Even on a cloudy, cold day it pays to show up right at the beginning of any food-related event in the Bay Area. Because people around here are insane about food. Insane, I tell you. So the prospect of a few blocks full of booths from some of the Bay's most beloved food carts but also some of its hottest restaurants drew everyone, plus of course her dog, because that's the other thing we're insane about. Never mind that with people hip to jowl in a three block radius, plus eighteen billion varieties of meat being cooked in the open air, plus a number of small, fur-pulling children, it was not actually a good environment for dogs. The hell with that. Attending the festival with the one person in the world who is less able to pass a dog on the street than I am might have been a mistake, as we were constantly being stopped while she paused to admire or commiserate or read tail semaphore, or whatever. There was a dude with a bulldog who had the right idea: he simply sat on one of the crates provided to patrons on the sidewalk while women flocked to coo over his dog.*
But the food, right, the food.
The set-up of the event was that each booth was required to provide a small bite for $3 or less, a larger plate for no more than $8, and a drink of some kind. There was a great variety of types of eatable, from Indian to Vietnamese to Middle Eastern to variations on good old-fashioned fair food. Except I can't afford $8 for funnel cake, no matter that it's covered in whipped cream and strawberries. It seemed to me that in many cases it paid to buy the bigger portions for slightly more money, although my $20 budget meant that to try the widest variety of foods possible I should eat as many small plates as I could. I was hindered in my efforts by the surprisingly not so great selection of vegetarian options (Kitchenette's booth only had meat, which was a disappointment) and the consequent lines around the block for those that did exist (Slanted Door proved that a location change doesn't stop one of the hottest tickets in town). Also, my choice to avail myself of Elisa's unwanted melon agua fresca jogged the memory that fruit juices have been a major culprit in Stomach Mutiny 2010. Pepto Bismol was a semi-ironic sponsor of the festival, but I may have been the only attendee who actually brought some along. Perhaps whatever woman, and I am unfortunately certain it was a woman, who ordered the vegetables frito misto with aioli from Beretta and then left all the breading in the tray could have followed my example and lightened up just a tad. It could be that she just doesn't like fried stuff, and these were the only vegetables at the whole festival, but that seems unlikely.
Having braved the line for a paneer chili bowl from Kasa (dear booth staffer: if the women in front of you are conversing in ASL, they will not be able to hear you when you call for the next in line), and found that the word chili was not there by accident, I decided to get dessert in case the mutiny spread further. Important things first, after all. Three Twins Ice Cream, which I have always thought of as 'that ice cream place across from the place that serves the veggie cheesesteaks' was selling tastes of its roasted peach ice cream. The Three Twins motto is "inconceivably delicious," and while I can conceive of it just fine, I get the point: great ice cream. It's more traditional than Bi-Rite, in that it's creamy and rich, but it also doesn't just skate over the surface with its flavors. The next step would have been to continue on my 'best cupcakes of the Bay' quest, but a passing comment led me to understand that La Luna had run out. In checking for myself I noted they were right next to a Claire's Squares booth. These desserts also fall under the category of things I've seen a million times in grocery stores but are too expensive for me to try, and it was at this point that my occasional price disorientation took over, to my chagrin. I ended up buying a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate very small mini-square at 2 dollars a pop. In walking away I decided of course that wasn't a good deal for something so small, and my irritation was compounded when after the sweet ice cream the squares didn't taste toffee-like as I expected. The taste is extremely subtle, composed of shortbread that is more buttery than sweet, plus very neutral caramel and chocolate. I'm cognizant that it's unfair to try these things on an already compromised palate, so at some point I'll try again, but in an environment where I was going for variety I'd filled up and spent more than I planned.
As I had hoped, though, the dessert quelled the mutiny. Meanwhile, my fellows were reveling in the meat extravaganza. I can neither confirm nor deny that Elisa was heard to say "this means I can get an empanada and a cheeseburger." She also discovered the joy of the Chaac-Mool Yucatan food stand, which I had experienced after the SF Chocolate Salon just when I needed something substantial. The line for the cheeseburger at 4505 Meats (served with a bag of pork rinds, stay classy) was so long that I actually ducked back around a couple of corners to grab some falafel from the Liba truck, waited and was served, and got back before my friends got their burgers. The little line for Liba was so dwarfed by the crowds waiting for a kung-fu taco (?) from the stand next door that it felt like cheating. People who got on kept asking 'is this the falafel line?' as if they'd be told no, they'd actually have to wait 45 minutes. The kung fu tacos might have been awesome, but there's no reason Liba shouldn't have had a queue that big as well. My general feeling about falafel is 'meh,' just like its flavor. It's a go-to vegan meal when there's no alternative and nothing to write home about. Liba makes fried chickpeas into a destination dish, with a crunchy, freshly-fried and flavorful exterior, a soft middle, and slightly overwhelming tahini and chimichurri sauces. Like the producers of the other foods I tried, Liba is also incredibly socially conscious: the vendors boast about their sustainability, use of local ingredients, and green business practices. The festival as a whole used about 90% compostable materials to serve food, even though some fools still didn't get it and threw their cups and implements in the trash.
By the time 4505 delivered the goods, my feet of a forty-year-old were quite literally giving out. I was almost prepared to sit down on the grotty sidewalk next to some random Mission house, but Mr. Fabulous found us seating on the upturned crate and board set-up provided for that purpose. I sank down with profound gratefulness. Elisa dreamed of a Coke and I fantasized about iced tea, but we both decided to get them at home. I had not only come in well under budget but learned valuable lessons to be applied if I'm around the area next year, tried some foods I'd been waiting to try for years, and had quite enough of crowds for some time (and hipsters forever, but that happened long ago). A good portion of San Francisco enjoyed its food-coma induced naps that afternoon.
*I'm making a variety of assumptions here, but at least I'm aware I'm making them.