the ferry building marketplace

The Ferry Building Marketplace at the foot of San Francisco’s Market Street epitomizes the best of what the Bay Area has to offer. Renovations of the historic building, which has served as a hub for transportation since its construction in the late 1890s, were catalyzed after the 1989 earthquake and the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway. The remodeling effort was completed in 2003 and  soon garnered numerous design awards, including Buildings magazine’s Modernization Award and The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Award, while attracting foodies from around the world. The building serves as a nexus of Bay Area transit and ferry systems and hosts more than 40 shops and restaurants showcasing local organic fruits and vegetables. Under one roof it’s now possible to take a cooking class, taste some of the finest chocolates or wine, attend a book signing or procure the season’s freshest vegetables. 

Outside, an expansive wharf and plaza offer refreshing views of San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. On weekdays, the wharf is alive with a mix of business lunchers, commuters and tourists as a life-sized, bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi quietly holds court. The wharf positively bustles during the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, not once, but four times a week. Saturday morning’s market is an event in and of itself, with patrons flocking by bike, bus, ferry, foot or car for its cornucopia of fruits, vegetables and gourmet treats – plus breakfast stands bybyAnd some of the city’s best restaurants. Make sure you get to that yoga class before you arrive!

Those at a loss for how to translate all the market bounty into a meal should look no further than Boulette’s Larder. A kind of open kitchen/grocery store/restaurant, Boulette’s takes its cue from French country cooking. Turning out a menu of sweets and savories utilizing what chef/owners Amaryll Schwertner and Lori Regis and their staff find at the market, it offers full meals, side dishes, pantry items and hard-to-find ingredients to take away and complete at home or eat on-site. You’ll find soup stock, bread dough, herbs, grains, prepped veggies, condiments and more. At night, the lone kitchen table is set for special cooking seminars for ten lucky diners. A late spring offering of prepared foods featured both roasted and pickled artichokes, homemade sauerkraut, farro spezzatto, chickpeas with cumin, and vegetarian mushroom and rice chard rolls. 

No San Francisco food market would be complete without a nod to the cuisine found just south of the border. At the Ferry Building, Mexican home cooking is represented by the acclaimed Mijita, a cocina Mexicana where you can watch cooks turning out fresh corn tortillas through the window while supping on tamales and fish tacos at bright, oil cloth-covered tables. Sitting outside with one of their agua frescas, the sea breeze on your face, you might swear you’re in Baja…only this is a street-side taqueria gone uptown. Mijita is the brainchild of chef Traci Des Jardins, who offers recipes handed down to her from her grandmother and honed by the cooking skills she perfected as chef/owner of the renowned Jardinière restaurant. Mijita (literally, “little one”) uses organic ingredients whenever possible, and the restaurant utilized environmentally friendly building materials in its construction. 

Slanted Door, arguably the showcase restaurant at the Ferry Building, has consistently drawn both critical praise and satisfied customers. Before it moved from its original Mission District location, the Vietnamese enterprise had raised enough notice to attract then-President Bill Clinton for an unannounced meal. Mirroring the Marketplace’s ethos of seasonal, sustainable and local food, the menu is Asian-inspired but fueled by local farms. A lounge and open dining area face a floor-to-ceiling view of the Bay. Run by Charles Phan and a large staff, which includes 20 members of his family, the atmosphere is at once convivial and serious whether presidents are in house or not. While an extensive amount of thought has gone into both the décor and the menu, family-style is an over-riding concept. 

Slanted Door seats 175 and serves a lunch, dinner and afternoon tea menu seven days a week. There’s a vast array of choices, from specialty teas, house cocktails, fresh-squeezed juices and an extensive menu of appetizers to noodle dishes, fresh seafood and uniquely seasoned vegetable dishes. You’ll find familiar spring rolls accented with mint and peanuts next to daikon rice cakes with shitakes; spicy Japanese eggplant with green onions and coconut; “shaking” beef and caramelized tiger prawns. A prix fixe menu is available for the indecisive. Save room for dessert because it’s hardly an afterthought: candied kumquat butter cake anyone? Consider booking a series of reservations to try their many options. And a reservation is pretty much a must, although a limited menu is available in the lounge and at the granite topped bar.

The Ferry Building Marketplace is open Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm; Saturday, 9am to 6pm; and Sunday, 11am to 5pm.

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