Thursday, May 31, 2012

Soft Opening of SoMa StrEat Food Park Brings out Hardcore Food Truck Fans

Carlos Muela (center) and friends at the SOMA StrEAT Food Park Launch

The "Soft" opening today of Carlos Muela's SoMa StrEat Food Park was announced in sotto voce and with no small measure of expectation management.  The local foodie media, following a press release, announced the Wednesday, June 6 official opening day with scarcely a mention of an interim shakedown period (other than this here blog, which nobody reads anyway).  To be fair, @SOMAStrEatFoodPark did tweet there would be some soft openings with "a couple" of food trucks in the interim.  The "couple of" food trucks turned out to be six, and somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three hundred food truck fans turned out for the unofficial launch.


I wasn't on site for the staging and setting up of the trucks, but by the time I got here around 11:30 everything was working like clockwork, and there wasn't much for Muela to do but greet and schmooze with arriving guests, and  feel good about the results of a year and a half of hard work.  If there were any glitches, I didn't see any. I availed myself of the spartan but spacious and clean bathrooms, the free high speed Wi-Fi (I clocked  both uploads and downloads near 20 Mbps on my first generation iPad, better than Comcast gives me at home) and the food, downing a hearty and tasty lamb shawarma from the Sunrise Deli truck at a picnic table sheltered from the sun.

San Francisco has reached the "If you build it, they will come" stage of hunger for quality street food venues. Carlos has built it, and we will come.

Mentioned: @SoMaStrEAtFood, @Brassknucklesf, @SmokinWarehouse, @SunriseDeli, @LaPastrami, @TheWaffleMObile

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SOMA StrEAT Food Park to "Soft" Launch Thursday, With Grand Opening June 6

The anticipated SOMA StrEAT Food Park, San Francisco's first specifically designed venue for food truck dining, is poised to open for business. According to proprietor Carlos Muela, who was onsite today overseeing some last-minute touches, a soft launch period will begin Thursday, with lunch-only service beginning at 11:00 AM.  The lunch-only service will continue through next Tuesday; Wednesday, June 6 will see the formal Grand Opening of the Park and all-day service (lunch through dinner).

Muela promises some new trucks not seen before, and will experiment with occasional  appearances by non-food vendors in the mix, such at the Top Shelf mobile boutique.  He anticipates up to seven vendors at the opening of the soft launch period, and promises a full complement of 10 trucks at the Grand Opening. The SOMA StrEAT Food Park is located at 428 Eleventh Street, across from Costco.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Matt Cohen's SF FoodLab Opens with Sol Food Lunchtime Pop-up

Thankfully, there are no mad scientists in white coats running around with test tubes at the SF FoodLab. It's not a crucible for molecular gastronomy, but rather a combination commissary kitchen and host space for pop-up restaurateurs. Located in the Renoir Hotel at 1106 Market Street in the space that once held Cafe do Brasil and most recently the valedictory run of Little Joe's ("rain or shine there's always a line"), it's a new project by Off the Grid's Matt Cohen and partners Gabriel Cole and Mark Walker.

I attended the first public event at the SF FoodLab, a May 23 lunchtime pop-up appearance by San Rafael's Sol Food (it's pronounced Sōl Food, after proprietor Marisol Hernandez, hence a pun). Sol Food features Puerto Rican cuisine featuring free range and antibiotic-free meats and organic salad greens.  On opening day, the offerings were only a small subset of Sol Food's extensive San Rafael menu, with one chicken, one beef and one vegetarian "Combinacione" available. I chose the Pollo al Horno Combinacione, described on the menu as "Free Range/wheat free boneless, skinless chicken thighs marinated with oregano & garlic, then baked."  I added a Té Helado (orange-mango iced tea) for caffeine as no coffee drinks were available. It came with  rice (topped with choice of pink or black beans) and salad. The San Rafael menu promised fried plantain or fries, but were not available at the pop-up on opening day.

My chicken was moist and savory, though not particularly exotic.  Fortunately, I was able to enhance it with a house-made sauce (found bottled on each table).  I was told to use this mildly spicy, slightly tart and slightly sweet sauce liberally, and it did wonders for both the chicken and the salad. The house-made orange-mango iced tea was wonderfully refreshing though a touch too sweet for my tastes, though probably not so for most people, as I tend to be sweetness-averse.  My lunch came to $13.50 including tax (service is cafeteria-style, so tipping is discretionary), a little steep for a worker's lunch, novelty value of Puerto Rican food in the area aside. Nonetheless, I'll likely return to try something else during the pop-up's tenure, which is said to be every weekday through June (per Gub Street).

The dining space at SF FoodLab is light, airy and attractive, though spare. There is a small bar at the back, which was unused except by a laptop squatter during my visit. Latin music played in the background, though at a very civilized level (meaning NOT LOUD).  According to Grub Street, future popper-uppers (poppers-up?) include Russell Jackson (ex-Lafitte), Aaron London (ex-Ubunto) and the ex-Frisee pair who currently operate the Southern Sandwich food truck.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Old World Food Truck -- Jewish Soul Food at the New Mission Dispatch "Pod"

[Update: I caught up with the Old World Food Truck while they were serving pierogies at Off the Grid:5M on Wednesday the 23rd, and am happy to report the potato and cream cheese pierogies were big, plunp and luscious.  I intended to check out the corned beef (in Reuben form) which Matt Cohen praised highly to me, but had just eaten a full lunch at Matt's other project, the SF FoodLab (see above).]

A small, two or three truck food truck “pod” on a private lot isn't really something to get excited about these days, unless you happen live or work nearby. But what got me to brave the No. 9 bus to the new Mission Dispatch pod at 18th and Bryant was a new one-of-a-kind truck featured today, the Old World Food Truck. OWFT boasts “East European and and Jewish Soul Food,” or the kind of fare that kept my body and soul together 50 years ago when I lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side (in a SRO at No. 9 St. Mark's Place, to be exact).

Mission Dispatch bears a striking resemblance to The Lunch Box on Ritch Street, with space for two and possibly three trucks and a generous amount of seating, both at picnic tables and at loose chairs. It was bustling when I arrived there around 12:30, with lines of approximately equal length at the Old World Food Truck and Little Green Cyclo, which MD was also hosting today. I found the Old World Food Truck decked out in a charmingly schmaltzy décor which might be called “Fiddler on the Roof” style. The largest font on the truck proclaimed “Pierogies and Artisan Sandwiches” but, alas, they had no pierogies today. Instead, I ordered a knish to go with my “Chicken Schnitzelwich.” described elsewhere as a “Jewish Banh Mi.”

When the sandwich came, it was HUGE, with as much fried chicken as could possibly be stuffed into a banh mi-type roll. It was dressed with a pickled slaw-like topping with shredded carrots and all, and did in fact bear a resemblance to a banh mi. I ordered my sammie with a “schmear” of chopped liver (a dollar extra) and, looking back, that may have been my favorite part of the sandwich. I found the chicken, encased in a crunchy, nostalgically greasy batter, tasty but a bit on the dry side. The slaw dressing and the creamy chicken liver would have attenuated the dryness, but due to the very size of the thing I ate the top part of the bun (with the toppings) separately and left the bottom part behind. The truck's knishes have a nice flaky shell, but the savory potato and chard filling is so pillowy you'll want to ask for a fork to eat it with.

Also on the menu today was an open-faced “Texas Toast Reuben” sandwich featuring their own cured corned beef, a Brisket Borscht, a Polish Strawberry Soup and Mint Lemonade. Both the chicken sandwich (I believe I got the last one) and the reuben sold out before 1:00. I'll definitely catch up with Old World Food truck again to try the reuben, and they damn well better have the pierogies!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Julia Yoon, Seoulful Queen of Korean Food Trucks, Marks 5 Year Anniversary

She didn't invent the Korean Taco, but Julia Yoon, proprietor of the Seoul On Wheels Korean BBQ truck, can lay a claim to bringing hand-held Korean cuisine to the food truck world. In mid-2007, more than a year before LA's vaunted Kogi Truck hit the road, she was dispensing hearty portions of Korean barbequed meats in sandwich as well as rice bowl form to hungry workers. According to Julia, she first hit the streets on May 21, 2007. As was the normal modus at that time, she focused on lunchtime service for hungry workers at construction sites and other captive audiences, but by July of that year she had caught the attention of free-range Chowhound and Yelper foodies. In August, Seoul on Wheels received a full-fledged review with pictures by delighted blogger Bunrab, Bay Area Bites published her schedule of stops, and the process of raising an army of devoted fans had begun.

With William Pilz and OTG's "Kevlar"
By the summer of 2010, the Food Truck 2.0 movement (in which Julia and her Seoul on Wheels truck was a key pioneer) was well under way, and when Matt Cohen and Caleb Zigas created the food truck destination event Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center, Julia was among the first to answer the call. Seoul on Wheels has been an OTG fixture ever since. Amazingly, though Julia hasn't expanded beyond a single truck, and doesn't do a lot of delegating, Seoul on Wheels seems to make an appearance at nearly every food truck venue and special event in the Bay Area. Organizers seem to know that without Seoul on Wheels and Julia Yoon's sweetness and generosity of spirit, a food truck rally's street creds (as it were) are, at best dubious.

Early on, Julia introduced herself as The Princess of Yoon on her website, but I've upgraded her to Queen, because she is indisputably Queen of Food Trucks 2.0 in the Bay Area and perhaps the Universe. If you see that sedate academic blue truck with Julia smiling from the order window at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center on Friday night (or at any of the 20-odd other events she'll show up at in the next week), stop by, say hello and congratulate her. Oh, and grab a Galbi Korrito.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Oakland's First Food Truck "Pod" is Launched.

Today's fine weather found me headed to the mysterious East Bay to check out the debut of Oakland's first legally sanctioned on-street gathering of food trucks, the Clay Pod.  Under legislation passed late last year, three food trucks will be stationed on Clay Street between 14th Street and 15th Street in downtown Oakland every Tuesday from 11:30 to 2:00.  The Clay Pod is the brainchild and personal project of Gail Lillian, proprietor of the Liba Falafel truck (the East Bay Express has some of the backstory). Two of the trucks, Lillian's Liba Falafel and William Pilz's HapaSF are scheduled to be there weekly, while a new-to-me truck, Go Streatery, will alternate with another old friend food truck, Julia Yoon's Seoul on Wheels. (I'm counting on either HapaSF or Seoul on Wheels to come up with a dish called "Clay Pod Rice," ya hear?)  As the East Bay Express noted, a legitimized Bites Off Broadway launches Friday, and more "pods" appear to be in the pipeline.

Business was brisk today, and judging by the number of surprised and delighted looks, will get even better as word gets out.  For my part, I decided to get something from Go Streatery, it being new to me. Go Streatery serves glorified comfort food, which, with no small measure of hipster irony, it calls "Glorious Peasant Food."  I went for the pan-fried dumplings (the only dish with pork in it) and a side of house-made root kettle chips. The dumplings seemed more sauteed than fried (limp rather than crunchy) and were on the bland side. To the dish's credit, they rested on a generous portion of salad consisting of sprightly chopped greens and Cara Cara orange slices.  The root chips (made from blue potatoes, sweet potatoes and yam were the real winners -- thin, crispy and not overly salty.  At $2.00 they're a no-brainer add-on to your main course.