SFN: A Visit To The Taste Pavilion, Vol. 1

If the Slow Marketplace was the centerpiece of this weekend’s Slow Food Nation event, then the Taste Pavilion was the main course. Ambling through For Mason for the evening session, fellow MenuPages blogger Alexis Wright, her “Sweetie,” and third wheel yours truly, prepared to be overwhelmed.

Even before the massive, Fort Mason exhibition hall loomed into sight, we knew we were in for the kind of treat you have to work at. Lines ruled the day, and were overwhelming at first, but after suffering through a couple, it turned out most went pretty fast, and they all had a lovely payoff.

By now you’ve probably seen a good few photos of Saturday’s Taste Pavilion, thanks to intrepid reporters at Eater SF, and the Slow Food Nation flickr pool. What’s that? You just can’t get enough? Great, here are some more photos and maybe an anecdote or two, after the jump.

I made a bee-line past the gigantic pizza line, the beer tent, and the Native American foods outside, determined to get the lay of the land. But before I could get 20 feet from the door, I ran into my old buddy Michelle Fuerst, of Homemade, who curated the pickle booth. Here she is doing her job, explaining pickles to a couple interested patrons:

And here is a plate of those wonderful, briney treats:

I wandered a little further, bouncing back and forth, clutching my “Slow Dough” and wondering where to spend it first (er, second, as I had just used it to dabble in picklology). Then I saw this guy:

That’s Ed Ueber, a retired marine biologist and friend of the owners of Monterey Fish Market, in Berkeley. And that behind him is one hell of a bounty from the sea. The fish section turned out to be great, with a trio of little bites that included squid, a sardine on toast, and a pate:

Next, I wandered past the cocktail bar, where this dude was making a hell of a racket slapping, shaking, and generally molesting a collection of herbs that would eventually become some dynamite drinks. He’s Carlos Yturria, and he manages the bar at Bacar:

The cocktail area turned out to be a riot, and a great value in terms of Slow Dough, basically the currency of the event. Admission included 20 “dollars” in the form of little circles that got scratched off at each tasting area. Some things took one, some two, and some three circles. Cocktails, surprisingly, only went for one circle for as many as you wanted.

Below is Lance Winters, distiller at Alameda’s St. George Spirits, and the guy responsible for the United States’ first domestic brand of absinthe in, like, forever. He’s been making the stuff for his own use for about 11 years, he said, using organic wormwood from a supplier in Oregon and one in Davis.

He explained that absinthe turns cloudy in water because it secretes essential oils that are soluble in alcohol but not in water. “As we add water, they start to come out of solution in the form of little droplets. That’s the cloudiness,” he said. This guy loves his absinthe (can you tell?):

The cocktail section was pleasantly uncrowded, but that cannot be said about most of the event. Here’s the line for the cheese plates:

This apparently wrapped around the outside of the building, at its height. By the time I took a stab at it, it was just poking out that side door. It was funny how quickly this room, like probably any long-ish assembly, developed its own culture. One overheard people talking about the cheese line in awed voices, and it soon became shorthand to refer to a member of your party who would be indisposed for a while.

It was worth it, though. That cheese was damned good. I ate mine before I even remembered to take a picture of it, but here’s what it looked like in the case:

Another killer line formed at the pizza stand out front. Fortunately, Laverne Dicker and her comrades at the Bread Bakers Guild of America were there with bread sticks to stave off the hunger pangs:

There was so much bread at this place. They didn’t just have it for eating, but also for making gigantic snail sculptures. Here’s Alexis taking in the last rays of sun out in the Hall of Bread:

Finally, we had a great time sampling coffee under the tutelage of Edwin Martinez, a coffee farmer from Guatemala who was up for the event. His Finca Vista Hermosa, in Huehuetenango, provides beans for Barefoot Coffee Roasters, among others. He was loving pulling people out of the coffee line for special tastings:

And that was about it. For some reason, none of my charcuterie shots came out really well. Fortunately, though, Alexis and I double-teamed the coverage. Check back tomorrow for her more in-depth account of the evening, and still more photos, courtesy of “Sweetie.”

SFN: A Visit To The Taste Pavilion, Vol. 1