On Saturday, the husband and I ran a few errands, ending up in our old neighborhood, Noe Valley, which is where we still like to grocery shop.
There's a wonderful bodega-type market, which has nearly everything you could want for very little money, all the more impressive given that it's about the size of our living room. They have a mind-boggling array of produce (fresh green almonds? check. kumquats? check. cardoons? check.), as well as a tidy assortment of cheeses, breads, olives, oils, baking supplies (from flour to almond paste), and canned goods. For years we lived within two blocks of this delightful place, and five years later, I still miss it. When I need dried porcini or oil-packed Italian tuna at the last minute, there's no place to go that doesn't require a drive or an uphill trek.
The other reason we really miss this neighborhood is that one block from the produce market is Drewes Brothers Meats, which I've written about before. We used to shop there nearly every day, when we would walk Frances together after work. The ongoing joke was that we never had any food in our refrigerator, except half and half, beer, and a few leftovers, because every night we shopped for dinner, depending on our mood.
In addition to having an excellent selection of naturally raised meat, sustainable seafood, and free-range poultry, Drewes will always hold a special place in my heart because the guys who work there were always very kind to Frances. When one of us would go inside to order, the other usually stood outside with the dog, and nearly every time, one of the butchers would come out with a piece of turkey, or on really good days, a whole hot dog. Gulp. Frannie said her thank yous with licks, but we said ours by being loyal customers, and we still try to, even though it requires getting in the car.
When we went on Saturday, we ended up talking to Josh, the owner, who we have known for a long time. He seemed a bit discouraged about business. We wondered aloud if the declining sales had to do with the monstrous Whole Foods that opened last year not too far from the shop. Surprisingly, he said it was less Whole Foods (although that didn't help), and more the change in the way people live. It used to be that neighborhood residents took the Muni train, which runs up and down Church Street and right by Drewes, to work downtown. People would get off the train after work and stop in to buy groceries. Now, Josh told us, more and more people living in the neighborhood are working on the peninsula--for Google, Yahoo, Facebook. Each of these companies has shuttle buses that pick up employees at designated points and drive them to work. So, fewer in-city commuters, less foot traffic, dwindling revenues for small businesses.
The husband and I both felt sad. We try to do our part in supporting the local businesses we cherish, and we know many others who do the same. Yet, somehow, even in progressive San Francisco, the little guys are having a trouble making a go of it.
That day, we bought pretty white snapper, sweet Italian sausage, thick-cut bacon, and some plump little scallops. I saved the sausage for the next night (this old favorite) and decided to pan-fry the snapper with some capers and lemon. The scallops were to be an appetizer: wrapped in bacon, broiled, and placed carefully on a bed of romesco sauce, which turns out to be good on practically everything.
The scallops (and the snapper, for that matter) were delicious. I don't make scallops too often--I tried a similar method in Santa Cruz last year with poorer results and had trouble browning them when I served them atop a sweet pea risotto. This time, they were an unexpected treat.
I'm glad we got to Drewes on Saturday to see some old friends and pick up such lovely ingredients. We'll keep shopping at Drewes for as long as they're open and as long as we live in San Francisco, both of which I hope are measured in decades.