local markets

Swanton Berry Farm, Davenport, CA

by Stevie on February 7, 2012

We’ve been having a really dry rainy season in the Bay Area this year. That’s not good as everyone here keeps telling one-another in the most serious of tones, though all the extra sunshine and dry days are a naughty-to-wish-for-but-who-cares-about-tomorrow winter bonus for us at the WC. We’ve been taking full advantage. Just the other day, we leisurely drove down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. It was simply gorgeous. And since the weather’s good but we’re not in the touristy part of the year, traffic’s easy and things aren’t too crowded, so you sort of feel that the World is, in fact, waiting on your every whim, but in a good way. Ah! I like it.

welcome to Swanton Berry Farm

welcome to Swanton Berry Farm

posing in front of the Swanton Berry Farm farmstand

posing in front of the Swanton Berry Farm farmstand

Well, I’m rambling here, once again.

Anyhoo, that day we had four in our group. We stopped frequently for pics of the ocean and the coast. I took a lot of ultra-close up shots with my hand-held, which I thought made the beach look like it was Martian or something. Very cool.

Could this in fact be Mars

Could this in fact be Mars?

which Rover took this picture

which Rover took this picture?

this one almost looks like a close up of one of those dogs with all that extra skin

this one almost looks like a close up of one of those dogs with all that extra skin

After our admiration of California’s natural beauty, Swanton Berry Farm was one of those random stops along the way. They’ve a really neat sign at the side of the highway introducing passers-by to the berry farm. It seems that depending on the season, visitors can go pick their own strawberries from their extensive patch. Sadly, winter wasn’t the correct one.

The inside of the little shop is super quaint, filled with colorful rustic agricultural knickknacks and signs that are so in vogue right now. They make numerous jams here. I particularly enjoyed the olallieberry though all the samples that I tried at their little tasting bar were quite yummy. We also got some of their baked tarts. Mmmm.

Swanton Berry Farm interior

Swanton Berry Farm interior

exploring the jam tasting bar

exploring the jam tasting bar

workers preparing yummy desserts

workers preparing yummy desserts

art berries

fierce art berries

some organic jams from Swanton Berry Farm

some organic jams from Swanton Berry Farm

Swanton is union run and operated since 1983. Everything’s organically produced. According to their web site they distribute some of their products through various farmers markets. At the store itself, they trusted you to pay on your own and even make your own change. Cash only at the farm stand.

Swanton Berry Farm self-service cash register

Swanton Berry Farm self-service cash register

no, I didn't know that

no, I didn't know that

pastry case at Swanton Berry Farm farmstand

pastry case at Swanton Berry Farm farmstand

What made the experience especially memorable wasn’t the charm or the way the funds were handled (or not as the case may be) but the Swanton Berry Farm commitment to being organic and recognizing that they’re part of a larger, regional, national and even international network of food grower/producers and consumer/eaters. I think that this kind of vision is far too rare in the food-universe. They’re setting a great example for all of us. Good for you guys!

Oh, and of course, I did like the jam.

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One of the best things about visiting friends and family is… well, eating of course. Our recent holiday trip to Washington D. C. and Northern Virginia was no exception. Aside from a delightful lunch at the very chic Spanish style tapas place, Estadio, we were happily taken to an amazing seafood shop, literally floating off a pier in Washington: Main Avenue Fish Market.

Sea...

Sea...

Main Avenue Fish Market, Washington, D. C.

Main Avenue Fish Market, Washington, D. C.

Hegui had agreed to prepare paella with lobster for our Christmas Eve meal at his niece’s place. Wes and Juliana knew exactly where to go for the freshest fish. Plus Wes wanted live oysters as part of the holiday feast. So on our first day in the Nation’s Capital, jet-lag and all, we drove across the Potomac by the Pentagon (Wes and Juliana live in Virginia) to Main Avenue, under the Freeway.

Taylor Seafood and the Freeway overpass

Taylor Seafood and the Freeway overpass

the crew in front of Pruitt's Seafood.  See the Freeway overpass

the crew in front of Pruitt's Seafood. See the Freeway overpass?

crowds of seafood shoppers throng the pier

crowds of seafood shoppers throng the pier

Wikipedia says that this popular local seafood market, all on barges, is the oldest of its kind in the entire U.S. It used to be housed in an actual building, but that was razed in the 1960’s as part of urban renewal. The vendors protested and through some legal wrangling, were able to move the market to the barges. There are numerous “shops” floating around the pier. I was particularly drawn to Captain White’s Seafood City probably because I thought their signage was the most visually stimulating.

Captain White’s Seafood City

Captain White’s Seafood City

busy at work cleaning crab

busy at work cleaning crab

frisky blue crabs

frisky blue crabs

conchs and oysters

conchs and oysters

numerous kinds of fish

numerous kinds of fish

Everyone seemed to have tons of blue crab on sale. I love that and daresay prefer it over Dungeness, the common variety available in San Francisco, though perhaps in the spirit of the season, I should write, “They’re just different.” There were lots of fish of various shapes and sizes, shrimp, unusual shellfish like live conch, and of course oysters by the bushel. Wes bought four dozen. Hegui got a four or five pound lobster plus clams and other things for the paella. We took a bunch of pics and trotted home for a nap then some holiday revelry.

Wes and Juliana

Wes and Juliana

a happy holiday shopper heading for home

a happy holiday shopper heading for home

Now we're ready to go home

Now we're ready to go home

our holiday lobster paella

our holiday lobster paella

The lobster paella was a huge success! And I was amazed about the oyster shuck experience. Really they’re not hard to open—at least in theory. All you must do is hold the oyster firmly in one hand (with a thick glove of course, these babies are slippery) and using the pointy shucking tool, wedge it into the area where the shells hinge, then slowly and very firmly twist until the joint pops. That’s it. I think it takes practice, as I tired out after only a few. But Wes is a champ! He shucked two or three dozen right there and we had the rest the following afternoon at my parents for Christmas dinner. He even taught my sixteen year old nephew, Matt, the art.

Wes demonstrating his oyster shucking magic

Wes demonstrating his oyster shucking magic

this is the easy way to shuck an oyster

this is the easy way to shuck an oyster

here I am trying to shuck some oyster

here I am trying to shuck some oyster


What special memories do you have from the holidays? Do you have any oyster shucking tips to share?

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welcome to Mi Pueblo Food Center

welcome to Mi Pueblo Food Center


We’d never heard of Mi Pueblo Food Centers before embarking on our almost-but-oh-so-achingly-not-yet-complete kitchen remodel project last December. Their East Palo Alto location is in the same large strip mall that is home to “our” Home Depot. Since we’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time in that ‘hood, it only seemed natural to check out Mi Pueblo.

And I am sure glad that we did!

This place is enormous. It really is a “food center” and not just a store. Aside from the aisles and aisles of groceries, they’ve a huge working kitchen which serves a thriving open restaurant; a bakery that makes a wide range of cakes, cookies, tropical fruit-filled confections as well as tortillas that you can sample warm from the grill. I’ve seen staff behind small portable counters shucking oysters and trimming thorns off nopales (edible cactus). Once we went and they had tequila vendors hawking their wares.

bustling Mi Pueblo restaurant

bustling Mi Pueblo restaurant


rows and rows of Mi Pueblo dry goods

rows and rows of Mi Pueblo dry goods

Mi Pueblo seafood section

Mi Pueblo seafood section

I really like the bright colors and the cheery mood I always feel while perusing the produce and guava-filled sweets. Most times I’ll get some pastry or other to munch on between samples while I fill my shopping cart. On our last visit, part of the parking lot had been blocked off for a children’s birthday party. Inside festive brassy Mexican music filled the air with its happy sound.

beautiful serrano chiles

beautiful serrano chiles


brown sugar cones

brown sugar cones

mountains of red cactus fruit are not something that I see everywhere

mountains of red cactus fruit are not something that I see everywhere


white and yellow onions

white and yellow onions


papaya

papaya

Many of the items for sale, as you might expect, focus on Mexican and Central American cuisine, which I adore. Mi Pueblo has an especially exciting selection of mild white cheeses, which taste great with jam on crusty bread at breakfast. I’m partial to the Los Altos Queso Fresco. You can easily get all the staples here: rice, beans, various fresh and dried chiles, tomatillos, tomatoes, tortillas and crispy corn chips, homemade salsas, cheeses, you name it.

child's party in front of Mi Pueblo

child's party in front of Mi Pueblo

fresh garbanzo beans

fresh garbanzo beans


Mi Pueblo roma tomatoes

Mi Pueblo roma tomatoes


pineapple

pineapple

chilled yogurt drinks

chilled yogurt drinks


poblanos and avocados at Mi Pueblo

poblanos and avocados at Mi Pueblo

Turns out that this is just one of 19 stores in the Bay Area. Their newest just opened in Newark, CA and they’re developing one now in Gilroy. So if you haven’t seen Mi Pueblo already, you will, somewhere soon. When you do, go there, and go often.

some Mi Pueblo house-made baked goods

some Mi Pueblo house-made baked goods


tostadas

tostadas


candles

candles

varous cheeses:  see the Los Altos Queso Fresco in the middle?

varous cheeses: see the Los Altos Queso Fresco in the middle?


various beans

various beans

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I love K & L Wine Merchants so well that it is difficult for me to adequately describe it, let alone be rational or objective. Really, they’re the wine merchants with whom I compare all the others, often to the competitors’ disadvantage.

welcome to K & L Wine Merchants, San Francisco

welcome to K & L Wine Merchants, San Francisco

Located in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, they’ve also got shops in Redwood City and in Hollywood. In my opinion, they are the finest purveyor of wine in the City for a number of reasons. First, they’ve got a huge selection. I’ve read that K & L is the largest importer of Bordeaux on the West Coast, for example. But they also shine in other French regions, like our favorite, the Rhône, in Italy, California and other parts of the New World. Sure, sure, they don’t have everything (I’ve often wished for a bigger variety of Terodelgo or more dry Portuguese, for instance) but they sure have a lot.

The wines run the gamut between bargain basement to ultra-exclusive, with everything in between. I have fun reading the latest issue of Wine Spectator then searching the K & L web site for wines that sound appealing, and often, the store has them.

glittering K & L interior from the Fourth Street entrance

glittering K & L interior from the Fourth Street entrance

could this be wine-retail paradise?

could this be wine-retail paradise?


The web site is great, and has to be the second best thing about K and L after their wide and varied selection. The site lets you do all the things that you expect a web site will do: search by region, price, type of wine or variety of grape, vintage, still versus sparkling, or even professional rating score, plus you can search in all combinations of the above. You can create an account and train it to scan the database for your particular wine-du-jour and get e-mail updates. You can order wine through the site and either arrange for delivery or pick it up in any of the shops. Most of the wines listed have some descriptions, both by workers at the store and professionals. Best of all, the site will give you an up-to-the-minute account of wine inventories at any of their locations, including the warehouse, thus eliminating the guesswork. They’ll even ship wine between stores, at your convenience, all free of charge. You can’t say that about the web sites for other wine shops. I really like The Wine Club and all the exciting changes they’ve been making lately, but their site is so not user-friendly and frankly, I find it almost impossible. The Wine House site is nearly as bad. And forget Kermit Lynch! I like them but they’re still living in the computer dark ages without a real online store at all.

K & L offers all the “regular stuff” that you expect from a wine shop: good customer service, pre-arrival sales, discounts, wine tasting and special events. Many of these feature Bordeaux and Champagne this time of the year but recently we enjoyed a really fun Rhône tasting a few Saturdays ago.

I prefer the San Francisco location over the Redwood City one. It is closer to me (I can walk there at lunch from work). Also, physically, it looks more attractive, with tall ceilings in an airy well-lit space. The RC spot seems closed in by comparison. I haven’t yet gone to the Hollywood shop, so I reserve judgment on that.

the bottle line-up from our recent Rhône wine tasting experince at K & L

the bottle line-up from our recent Rhône wine tasting experince at K & L

My “third” most favorite thing has to be that warm comfortable feeling I get when I enter the shop, gaze at the racks and racks of gleaming bottles lined up everywhere, and daydream about their places of origin, how the wines might taste and occasionally, fondly remember enjoying that bottle or two at some wonderful meal with friends and loved ones. Strike that “third.” Maybe that’s my favorite part of K & L after all?

You don’t have to visit the place to shop there, though that is best. K & L will ship to many states (but not Virginia, which is a real nuisance come holiday time as my father, a wine lover, lives in that Commonwealth). Whatever else you do, and I don’t ever use this word lightly, you’d be crazy not to check it out.

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DaVero, Healdsburg

by Heguiberto on January 20, 2011

welcome to DaVero

welcome to DaVero

On our trip to Sonoma last week we stumbled into DaVero on our way back from a visit to Hop Kiln winery. One of the things that caught my attention was the beautiful set of trees in front of the building still showing their Fall foliage with hues of yellows, reds and rusty orange colors. I had to stop, if not to taste their olive oil, at least to take a shot of those trees!

DaVero has been doing organic and biodynamic farming since 1982. They produce not only olives, but also grapes, stone fruits, apples, pears and pomegranates. They also raise pigs and chickens. Everything is supposed to mirror a Tuscan lifestyle. The original grapevines and olive trees were brought here from that part of Italy. The olive oil comes from four kinds of olives that are blended in a specific ratio: Leccino, Frantoio, Maurino and Pendolino.

When we visited, they offered an olive oil tasting of three distinct blends.

The first one, labeled just “DaVero,” the clerk characterized as an olive oil for finishing dishes. You splash a bit on at the end just before serving. I assume that it was a blend of the oils from the four olive varieties, but she never said for certain. She did say that the olives for this oil were harvested back in November 2010. It had a beautiful greenish yellow color. It had a nice silky, grassy, green and slightly piquant flavor. I really enjoyed it. The bottle held about 400ml of olive oil and cost me the hefty amount of 32 bucks. But I was convinced by the organic, biodynamic and the whole Italian approach behind it, lol! The web site claims that it is the “premiere house oil” at Mario Batalli’s Babbo restaurant in New York.

gorgeous fall foliage at DaVero

gorgeous fall foliage at DaVero

The second oil was like the first but flavored with Meyer Lemon. Actually, they make a big point on the web site of saying that it is not “flavored” as they crush the olives together with the Meyer lemons. Well, however you want to put it, this is an olive oil that tastes like Meyer lemon. I like olive oil and I like Meyer lemon, but I detest mixed olive oils. Enough said.

DaVero olive oil

DaVero olive oil

The third was called “Thirty Weight Utility olive oil and Line Lube.” The name’s supposed to be a joke about restaurant cooking. It is a bit cheaper by volume than the DaVero and comes in a bigger bottle. This one is a mix of last year’s harvest that is blended with 30% of the latest harvest. It reminded me of some Greek olive oil I used to buy from the stores near our old pad in Astoria, New York. I wasn’t a huge fan but Steven liked it.

They told us at the shop that Mario Batalli loves their utility oil so much that they use it in all of his restaurants. Good for DaVero! Though I’m really not that impressed, as I’m no fan of Iron Chef Mario.

I used to like his show. You know the one where he traveled around Italy with that clueless side-kick? The two would go food shopping everywhere, get behind the scenes at local restaurants and always finish the show with some cooking, Italian wine consumption and chitchat about the good life on the Boot. We were enthralled, so much so that one time I made a reservation at Batalli’s restaurant, Babbo.

The reservation was made a month ahead for a special occasion. Our dinner was scheduled for 9:30pm on a weeknight, which was the best that they could offer for two on “such short notice.” We weren’t worried as the helpful website said that you could sit at the elegant bar for a drink while waiting.

We were hungry and a little excited by the Babbo experience, so we arrived a bit too early. The place was packed! Even the bar was full with people eating regular dinners. As a result, the rather brusque maitre d’ told us to go to the bar across the street for a drink while we waited. That’s annoying.

Well, we did and came back on time for the 9:30 reservation. But they wouldn’t seat us. They were too full. It was strange. We waited for about twenty more minutes. I couldn’t help but notice other parties of two waltzing through the doors, apparently unburdened by a reservation, and getting seated immediately. That was really annoying. Perhaps these lucky couples had connections? It was amazing. I inquired about it but was sort of rudely brushed off. We waited a bit longer before we gave up.

Babbo never honored our reservation and we never went back. That night, we ended up walking out about a quarter after ten, hungry and extremely angry. We went to a quaint Italian restaurant down the street for a perfectly satisfying and undoubtedly more affordable meal without a wait or any unpleasantness. This happened about ten years ago but still seems fresh in my mind like it was yesterday.

I almost didn’t buy the DaVero olive oil when they started talking about Babbo and Mario Batalli. Strange.

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beautiful Peace Pagoda at the Japan Center

beautiful Peace Pagoda at the Japan Center

It is a wonderful experience to visit the beautiful Japan Center in San Francisco. There you can have a tasty meal at any of the numerous delightful Japanese restaurants, browse the shops for beautiful furniture imports, teapots, Japanese paintings, bonsai plants or even expensive plastic sushi models. If you’re feeling more reflective, you can sit in Peace Plaza and gaze tranquilly at the dramatic Peace Pagoda. You can even catch the latest movie at the Kabuki Theatre. But if you’re with us, then we’re probably headed for Nijiya Market.

Nijiya is a Japanese supermarket chain that started out in San Diego. You can find them in Northern and Southern California as well as two locations in Hawaii. They have everything that you could want for making excellent Japanese or Japanese-inspired creations in your own home. We love this place.

Usually we get staples like rice, dried wakame and nori paper, various kinds of shoyu (soy sauce), miso paste, ultra fresh sushi-grade fish, sake, tofu, etc. I really like Japanese crackers. Have you seen them? They’re the ones that look like colorful little puffs that have a sweet, savory and seafood taste. Sometimes the better ones come with tiny dried fish mixed in. Another fun thing to snack on while passing the afternoon at the Japan Center is mochi, these mildly sweet rice cakes which are often filled with things like sweet red beans. I am especially drawn to the mochi that are covered in sesame seeds. They’ve a wonderful texture and taste.

Nijiya Market in San Francisco

Nijiya Market in San Francisco


colorful holiday treats

colorful holiday treats

a wide selection of miso paste

a wide selection of miso paste

some premade lunches ready to eat

some premade lunches ready to eat

sushi grade fish

sushi grade fish

ultra fresh veggies at Nijiya Market

ultra fresh veggies at Nijiya Market


Nijiya has a small but very high quality section for fresh fruit and vegetables. The store also sells pre-made lunches like sushi and various kinds of seafood salads.

Nijiya Market is always crowded. Plan to go when you don’t feel that rushed. They offer so much that you’ll want to take your time and really explore.

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L and F Fish Market, San Jose

by Stevie on December 16, 2010

I always want to write “San Jose” with the accent mark, like this: “San José.” I don’t think that people do that here in California. Hmm.

come by L and F Fish Market in San Jose for great salt cod

come by L and F Fish Market in San Jose for great salt cod

Well accent or not, we know the way to San Jose and the excellent though easily overlooked, L and F Fish Market. This hole-in-the-wall Portuguese fish market right off CA-101 across from a beautiful Portuguese Catholic church is worth a visit if you love salt cod.

Hegui read the Mark Kurlansky book, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. That author credits that humble fish with allowing Europeans to finally settle the New World, as it was one of the few foodstuffs that could survive the long passage across the Atlantic. Certainly the Portuguese and Spanish still eat this fish. In Brazil salt cod has a long cultural history connected to Europe. That’s why we eat it at my house. Hegui, a Brazilian, knows how to prepare it into wonderful and flavorful creations. I especially enjoy his bacalhoada and arroz de bacalhau com broccolis.

underwhelming store front of L and F Fish Market

underwhelming store front of L and F Fish Market

Norwegian salt cod is the best at L and F

Norwegian salt cod is the best at L and F


selection of salt cod

selection of salt cod

Since Christmas is right around the corner, we made the forty-five minute schlep to San Jose to get some cod at L and F.

The shop is run by a father-and-son team. It’s not much to look at outside or in, and since you have to make a complex turn off the exit from 101 South, it is east to miss. Inside they sell a number of dry goods like Portuguese olive oil, canned sardines, olives and, of course, wine, Port and Madeira. But here it is all about the fish.

fresh whole albacore for sale

fresh whole albacore for sale


some Portuguese wines for sale

some Portuguese wines for sale


some Portuguese dry goods at L and F

some Portuguese dry goods at L and F


they use a jigsaw to cut the salt cod

they use a jigsaw to cut the salt cod

We haven’t tried their fresh fish though we saw dramatic whole albacore tuna and several other whole fresh fish. But when we’re here, we’re looking for the salt cod. The Norwegian is thought to be best but the Canadian is fine, too. We got both. The younger, cuter owner cuts the fish to size for you with a massive jigsaw behind the counter. He doesn’t wear gloves, which scares me in two ways: obviously, he could hurt himself, but also the salted fish can burn and the smell easily permeates the skin. I hope that he’s got good health insurance, but more importantly, that he’s already coupled up.

Portuguese Catholic church across from L and F Fish

Portuguese Catholic church across from L and F Fish

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St. Lawrence Market, Toronto

by Stevie on September 29, 2010

welcome to the St. Lawrence Market

welcome to the St. Lawrence Market

Our friends in Toronto, knowing our interest in food, strongly encouraged us to check out the St. Lawrence Market while we were in town. Located on Front and Jarvis Streets, the Market is a large and elegant building that houses over 120 specialty food and food-related shops. Across Front in another building that’s part of the St. Lawrence Market complex, you can find a Saturday farmers market and, on Sundays, a large antiques fair.

We stayed only a couple blocks from the St. Lawrence on our Canadian excursion so we went almost every day. Open Tuesday through Saturday, they have marvelous bakeries, cheese shops, fruit and vegetable vendors, an exciting mustard shop (Did you know that Canada is the world’s largest mustard producer?), local wine merchants, housewares stores, and shops for meat, seafood and even Canadian maple syrup.

I became addicted to this one bakery that makes a “Swiss muesli and raisin” bagel. It wasn’t much like New York style bagels, but the crunchy nutty muesli coating the raisin filled bread went down so easily with my Starbucks coffee each morning. I was devastated that the place was closed on our last day in Toronto, a Sunday, as I couldn’t enjoy it one more time.

admiring bread at the St. Lawrence Market

admiring bread at the St. Lawrence Market

are you even in Canada if you don't come across a display of maple syrup at a farmers market?

are you even in Canada if you don't come across a display of maple syrup at a farmers market?


blueberries at St. Lawrence farmers market

blueberries at St. Lawrence farmers market

colorful squash at St. Lawrence farmers market

colorful squash at St. Lawrence farmers market

We both thought that the farmers market was pretty interesting, too. The local produce seemed different from what you find in San Francisco at Alemany or the UN Plaza. We hardly saw any Asian vegetables, for example, and there were many fewer varieties of tomato. But there were wonderful berries, bell peppers, apples and even crab apples for sale. I didn’t realize that you could eat the crab apple. I always thought that they gave upset stomach, hence their irritable name. The radishes and heads of cauliflower were simply enormous at the St. Lawrence farmers market. Could that be from the extra long sunny days that Canada enjoys in the summertime?

If you’re visiting Toronto, then you simply must go to the St. Lawrence Market.

butter tarts at the St. Lawrence farmers market

butter tarts at the St. Lawrence farmers market


crab apples at St. Lawrence farmers market

crab apples at St. Lawrence farmers market


eggplant at St. Lawrence farmers market

eggplant at St. Lawrence farmers market

fresh pasta for sale at St. Lawrence Market

fresh pasta for sale at St. Lawrence Market

inside the St. Lawrence Market

inside the St. Lawrence Market


Ontario peaches

Ontario peaches

some string beans for sale at the St. Lawrence farmers market

some string beans for sale at the St. Lawrence farmers market

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homemade wine: Riverview Produce Inc., Toronto

September 28, 2010

Toronto is a marvelous city. Aside from being attractive and well kempt, it is very ethnically diverse. It turns out that there’s quite a large Brazilian and Portuguese community. While perusing one of the local Portuguese language papers, Sol Português, Hegui came across a few intriguing ads that referred to some markets for purchasing California […]

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Tartine Bakery and Café, San Francisco

August 27, 2010

If the line that’s constantly snaking out the door and around the block from Tartine is any indication, this wonderful bakery and café needs no real introduction. Located in the Mission District on the corner of Guerrero and 18th Streets on the same block as Delfina and a half block from Farina, Tartine is worth […]

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