Rave: Bourdain in SF

Saturday, March 21st, was a typical Saturday for Mr. WholeHog and I: we went to the Ferry Building Farmers Market and lined up at Primavera.

I’d vaguely noticed a camera man as we walked back to Primavera’s stand but I didn’t think much of it. It’s not that unusual to see TV cameras at the market, often following a local chef or personality around while they shop.

But the man at the front of the line for Primavera looked familiar to me, even from the back: he was tall, long-legged, and thin. He wore jeans and a leather blazer. I elbowed the Mr., “It’s BOURDAIN,” I whispered.

At least, I think I whispered. I’m one of those idiotic people that gets a little batty in the presence of celebrity. For all I know, I screamed, “IT’S BOURDAIN!”. And then I started grinning foolishly and openly staring in my typical, ridiculous celebrity-sighting way. (I’m also a terrible celebrity spotter. Walking on Irvington Place in New York City, Mr. WholeHog said to me, “Did you see who that was?”. I guessed: “Patti Smith?”. It turned out it was Ric Ocasek, from The Cars.)

bourdain primaveraPicture from The Travel Channel

Seeing Bourdain was something special, though. I wasn’t just seeing the author of Kitchen Confidential at my farmers market, I was seeing Bourdain at Primavera, one of my favorite stands at the market. I was seeing someone I admire as a writer, sure, but more so as an eater, appreciating some of my very favorite food.

Primavera clearly has plenty of admirers at the market. There are lines nearly every week for their food. We’ve seen local chefs and food bloggers in line from time to time.  But maybe because Primavera is only available at the Saturday market or perhaps because Primavera is based out of Sonoma, not SF,  it gets surprisingly little attention from local media. (The SF Chronicle  remains sadly focused on the entirely mediocre La Taqueria).

So it was gratifying to me that Bourdain was there with his camera crew for No Reservations, his show on the Travel Channel. It initially gave me some additional confidence in his show, too: if he found Primavera in SF that means his finds in other cities may be just as good. (Although watching the San Francisco episode of No Reservations this week, I wasn’t impressed with the other places he went in SF).

I have to say that I didn’t wholeheartedly approve of Bourdain’s order. He went with the tamales — which are arguably Primavera’s specialty. Their website, after all, is Primaveratamales.com. Primavera’s tamales are terrific and worth trying, especially for an initial visit.

But as someone who eats at Primavera nearly every week, I know that the tamales are always on the menu, while the weekly specials only come around a once a month or,even a few times a year. (I’m still waiting for them to bring back the enchiladas with poached eggs Mr. WholeHog ate one Saturday when I was out of town in 2007).

At Primavera, you order whatever is under the chilequiles on the menu and above the tamales. It may be fish tacos, tlycoyos, panuchos, carnitas tacos, tacos al pastor, squash blossom and ricotta quesadillas. On the Saturday Bourdain ate at Primavera, albondigas were on the menu. Albondigas are meatballs. Primavera serves them in a tomato sauce with Primavera’s perfect beans and tortillas. When Primavera has albondigas on the menu, it’s like hitting the jackpot.

So it was a clear mistake to order tamales, even delicious tamales, when you have the option of meatballs. But you know, I’ll let it pass this time. It’s clear Bourdain will be back. He loves San Francisco, as he wrote in his take on San Francisco’s food.

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