March 8, 2013
Don't weep for the Independent Marketplace.
Because the monthly farmers market-food party-art gallery-performance venue-nonprofit fundraiser that built up momentum over 10 months, only to end in February, is still evolving. And this second phase, a First Thursdays pop-up dinner and "mini-marketplace," might be even more fun than the first.
Last night, 100 foodies (a term I'm broadly defining as "people who like to eat good food") packed into the Independent gallery space next to Post No Bills in Sand City for the $25-per-head event, "Flavors of the Middle East."
I'm something of a Middle Eastern food snob, having grown up with my grandmother's inimitable Syrian cooking. But Maha's Lebanese Cuisine—the folks behind the Monterey restaurant—absolutely killed it with a lineup (served family-style) featuring lemony dolmas, fried kibbe, pita with hummus, saffron rice and shish kebab. The desserts: quaint baklava rolls, mini cupcakes with the Persian-inspired flavors of rose and pistachio and, Alhamdulillah, cardamom-flavored ice cream from Penny Ice Creamery that we plopped right into the Turkish-style espresso. My Syrian Situ would approve, rest her soul.
Other featured vendors lining the walls of the gallery pitched in on dinner, too. There were soft cheeses and (believe it) chicharones from Friend In Cheeses, pickled sunchokes and brussels sprouts from Happy Girl Kitchen, membrillo from Queen of Quince, seedy flat crackers from Eco-Deli. There was also some sort of whipped, intensely garlicky spread that none of us could figure out, but everyone exulted. A wide selection of craft wine and beer was available for purchase. Our crew enjoyed a divine petite syrah from Le P'tit Paysan, but my favorite was a full-bodied La Marea grenache that managed to be both fruity and dry, my ideal in a red.
Entertaining the sold-out crowd: a three-man band performing classical Arabic music reminiscent of Simon Shaheen, with doumbek, kanun and oud. My 2-year-old was riveted. His tiny jaw dropped a little further when curvaceous belly dancers shimmied out, undulating down the aisles with flowing scarves and captivating smiles.
The pop-up format is designed to work with the Independent building's remodel, which will lead to the planned summer unveiling of what the Indy folks are calling "permanent, flip-flop friendly fresh-market and restaurant collective." Schematics on the wall gave a glimpse at what the building will offer once it's filled with the kind of tenants developer Patrick Orosco is trying to attract: mom-and-pop, artisan businesses that skew to the local, hand-crafted and creative. Orosco's right-hand man, marketplace co-founder Todd Champagne, hints Santa Cruz-based Companion Bakeshop might be part of the mix.
It's hard to imagine the Indy getting better than last night's dinner. But given the team's track record over the past year, I'd put money on it.