Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stocking up at Oxbow Market

Oxbow Public Market interior

Step inside, your charcuterie awaits!

pancetta & friends, Fatted Calf
cured meats, Fatted Calf
margharita pizza ingredients, Ca'Momi

pizza napoletana, Ca'Momi

Where's the Urfa pepper? Yipes! That's all we've got left? How 'bout the Aleppo? Nope, not much of that, either. Is there any good ham? We could make some crepes to go with this French cider... Nope. Looks like it's time for a trip to the Oxbow Market in Napa.

Oxbow market sits next to the corpse of Copia, the failed food/wine/art/whatever museum/center/restaurant/garden. You even park in Copia's lot. I'm not really surprised that Copia failed, since it really didn't seem to know if it wanted to be an art museum, food exploration center, gathering place, cafeteria or restaurant. During the few times I visited, there didn't seem to be enough live food-related action. I went expecting cooking demonstrations, product showcases, lots of foodie stuff happening all around. I expected to be dazzled by all the activity, where little known ingredients would be explained, cooking processes shown off, the palate educated and new horizons discovered. Instead, I found an interesting restaurant that I thought I'd try later (nope. gone), a cafeteria (a cafeteria in a center that should have all kinds of culinary sophistication?), an interesting garden, lots of static art and few active food demonstrations. Maybe other days were better; I went during the week. But still, a center like this needed to draw people all week long, from a large area, so where was the sizzle?

The sizzle is at Oxbow, though. There are numerous restaurants, a place to buy interesting (and expensive) cheeses, a purveyor of florescent cupcakes, a butcher, a fish market, a produce stand, a bakery... There are some puzzling places, like antique stores with expensive culinary artifacts. Nothing edible as far as I could tell. There's a place with lots of tables, all occupied by people sitting behind their portable computers. A tea shop. An olive oil store. Lots of little restaurants: Mexican, Venezuelan, Undefined multi-cultural, Italian, burgers, oysters. Ice cream. None of this was my reason for going. I was there for some charcuterie from the Fatted Calf and some spices from Whole Spice. Too bad that Copia can't be reconfigured somehow to interface with Oxbow to create a gastronomic destination worthy of Napa.

Fatted Calf, unlike the salumeria in the Ferry Building, has more of a French approach to cured meats, although not exclusively so. This means they've got rillettes. They even have them in two options: duck or pork we took the duck). They have duck confit ready to take home and heat, covered in lots of tasty duck fat. There's foie gras (we'll take a slice...). Smoked ham (more slices, for the crepes). Pancetta (a chunk, please). Head cheese (a taste, offered by the house, a nice gesture). We skipped the fresh rabbit, duck, lamb, pork and other locally raised offerings. We were tempted by freshly made sandwiches, beef jerky, pâté... but resisted. You have to stop somewhere, after all.

Now, on to the next item: the chili powders. Chili urfa has a deep, almost coffee-like flavor, and isn't so hot that you can't use enough to taste it. Aleppo is hotter, but with a bit of tart chili flavor to round it out. The latter is my go-to chili for whenever I want a bit of heat in a dish. Urfa is for when I want something more complex and richly flavored, usually for Mexican or Middle Eastern dishes.

Whole Spice will let you buy things in bulk, and if you come in with an empty container of one of their spices, they'll refill it for you so you don't have to pay for the jar. So, Aleppo and Urfa peppers are back on the menu. Grab the chilis, pay, get out. Don't look around! I have to concentrate on what I came for in here lest I run up a huge bill with exotic spices I've never heard of and want to try.

There are a few quirky places. The coffee place is designed so that the person working there seems to always have her back to the customers. We stood a while, not sure if she was on the phone, preparing an order or both, shrugged and walked on. The ice cream shop had one bin of peanut flavored product, so I asked if there was a separate scoop for the nuts. "Uh... Well, I dunno... lemme see...". Wrong answer.

In the process, we tried a real Neapolitan pizza margherita at Ca'Momi, made with most of its ingredients imported from Italy, baked in a wood-fired oven. Type 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, even the salt came from Sicily. They must be a real foodie place, since instead of olive oil, they said "EVOO". Strangely enough, they didn't say if the oil was imported or not. To their credit, there's no chili flakes or Parmesan cheese, since these ingredients aren't used on veritable pizza napoletana. Even more to their credit, these things aren't necessary; the buffalo mozzarella melts in your mouth, nestled in an almost liquid San Marzano tomato sauce, punctuated by an occasional bite of fresh basil. They do have other pies, but this is the big test. With so few ingredients, everything must be perfect.

Goodies in hand, we headed back to the car, just as a new storm front rolled in from the West.

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