Sunset Hill Greenmarket: Mister Rogers would shop there

Time for a little personal reminiscing: Back when I used to live in the Bay Area, most of my daily grocery shopping took place at a neighborhood produce store and butcher right around the corner from where I lived. It was a slightly more expensive—and anachronistic—way to shop, but infinitely more satisfying. Requests were taken cheerfully, and storekeepers who knew your name and tastes would call when they received a special shipment of some impossible-to-find fruit, vegetable, or cut. And, best of all, there was no feeling of being overwhelmed by too many prepackaged options. Small grocers don't make much business sense in this day of supermarket-warehouses—which is why the new Sunset Hill Greenmarket in Ballard is worth noting—especially by folks in the neighborhood. Mary Toutonghi and Kathleen Hayes' store concentrates on produce, with local and organic options whenever possible. Breads are from Macrina Bakery; the coffee's from Lighthouse in Fremont. Plus, there are well-chosen pantry items as well as a small selection of wines—drop by, it's a gem of a space located a couple of dozen blocks from the Locks. (6405 32nd NW, 784-7594. Open daily.) Speaking of greengrocers: It was at that Berkeley store that proprietor Mr. Sakamoto offered me a taste of my first-ever perfectly ripe Hachiya persimmon. The day was cold, clear, and brisk, just like the weather's been like around here lately. The translucent paprika-orange skin burst as I bit into the juicy, pulpy flesh; juice ran down my chin. It tasted like warm honey— a revelation fit for a winter's day. Right now is prime persimmon time. Ask your local grocers if they carry any. Hachiyas are pointed; they must be eaten when they start to deliquesce. Fuyus are squat, like little pumpkins, and are still hard when ripe—they turn red when they're ready to be eaten. If you want to get grossed out, eat an unripe persimmon. Your mouth won't stop puckering for days. And, for those of you who operate on the Chinese calendar: New Year's Day is still around the corner. Blowfish (722 Pine, 467-7777) will welcome the Year of the Tiger by offering a Chinese New Year celebration menu on January 28. Call for reservations.

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