September 2008

Hunt and Seek

Great ingredients are everywhere in L.A.—if you know where to look

Lora Zarubin

arugula, james birch arugula, flora bella farm arugula Brian Leatart

Whenever I travel to a city, whether for work or pleasure, my first thought is about the food and, more precisely, where I’ll find the best ingredients for a meal. In spite of being gas friendly, one-stop shopping was never in my genes. It is more important to me to find just the right ingredients than to worry about the driving—you could say I’m ingredient driven. Nothing is as exciting as discovering a new food store or farmers’ market.

This quest for the sublime borders on obsession. When in Paris, I return to my favorite shop, Fouquet, for fleur de sel from Guérande and poivre aux épices (a blend of peppercorns). When I think of San Francisco, it’s sand dabs from Swan Oyster Depot and the amazing bread from Tartine. In New York, my standby is the prime aged porterhouse steak from Florence Prime Meat Market and the lettuces from the pirates at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

Direct from the slopes of the Sierra: Peppery arugula from James Birch’s Flora Bella Farm.

To its credit, Los Angeles now offers an embarrassment of riches for great ingredients. Because our city enjoys a longer growing season, exceptional foods are easier to come by—and can be found in most neighborhoods. Passionate growers proudly show their wares at farmers’ markets, food-obsessed shopkeepers offer wonderful fixings in all kinds of specialty stores and wine lovers have opened boutique wine shops all across the basin.

I’m in love with the arugula from James Birch’s Flora Bella Farm at the Santa Monica and Hollywood markets. His crop of the leafy green stands alone—it’s hearty and has great texture and the most unique flavor. When I asked why his arugula is so good, James said it’s “the water, which is coming off the Sierra, and its first stop is my farm.” James displays only a couple of heads at a time to preserve the greens’ integrity, with the rest kept in coolers, ready to shine at a moment’s notice.

Also at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, I like sprouted pine nuts from Sprout Time. In addition to the veggies at Schaner Farms, I enjoy the variety of eggs, ranging from Araucana to turkey.

One of my favorite food shops is Cube. The cheese and artisan salami selection, which includes guanciale from Salumi (Mario Batali’s father’s shop in Seattle) and Hooks Cheese Company’s amazing 12-year-aged cheddar (also available at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills), is the best in the city. Though some are prewrapped, the cheeses never disappoint. The proprietors stock fresh pasta and an extensive selection of salts and peppers—so dear to my heart. When you pop in, be sure to take a seat and order from a menu that includes offerings from the cheese bar.

Good olive oil can be found pretty much everywhere, but I like to stock up at Turpan in the Brentwood Country Mart, where I always grab a couple bottles of Olio Extra Vergine, imported by Stephen Singer.

A pit stop at Surfas in Culver City is always a rush. This is where the professionals shop for ingredients and cooking equipment. I could spend hours just walking through the aisles.

Recently I bought some chestnut flour to make chestnut gnocchi, and I noticed they sell the organic heirloom Carolina Gold rice grits from Anson Mills. There’s an awesome selection of pastas, grains and dried beans, as well as spices from all over the world. And they have raw butter, which even though I’m starting to see more of around town, I try to buy whenever I have the chance.

I make it a point to get to Silver Lake once a week, and when I do, I stop for coffee beans at Intelligentsia, which brews, in my opinion, the most flavorful cup in town, always served with a glass of water, either flat or sparkling. Then it’s off to Silver Lake Wine, with its great selection, where I’m always sure to stumble upon something I love that I can’t find anywhere else.

On my last visit, I saw a wine I’d first found in Barcelona—Los Astrales from Ribera del Duero. It was one of those rare finds I took home from Spain and then wished I’d bought a case. You can bet I was happy to find it back home in L.A. I also found a white wine from Croatia, Krizevci Grasevina, a genius companion to charcuterie. The spirits selection is impressive here as well, and in-store tastings are held three times a week.

Listen, there are still things I’ve yet to find in Los Angeles—like a great butcher shop and amazing bread—but the best thing about this city is that the hunt is never really over.

WHERE TO FIND IT

Cheese Store of Beverly Hills
419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills
310-278-2855

Cube at Divine Pasta Co.
615 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.
323-939-1148 or 888-23-PASTA

Flora Bella Farm
559-561-3130

Intelligentsia
3922 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.
323-663-6173

James Birch
559-280-1150

Santa Monica Farmers' Market
Arizona Avenue and 3rd Street

Silver Lake Wine
2395 Glendale Blvd., L.A.
323-662-9024

Surfas
8777 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City
310-559-4770

Turpan
225 26th Street, Santa Monica
310-451-9500