You Say Tomato 

Tomatoes make a comeback in the Bay Area.

It's never that easy being green, but earlier this summer it was damn near unbearable to be a tomato. Already miscategorized in the vegetable section of the supermarket, saddled with the nickname to-mah-toe, stereotyped as the squashy thing that a heckler throws at a really bad stage performer, the tomato suffered a whole new form of pariahdom when it was deemed the source of a June salmonella scourge. Admittedly, the hysteria was short-lived: in July the FDA rescinded its warning against raw red plum, red Roma, and red round tomatoes, and the tomato was quickly supplanted by another maligned produce item, the raw jalapeño pepper. But it's still taken a while for tomatoes to get their rep back. Hopefully, a spate of tomato-themed events in early August will help.

We are currently in the height of tomato season, which explains why San Francisco chef Alex Marsh recently held a summer tomato dinner featuring all manner of tomato-ish concoctions: a mixed heirloom tomato gazpacho, shaved cantaloupe salad with brandy wine tomato vinaigrette, another salad with beefsteak tomatoes, poached wild salmon with sweet corn and stuffed firecracker tomatoes, and even a tomato dessert, which, to the chef's chagrin, "proved very challenging." Tomatoes will also be the main star at all Bay Area Lark Creek Restaurants this August, where the menus will feature such specialty items as "yellow tomato consommé with lemon verbena and chèvre ravioli" (a contribution from Chef Mark Dommen of San Francisco's One Market Restaurant) and "confit of Berkshire pork with creamy Carolina gold rice grits, early girl tomato stew and fried okra" (courtesy of Lark Creek Inn Chef Erica Holland-Toll).

In the East Bay, tomato lovers have the Berkeley Farmers' Market to look forward to. This week's event features samplings of more than 35 tomato varieties, including such exotic breeds as black prince, Cherokee purple, and sweet one hundred. Additionally, local gardeners get to enter their best open-pollinated (i.e., non-hybrid) cultivations in the Bay Area Homegrown Tomato Show, and donate their seeds to the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (B.A.S.I.L). Fresh on the heels of the market's annual summer peach tasting, this event should remind shoppers of the many culinary possibilities engendered by the tomato — from thick Roma stews to big hulky heirlooms with balsamic vinegar. It may not be enough to inoculate the tomato against future salmonella outbreaks, but it might stanch some of the bad blood, for now. Saturday, Aug. 9, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Allston Way (between Milvia St. and Martin Luther King Jr. Way) and Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2 p.m.-7 p.m. on Derby St. (at Martin Luther King Jr. Way.). Free.


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