Saturday, July 24, 2010

Off the Grid - Food Truck Gatherings in SF


This week I found out about an event that is going on in San Francisco during the summer.  Called Off the Grid, it's a 'mobile food extravaganza' that brings together favorite gourmet food vendors to different neighborhoods. This Friday it was at Fort Mason. Since I'm doing research on street food, I just had to go. I took along my friend, Rod, and Suzanne Phan from Channel 10. Look later this week for a post on the obstacles we face in Sacramento to get street food here.

The idea of trekking into SF on a Friday evening was daunting. Suzanne and I ended up leaving Sac at 3:30 and lucked out with smooth traffic to the Bay area. We picked up Rod in Richmond and then faced the traffic crush at the Bay Bridge. Bridge tolls changed on July 1st and it was $6. Our event had started at 5 and we lucked out again managing to park right out front of it at 6.


In front of us we found seven trucks and nine tents with food ranging from creme brulee to lamb tacos. There was Indian, Filipino, Korean, Mexican, Argentinian, vegan and more. We were in foodie heaven.

The lines were starting to get long, so we decided to divide and conquer. I got in line for the Filipino truck, Hapa SF, and Suzanne hit Kung Fu Taco, which is  Asian/Latin fusion.


I came back with a sisig rice plate. Even though I'm half Filipina, I'm ignorant about Filipino food. Sisig, it turns out, is pig's head that has been boiled, then the meat taken off and broiled, and then finally fried. That explains the nice crispiness to the pork. Mostly they are using the ears and cheeks. They season the pork with vinegar, kalamansi juice, chopped onions and chicken liver. Filipinos are known for their salty sour dishes and that was evidenced here. This was one of my favorite finds of the night.


Suzanne ordered two tacos, duck and beef. I think we got cheated because our beef taco had no meat. I think we ended up with a veggie taco. We were a bit disappointed with them.


I had spied El Porteno empanadas and made that my next stop while Suzanne got in line for Curry Up now. I brought back two empanadas, beef and chicken. They were fabulous. Super flavorful with nice flaky pastry. I even enjoyed them even though they had olives in them (yuk). Empanadas can be found in many Latin countries. These were Argentinian. The beef was Prather Ranch Organic Dry-Aged Grass Feed Beef, Pimiento Stuffed Olives, Raisins, and Hard-Boiled Eggs. The chicken, Fulton Valley All Natural Chicken, Chicken Chorizo, Raisins, Olives.


Meanwhile, in the curry line, we wanted to get a tikka masala burrito and have them cut it in three for us. But they wouldn't do it. So we opted for the deconstructed samosa. We got a plate of samosa pastry covered with garbanzos, tamarind chutney, jalapenos, mint, and other spices. We asked for spicy and boy, was it. We were definitely needing drinks. Suzanne had already finished off her mango lassi and went in search of chai tea next. Our mouths were on fire. I like the idea of deconstructed dishes, but wasn't too fond of the hunks of hard samosa pastry buried under the toppings.


Rod had wandered off in search of Azalina’s Malaysian crepes that he had heard about. He came with a lacy crepe topped with a Malaysian style chicken curry. I liked the flavor of the curry, but found the crepe difficult to cut and eat the way it was served. Besides, we were still suffering from hot mouth from the Indian.


We had noticed from the get-go that the longest line by far was for Chairman Bao with steamed and baked buns. It was so long that we chose not to get in it even though the food coming from it looked good. Suzanne interviewed a few people in line to see why it was so long. Many said they had never had it, only heard great things. Then, by chance, we met the owner of the truck, Josh Tang, who was standing nearby. Turns out the truck only started in May but the buzz was so good because of the background. He works with a bunch of organizations and companies that specialize in promoting street food. In the case of the trucks they were developing in SF and LA, they were associated with a lot of well known chefs to design great tasting street food, remembering that street food needs to be easy to eat while standing. They also work closely with the biggest manufacturer of catering trucks that is based in LA. Lastly, they do efficiency studies to analyze through-put. In other words, they study how fast it is to take an orders, put it together, cook it, and get it into the hands of the customer. After all, efficiently processing orders means more $$. I'm sure I'll be in touch with Josh as he has knowledge of overcoming municipality objections to street food vendors. More on that in my next street food post later this week.

Now it was time for dessert and we headed right for The Creme Brulee Cart. They had already sold out of regular creme brulee so we had choices of Mexican Chocolate, S'Mores, and Dulce de Loco. I opted for the Dulce which was made with goat's milk. It was delicious and creamy with the slight caramel taste of dulce de leche. Suzanne got the S'Mores, which was the Mexican chocolate topped with graham cracker bits and toasted mini marshmallows. We both didn't care for it. It was too sweet with all the elements and we didn't care for the base Mexican chocolate creme brulee.


Our last stop was Kika's Treats where they were making s'mores with their own chocolate covered graham crackers and marshmallows. I liked the appearance and the crackers, but wished that the marshmallow had been fully melted.

By now it was 8 pm and the place was PACKED. The lines were long and there was nowhere to move. We hit the bathrooms and split. We all agreed it was a great two hours of good food. And we were lucky again with another smooth ride home, back by 10.

There will be more Off the Grid events this summer, so if you are interested, click on their link and get on their mailing list. Meanwhile, on August 21st you can go to the SF Street Food Festival in the city and the following weekend there are a lot of street food vendors at the Eat Real festival at Oakland's Jack London Square.


Read my post on Sacramento's need for an attitude change regarding street food here.
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