Archive for the 'Stores' Category

Market Gourmet in Venice - Where Wholesale is Good…

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Just a little blurb to say that for all of my whining about wholesale, I’ve met some really wonderful people who own and work at stores.   I love walking into Market Gourmet in Venice to restock my products, like I did today.  I’ve done two demos there (and had two cancelled b/c my products sold out, thus negating the need of the demo), and I know the people there and they know me.  It makes such a big difference!  After I drop off my products at a store, it can be oddly hard to figure out what happens to them beyond whether they sold or not, and whether employees are aware of them –  I’m just not there, and it’s not like I can stakeout the joint. But when I go to Market Gourmet just about everyone who works there who sees me makes a point to tell me about customers’ reactions — like how someone has been calling them daily to find out the availability of my bars, how people are so happy when they buy them, how a lot of people are buying two at a time (great when your smallish products are $5-6/ea), how my products fly off the shelves, and how I’ve developed a following.  It’s just so very nice.

Come to think of it, Metropulos and The Candy Store are also very good about sharing customer (and employee) reactions.  The only difference is that they’re out of town, so I don’t get to see them in person.  And at Chefmakers, I hear about and see customer reactions all the time… but I do work there, so it has an advantage. But it’s that communication and awareness of each other as human beings and business people that makes wholesale good.  Otherwise, when it’s impersonal, careless, or purely based on the bottom line, it’s just draining.

I’d never been to the Market Gourmet before I went to give them samples of my products, and actually, when I’m not looking for the people, my eyes wander on the shelves.  There may be lots of cupcake and frozen yogurt shops in LA, but true, well-rounded mom and pop gourmet stores are few and far between so if you can, check it out… and if your eyes wander to the shelf where my products are placed, so be it… and tell them that I said hello… :)

If You Want to Learn About Marmalade Making Without Going to Berkeley…

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

You can take a look at these video clips featuring June Taylor in her kitchen.

She doesn’t share recipes here, per se, but watching her technique and listening to her philosophy make it worthwhile.

One Day in Napa on May 5

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007
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Thanks to special deals from Southwest, Chad and I were able to indulge my wily scheme to visit Napa (and Sonoma!) for one day. No hotel… mostly movement. We flew out of Los Angeles at 8am, and we flew out of Oakland at 8pm. It was a tight schedule, but everything went like clock-work — the 4 shuttles, 2 planes, and 1 rental car. There was the issue of the collapsed freeway, but that only added a tolerable amount of traffic.

It’s been 3 months since I moved away, and I was so eager to remember the day that I took pictures of everything that I could. I’ve compiled them into an album on Snapfish of 136 photos with some captions (sorry, registration required). They are snapshots, not composed photographs. The majority of them were taken from the passenger seat of our rental car, going as fast as Chad deemed fit. It’s amazing how many of them are in focus, and even contain pieces of what I was aiming at. I like to think they fit well on the web, which reveals and preserves so much of day-to-day life around the world. I recommend slideshow mode. This was what it looked like to drive around Wine Country on May 5.

I did miss some things, though, like the two girls in Sonoma walking around with a youtube-inspired sign that said “free hugs” on one side.

Since this is a food blog, I don’t want to bury all my leads, so these were the food and drink goings on…

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The top sirloin burger at the girl & the fig in Sonoma (here are previous posts). The cambozola option is the way to go with this burger, but bacon’s optional. I love the way this burger tastes, but as always, the subtle genius is in the Dutch crunch roll. It gives a satisfying crunch, but its inner softness marries it well with the other elements in the burger. I’ve read that a burger bun is ideally as soft as the burger meat, and I agree… and I can admire this bun because it bends the rule for a greater good. I suspect that the bit of salt from the cheese and the bit of butter from the bun are also secret weapons in this burger.

Unfortunately, Chad and I ordered our burgers medium-rare, but mine turned up rare and his medium. His was also missing cheese, which is, as I mentioned, mandatory. When informed, the restaurant took the plate back, put a piece of cheese on it in the kitchen, and brought it back out. I’m kind of conflicted about that. While I hate to see food go to waste, a cooled off burger isn’t as much fun to eat and doesn’t melt cheese well. It’s like a permanently defective burger.

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At least our Roederer and Fig Royale (w/ black mission fig syrup) were refreshing. And the bread was freshly soft on the inside and delicious.

And for fellow devotees, the rabbit pappardelle pasta is on the menu again. When I had it last year, it was phenomenal.

Then to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville (previous posts here). Disappointed that their once heavenly Cheese Danishes were still sporting a coarse sugar crystal dusting and looked over-baked, I got a pistachio macaron, and Chad got a caramel.

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The caramel flavor was good — caramel-y, butter-y, salty, but the cookies a bit too dense… and the filling a bit too light and buttery. Instead of a lighter than air wonder, the whole thing felt more like a standard sandwich cookie.

On the other hand, my first bite of the pistachio macaron was spoiled by my need to exclaim that “this is the worst macaron I’ve ever had!” The top crust shattered above the empty pocket of air in the cookie to lead to the way to the hard and chewy remainder of the cookie.

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I went back into the store with it, and told them that it was really tough, like it was stale, and asked for a caramel instead. I would have loved a good pistachio one, but I didn’t want to take another chance with it. I was promptly given a caramel one by a courteous staff member, and was told that it was odd that they were stale b/c they were baked in the last day or two… but in my opinion, that’s a day or two too much for macarons. They don’t age gracefully.

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I wish that the pain au chocolat could have made up for it, but that was off, too…

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It shattered more like a folded cracker than a laminated dough. Perhaps it was old, but it seemed more like a prep issue to me. Either not enough butter was used or it was rolled while too warm to prevent it from laminating properly. At least the chocolate inside it was unaffected, and quite edible.

That was all the food we ate there. You might say that it was a little disappointing, but we’ll probably go back to both the next time we’re up there. This is one reason why I’ve never been comfortable with “reviewing” eateries, and recommending them to other people. None of them will ever have perfectly consistent food. Every dish that leaves the kitchen is different. Every dish is practice to improve.

I can reconcile these facts two ways. The first way reminds me of something that a film professor once told me - the skill of a director is measured by what she edits out of her movie. What’s shown is truly the best and most pertinent. This applies to restaurants in so far as what they choose to put into customer’s hands. It’s quality control. There will always be some rejects in food preparations, but standards vary about what will go out, from restaurant to restaurant, employee to employee, and day to day. There are waste and cost issues with this, so that’s where the “every dish is practice to improve” idea is handy.

Also, there are the emotional ties to restaurants. I happened to like the girl & the fig and Bouchon Bakery as local hangouts and will always have good memories at both, food-wise and personal-wise. Very subjective. Only an offensively bad experience would keep me away from them in the future, and going back to them is nostalgic excitement. Like most of this trip, it was just pleasing to know that they’re still out there.

Anyway, I also bought a couple spices from The Spice House in Chicago while in the campus store at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. According to their labels… Ground Mahleb, which is the pit of sour cherries, is used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern breads, cakes, and pastries… China Tunghing Cassia Cinnamon has a very high 4% natural oil content, which lends it a smoother, sweeter flavor while maintaining a strong spiciness. I’ll report back when I use them. I also bought a fancy cherry pitter at the Sign of the Bear in Sonoma, because I have high hopes for lots of cherries this summer, along with every other fruit I can manage.

I wanted to go to Duckhorn Winery, but it was closed for a special event. I have a good knack for choosing wineries on days that their closed, but luckily, Plumpjack was open.

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The lively rock ‘n roll and conversations that surrounded us mirrored the boldness of the wines, which were a bit tannic and strong for me. Chad was more of a fan.

We also went to Paraduxx, which is is affiliated with Duckhorn. Again, the mood fit the wines. A relaxed, chic tasting room (and patio) matched the smooth and luscious wines.

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Their wines are all fusions of zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.

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Be aware that tastings are $15, though it does include table service, spiced almonds, cheese straws, and bottled water.

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Frankly, though, if you’re going to Wine Country with someone else, sharing tastings is the best option. Once you become accustomed to the fact that all wines taste and feel differently, you become eager to see what else is out there — what else wine can do. If you have to drink all the tastings by yourself, you’re more apt to become tipsy and unable to sample more, at least thoughtfully. After a while, the tasting size seems like so much. If you like it, you know you want to buy some or look out for it on the future, and if you don’t, you want it out of your way. For better or for worse, wine tasting is rarely a time to savor, per se. It’s a time to evaluate, and you may as well try as much as you can without getting overloaded. On the other hand, I prefer wineries like this one — with tables and chairs, a mellow ambiance, and pre-filled up glasses — so if you want to savor… well, just go right ahead.

Chocolate Maya - Santa Barbara

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Santa Barbara just got a little more idyllic. Chocolate Maya is one of the most exciting chocolate stores that I’ve come across. Rather than preparing chocolates in-house, Maya Schoop-Rutten has selected amazing chocolates from around the world to sell from her shop just off the State St commercial artery. Truffles, bonbons, bars, sauces, and more. Michel Cluizel, Charles Chocolates, Dolfin, and many others, including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara chocolatiers, such as Jessica Foster. Maya has a preference for small producers with high quality products. There are traditional and contemporary flavors and compositions.

I have to preface why I liked these chocolates so much… As you may have noticed from this blog, I’m not very much into truffles and such. Just ganache covered with chocolate? How simple, how good-in-a-trite-way. Chocolate is categorized as a rather luxurious food, but it’s amazing how many chocolates I’ve had render it unremarkable. My pet peeves are ganaches that all have the same consistency, very firm ganache, old dried out ganache, ganaches that make you wonder what the flavor is when you should be simply enjoying it, ganaches ruined by harsh flavoring oils, very buttery ganaches, unimaginative decorative designs, and of course, the usual suspects — use of high-fructose corn syrup (b/c of Karo), artificial flavors, additives, and colors.

So, the reasons why I loved the chocolates from Chocolate Maya are simple. Freshness. Variety. Flavor. Silkiness. Skill. Creativity.

To have selected these chocolates and to offer them while so fresh is a great accomplishment.

The following are my thoughts on the 8 confections that I bought. Since I don’t want to repeat myself too much, they all tasted great. I didn’t write down the descriptions in the store and I was a little too excited to think straight, so my flavor descriptions may be slightly off. And you’ll notice that I was in a spicy mood…

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The two truffles on the right are espresso with cocao nibs and chile pepper. They both had a shiny glaze on them that I’ve never seen before, and I think it looks cool. I don’t know what it is. If you do, let me know. It was either dipped or painted on, since it was on the top 75% of the confections.

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The tall one was Tangerine & Chili Pepper White Chocolate Ganache. I really liked eating in a stick form; it felt elegant and fun, esp since it was so soft. And the ganache was just right — that is, not too sweet or fatty.

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I think it’s interesting that there’s barely a chocolate coating around these ganaches. On the one on the right, the coating was a little rough in a good-looking way, like it’d been painted on or rolled lightly in a palm with a little chocolate in it. These bonbons were were honey/bee pollen, I believe, and cayenne pepper. Instead of being rolled in cocoa powder, the cayenne one was rolled in cayenne. That was mighty hot.

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This milk chocolate ganache was wonderfully fluffy like a mousse and just a bit buttery; whipped. And again, a very thin shell. I believe that these were by Jessica Foster.

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I love that this cappuccino cup had two fillings — the bottom, Brazilian Arabica coffee ganache and the top, white chocolate gianduja, with a layer of chocolate in between. It took the coffee cup shape a step further than if it had only one swirl of ganache in it, as I’ve had elsewhere. Looks like this is a Michel Cluizel.

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It’s difficult to see in this picture, but as far as I can tell, this one had a hazelnut praline in the center and a crunchy outer layer, like a croquant, that covered the bottom and sides. I’m not sure how they are able to mold the crunchy layer in such a way. Genius.

I also saw truffles made with agave nectar for sale, which was a first for me.

If you’re anywhere near Santa Barbara, I suggest that you head there fast.

Here’s an article about the store: http://independent.com/news/2007/mar/29/chocolate-maya/

Surfas the Great

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I feel so relieved. I finally found a store that stocks the kinds of ingredients and tools that I need. I can spend less time scouring the internet, lamenting shipping & handling fees, and worrying about how long my supplies will last until I need to start the cycle over again.

Surfas bills itself as a chef’s paradise that’s been around since 1937, but I just read about it this week. And I went today to found myself in a store that’s like a JB Prince, Dean & Deluca, and Smart & Final all rolled into one, with even more to offer. And even better, the prices are amazingly reasonable, bordering on unbelievably inexpensive for some things. This is a place where you can buy D’Artagnan frozen meats, bulk pasta, Boiron fruit purees, beans, glucose, Jacques Torres chocolate bars, a Blodgett oven, Robot Coupes, pheasant breasts, Callebaut and Valrhona chocolates by the block, marble pastry boards, manufacturing cream, agar agar powder, multiple brands of cocoa nibs, Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce, Horlicks malt powder, Cambro containers, spices, chocolate molds, and so much more. There’s even a cafe there. They also take online orders. They don’t have fresh produce, but if they did, I’d probably never leave the place.

Aside from Whole Foods, Gelson’s, and Bristol Farms, which are so expensive and relatively limited, I’ve had a hard time finding specialty ingredients in LA. I wish I’d known about Surfas sooner, so I just want to pass on the word for others…

Surfas Restaurant Supply and Gourmet Food
8777 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
www.surfasonline.com