Saturday, June 6, 2009

Welcome Back, Downtown Market!

Downtown San Carlos is a cozy and friendly place. The weather is mild, the traffic is slow, and the locals come out to walk their kids and dogs and to chat lazily at outdoor cafe tables. Every time we spend a weekend at my boyfriend's, we take a short walk to check out the coffee houses, old family-style and new upscale restaurants and wine bars, some on the main street, some in the side alleys, overhung with flowering vines, boutiques, antiques, and, until recently, two gourmet grocery stores - two, on the same street!

Then one of the stores closed for remodeling, and stayed closed for several months. We were anxious for it to reopen, tried to peek through its windows, blocked by construction panels, to see the progress; the progress was slow. In these uncertain times you soon loose the hope that your favorite store will open ever again, and after a while we concentrated our attention on the second one. Just as we were getting used to having only one gourmet store in town, it closed, and the sign on the door announced that it was moving to another town. Picture this: no gourmet store in downtown San Carlos. Nowhere for me to run for a marinated hanger steak or homemade sausages if the weather calls for barbeque in the park. Nowhere for my dear man to get good thick-sliced bacon for breakfast, or a deli takeout salad on his way from work. We actually had to drive to get a selection of cheeses for our late-night cheese and fruit plate! The downtown lost a part of its charm.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I was driving by the first store, the Bianchini Family Market, and it was open! And with a flare: the shiny new shelves hosted dozens of olive oils, balsamic vinegars and San Marzano tomatoes; the meat case made you want to buy every juicy cut of Neiman Ranch beef, veal, and lamb, or a hand-made sausage, and start grilling at once.
In the olive bar, you can pick luqcues, picholine, gaeta, nicoise, kalamata, cerignola, or any type of pitted and stuffed olives (that I don't really care about). The cheese section if stuffed with a small but exquisite selection of California artisan cheeses, as well as ones from France, Italy, and Spain. Wine selection isn’t large or fancy, but they are all good food-friendly wines at reasonable prices. The fruit and vegetable department shows all the fresh picked, seasonal produce, shown to their best advantage to wet your appetite. I approached a man who was kneeling on the floor, carefully arranging potatoes on the lower shelf, and asked if I can take a few pictures. The man turned out to be one of the Bianchinis, the owner family, and no, he didn’t mind me photographing his produce.

When we went to check out the downtown on Saturday, everyone was out for a sunny afternoon, and the Bianchini’s market had a grand opening party: a string band at the entrance, local artisan food tasting throughout the store, and a huge smoking grill out in the parking lot, pork ribs on one side, halved chickens on the other. The grill master handed me a full rack of ribs, bathed in aromatic and spicy Bourbon sauce:
“Here, they’ve been grilling since 9 am”.
He told me that the ribs can be grilled from four hours and up to a whole day, but the temperature shouldn’t get higher than 225 degrees, then they won’t dry out, and he taught me how to control the temperature in my home smoker.

Why didn’t I ask for the sauce recipe? Guess I have to come back for it next weekend.


Michael Walsh said...

nice shots of the grocery! The pleasures of living in Cali I guess. It's too bad everything has a sticker on it, I hate those sticker.

amarillo said...

I just got white nectarines from a farmers market stand, and imagine - even they have stickers! Took some effort to get them off. I don't want to think what it is like to take stickers off a box of nectarines in a restaurant.