|Off the Grid at sunset|
The 2013 edition of Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center got off to what must be described as a roaring start on March 22. I've been to 78 or so Fort Mason Center events (if you can believe Foursquare), including all four season openers, and don't believe I have ever before seen it inundated so early in the evening or in the season by the hungry hordes that greeted the 4th edition's opener. Commercially, at least, Off the Grid shows no signs of having jumped the shark. When it comes to food choices, however, a less sanguine picture is emerging.
Even it you choose not to buy into the "Chef's Table" elite, you'll be happy to find more booze queues for designer label cocktails and artisan beers, more (or at least better deployed) picnic table seating, and louder canned techno-beat music from DJs with names. You'll also find new novel treats like gourmet corn dogs and ice cream tacos.
What you won't find at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center 2013 are noshes like classic Peruvian anticuchos, fiery som tam, a cochinita pibil salbute, fried Tianjin dumplings or a Trinidad "Double." And you can bet your sweet patootie you won't find the pre-Hispanic insect protein-based cuisine of Don Bugito. There are far fewer food choices this year than last for people who like close-to-the-bone Asian or Latin street food, and it appears that the more authentic or exotic the food, the less likely its vendor was to make the cut when a diminishing number of slots for 2013 were doled out.
Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center's mission statement, revealed in a 2010 press release, states:
Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center was established to create a unique San Francisco night market experience that highlights the vibrancy and culture of Asian and Latin Street Food markets, and provides legal opportunities for food entrepreneurs to showcase their products.There's always been a little bending the rules, of course, to round out the offerings. You could sell cupcakes or kettle corn if you included an "Asian" flavor such as pandan. (Ironically, they do sell unflavored kettle corn on the streets of Shanghai these days.) It was easy to wink at this dodge as long as these hipster fetishes were overshadowed by the number of more or less authentic Asian or Latin offerings available, as was the case through last year, when Off the Grid: Fort Mason seemingly reached its peak. It's harder to do so today.
I compared the roster of vendors for 2013 with the rosters for first two Fridays in September 2012 (a handful of vendors were bi-weekly and rotated). Of the 35 vendors you might have encountered over those two Fridays in September, 2012, 18 have either been written out of the plan, self-deported, or exiled to Oakland on Friday nights; 17 have returned for 2013, along with 10 new (to Fort Mason) vendors in the public area. It's somewhat problematic categorizing vendors by ethnicity, on account of fusion and crossover trends, but by my own classification 24 of the 35 vendors at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center in 2102 were manifestly Asian or Latin food vendors, but only 14 of 27 in 2013.
|NOT in 2013|
|NOT in 2013|
If you are craving ramen, you won't find Kirimachi around with its $8 ramen bowls, but you can avail yourself of new vendor Chotto's $12 bowls. Korean comfort food? Local legend Seoul on Wheels and its robust menu have been banished to Oakland on Friday nights, but perhaps you can make do with a beef wrap or not-so-Korean fried chicken sandwiched between two waffles from new vendor Bok Ssam.
|Bini of Bini's Kitchen|
Who else will you not find around at Fort Mason Center on Friday nights this year? You won't find AK Double Up (Trinidad doubles) or New American/fusion/crossover purveyors Brass*Knuckle, Eat on Monday, Kung Fu Tacos and Wing Wings. They're gone too.
Asian and Latin street food market or Gen-Y scene? Check it out and decide for yourself. And enjoy an artisanal corn dog with your hand-crafted cocktail while you're there.