Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Sunday's visit to the Hillcrest market was the first in a while for me, and boy was I pleasantly surprised. We used to go almost every week. I'm not sure exactly why we stopped, but I think several factors conspired against it. There's the fact that we like to stay home on Sunday mornings listening to NPR, eating croissants (or waffles) and reading the New York Times; the fact that we don't live in the neighborhood anymore (though really it's only twenty minutes away); and last but not least - the fact that every time I go to a farmers' market I get carried away and buy tons of beautiful fruits and vegetables that end up drying out in my refrigerator.
All I can say is, not anymore. I suppose this really isn't fair, since this is probably an ideal time to shop the market, with all of the spring and summer produce in full bloom - but I just can't believe I ever gave it up.
It seems like the Hillcrest market has expanded and improved since my last visit. For one thing, it's now out in the street, instead of taking up the whole parking lot. It's a little more cohesive and easy to navigate with the produce on one long strip, and the prepared foods in another section right next to it.
The produce was obscenely beautiful - stone fruits, cherries, tomatoes, corn, squash blossoms, onions, cherimoyas, avocados - you name it. I will have to go back when I can spend more time to get a handle on the various vendors. Some are certified organic, but most are not. That doesn't necessarily mean they don't follow good farming practices though - you don't know unless you ask.
Some things haven't changed. In the prepared section, the most popular vendor was clearly the "crepe guy," though I don't remember the line being quite this long before.
I opted for one of these eyepopping brioche, from Michel of San Diego Cake. (I had to giggle when he asked if I was a "Martha Stewart spy" when I asked to take some pictures.) He had some fantastic looking fruit tarts, a large pan of chocolate "fondant" (flourless chocolate cake) and other goodies.
Next door to these delights was the raw vegan pie and pizza guy . Not many takers for this.
Further down, I happened on this little stand, for Guanni Chocolates. I was intrigued by the display of organic cocoa beans and nibs, and the boxes with Peruvian textile ribbons. I asked a fellow customer about the chocolates, and he said they were phenomenal, and that they have them catered for party favors. He seemed to know what he was talking about, so I decided to give them a go.
The chocolatier/owner, Mariella Balbi and her son were working the stand, and we chatted a bit about the flavors. I was intrigued by some of her unusual combinations, including the Pisco - with Pisco (Peruvian brandy) and currants; the Lucuma - which includes a Peruvian fruit by the same name; and a caramel described as lemony topped with Alaea sea salt. Thoroughly charmed and intrigued, I bought a box of nine. Frankly, I think these are so good that they deserve their own post. They were top quality - possibly even the best in town.
I bought a lot, but I saw many things that I will go back for. Chief among them are cherries - I just couldn't do it, given everything else I bought - but I can't wait to get my hands on some. Clafoutis is one of my newest obsessions, and I am bent on mastering it. I tried one, with some strawberries - but it wasn't quite right. Tartine's recipe is next on the list.
Next up, Part III - the haul I brought home from the market, and what I did with it!
Hillcrest Farmers Market
In the DMV Parking Lot
on Lincoln Street between Cleveland and Normal
Every Sunday, rain or shine - 9-1.
For listings of markets throughout San Diego, go to the San Diego Farm Bureau website