafood. It never occurred to me they even existed. And not only do they exist but they only offer local, sustainable seafood products. This may not seem like a big deal but really, it is.

After reading about how much environmental and habitat damage commercial fishing companies can wreck plus the collateral damage to unwanted species caught in nets that die before being thrown back into the ocean, to be able to purchase line caught, local fish was a welcomed sight.

To shock me even further it turns out (according to their website) that they make deliveries as far South as Palo Alto. That's still a bit too far for me to make a weekly trip to pick-up but if they make it down to San Jose I would definitely become a subscriber.

I didn't really get a chance to talk to him but the rep from Hidden Star Orchards dropped by with a bag of Apple Chips and large, syrup-sized bottles of fruit extracts to show us. To be honest I'm not really clear on the use for the extracts. I meant to ask him but he was deep in conversation with others in our group and left before I had a chance. The website doesn't reveal any other information so I'll have to ask the next time I see them at the market.

And this was just plain neat. The Sports Basement was there offering free use of toys and yard games for kids and adults alike. All they asked for in return was your driver's license and you could borrow anything to use that day while you were at the picnic. So cool and community oriented. I've always liked their stores but they went up another huge notch as a local business I'd like to support for caring about the community and giving back in this way.

What to do besides eat? Well, there's kite flying, all of the games from the Sports Basement, bocci ball courts were set up on the north end of the lawn, you could bike around the Presidio grounds, bring your (leashed) dog and let him or her make new friends, or visit The Walt Disney Family Museum located just across the street on the west side of the lawn.

We did have an opportunity to say hello to OTG founder Matt Cohen and his super cute pup Lily. It's really a fantastic thing he's done creating this opportunity for new restauranteurs and food producers to find a way to break into the SF food scene while also allowing brick and mortar restaurants a way to reach out to a whole new audience.

A final word of warning to go early. You don't want to be reading this when you arrive at your favorite truck or booth.

And another big thank you to Wagstaff Worldwide and Off The Grid. Looking forward to attending more  OTG events this year, eating great food, and making new friends in San Francisco.


Sundays from 11:00 AM  - 4:00 PM

Rain or Shine

To find the Main Post Lawn at the Presidio just search for one of the nearby buildings in your maps app or GPS. Using either of the following will do the trick:

The Presidio Trust: 103 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA (map)

The Walt DIsney Family Museum at 104 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA (map)

Free street and lot parking are available

• A blanket to sit on if you don't want to sit on lawn
• Wear sunscreen and a hat
• Friends to share food with
• Check the weather report and wear layers, SF weather and the Bay Area's micro-climates can be very fickle. It can be 75º and sunny in San Jose and 60º, cold and windy in the city.

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