Thursday, June 28, 2012

To the Market.

I woke up today feeling like a million bucks, thanks to a decent amount of sleep and some great exercise yesterday. I had some errands to run in the early A.M. but found myself free by noon, so I decided to check out the Rockridge area of Oakland. I know it's been there for a while and I know that locals already favor it, but I was excited to visit the Rockridge Market Hall (located at 5655 College Avenue in Oakland) for the very first time while it was mellow and not swamped with visitors. Boy did I luck out...

I first hit up the Market Hall produce shop. I was happy to see that most of their produce is sourced locally, from neighbooring farms. I wandered around happily, taking in all of the fresh veggies and fruit, ecstatic to find items that I can't find normally at my in town farmers' markets.

Right away I found some little gems from Ocean Mist Farms. I've personally never seen artichokes so small, so of course I had to buy them because I am an artichoke nut! Apparently they can be steamed, broiled or sauteed whole and served sliced- the perfect pairing for the halibut I bought today. "Since 1924, Ocean Mist Farms has provided multiple generations of customers with the freshest artichokes and vegetables, and is still family owned." They are straight out of Castroville, of course.

I also picked out some lucsious rasberries to top off my ice cream desserts from Driscoll's. Driscoll's has been in the berry business for over 100 years, they hail from Castroville and are family owned and run.  Honestly, these berries didn't make it very far- the hubbs and I ate all of them well before dessert.  It's been a hot day, so I rinsed them in super cold water and next thing you know, they had disappeared.  Yum.

The hubbs was thrilled when I told him I was able to find Padron peppers from Capay Organic.  Capay Organic grows more than 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables on 700 acres of certified organic land in Capay, CA off of highway 16.  We ate these tasty little morsels literally everyday on our trip to Spain and were sad to leave them behind.  For some reason it is significantly difficult to find them in these parts, I've searched far and wide and have been unsuccessful.  Even the cashier clerk proclaimed, "oh my goodness, when did we get Padron in?"  Needless to say I was thrilled and bought 3 pints- I ended up cooking them as they do in Spain, in a hot skillet mixed with extra virgin olive oil and flake salt.  We gobbled them up immediatly, while still warm.  I will be hunting down Capay Organic at farmers' markets for sure.

After milling about the produce area for a while I moved onto Hapuku Fish Shop.  Again, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many locally raised fish and such a wide selection.  Their oysters looked amazing, along with their scallops, fresh shrimp and clams.  The meaty fish all looked healthy and smelled wonderful as well.  An delightful rainbow of seafood to choose from- I selected the locally raised halibut.  I haven't been able to cook it yet, I'm planning on a halibut dinner this Friday, so I will keep you posted!

Wandering through The Pasta Shop area of the Market Hall is mind boggling.  There are so many products stacked practically ceiling high to survey- sauces, jams, dips, crackers, cookbooks, chocolate bars, cookies, cheeses and olives galore.  In fact, it's almost difficult to decide what to purchase amongst all those glittering foodie finds...

I'm not going to lie, I've purchased the Le Saison olive oil roasted almonds with smoked salt and herbs de provence before.  Several times.  These almonds are absolutely, postively addictive and divine.  They seem to have done a great job marketing their product because the almonds can be found in every nook and cranny of food-lover haunts.  I think we first discovered them up in Napa at small dry goods shop.  Husband and wife team Jonathan & Natalie Niksa run Le Saison with rather impressive credentials including the Culinary Institue of America and apprenticing at The French Laundry in Yountville.  You can find the nuts at Whole Foods and fine grocers around the bay.

One of the many nice things about Maket Hall is that they clearly lable "local" items for customers like myself.  The product is clearly labeled in a bright yellow sign that reads "local item" for those interested in good old fashioned home grown type product.  This is how I found the Double Dutch Sweets 'Ramona Bar'.  "Inspired by the classic Snickers candy bar, their Ramona bar has layers of buttery caramel and honey nougat with roasted peanuts that are hand dipped in single source Venezuelan dark chocolate. These nostalgic treats are lightly finished with Maldon sea salt flakes before they are carefully tucked in bright pink foil. Both sweet and salty – a perfect bite!"  I don't even know what to say about this candybar.  It's... It's... Insanely delicious.  Thank goodness you can order them online, I highly advise you do. 

Speaking of Maldon salt, I purchased a box of my very own.  Maldon Sea Salt is loved by chefs all over the world.  "Its soft white flaky crystals are free from artificial additives, giving Maldon Sea Salt a distinctive texture and salty flavour, which means less is required. Free from the bitter after-taste often associated with other salts, its characteristic clean fresh taste enhances the flavour of all natural and fine foods."  I love salt.  I love salt so much I have an area in my cupboard devoted completely to it.  Everything from Hawaiian Red to authentic pretzel salt chunks- it's perhaps my favorite seasoning.  Finding this box of authentic Malden Sea Salt made my day.  I had always expected it to be incredibly expensives, when in reality it's completely affordable.  It's distinctive "pyramid' shape is the company trademark of their proud Essex salt makers.  I used it on our Padron peppers and it is incomparable to any salt I've tried.

I was happy enough to discover the Market Hall, although I'm sure it has been well known for years, but I am even happier to know that I can return whenever I'd like.  It's a refreshing foodie haven full of wonder and delectable discoveries.  Take a drive, enjoy the scenery and explore this fabulous indoor market with friends or on you own.  I assure you, you won't leave empty handed and a smile will be on your face. 

Happy shopping!


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