You Asked For It: Gift Guide
Your friends will want these delicious comestibles! Plus a vintage menu from California's oldest restaurant.
This is the one-year anniversary of La Briffe, and so many people have reached out asking me to remind them of past gift suggestions that I’m devoting this issue to a few favorites. (These are all items I have purchased myself; I make no money from any of the sellers.)
I begin with a few new discoveries.
I really love the story behind Small Axe Peppers. Their motto is “heat that helps.” They buy chilis from community gardens across the country to create a variety of hot sauces. There are dozens of different flavors, and while I haven’t begun to try them all, I love the ones I’ve tasted. I’m particularly partial to The Bronx, with its clean heat, and the Habanero-Mango which has a slightly sweet sizzle.
I haven’t encountered many American olive oils that knocked me out, but this one from Goldridge Organic Farms in Sebastapol is exceptionally good. You can preorder their Olio Nuovo now - it will be available next month - and if you have never tasted just-pressed olive oil you’re in for a treat. (Also, that little stainless steel pour spout comes in extremely handy and would make a great stocking stuffer.)
I no longer have pierced ears, but if I did I’d want these adorable little cracked egg earrings; the studs are made of polished white gold.
This isn’t exactly new, but Ma La Market, one of my favorite on-line sources, has been out of these deliciously spicy preserved Sichuan vegetables for the past year. They are finally back in stock, and I immediately ordered a giant supply. If you have any desire to cook Chinese food at home, you need to know about this great online source for all things Sichuan; Ma La Market has improved my life immensely.
Gotham Grove is another great source for high-end hard to find Asian ingredients. I especially like their dried seaweeds, strawberry gochujang and sesame oil.
I love vinegar, have dozens of different bottles, and have written about a number of favorite sources. One is Lindera Farms, which I discovered at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market in Washington DC. I love the deliciously quirky vinegars from Tart too; I’m especially fond of their Kombu Vinegar. And I could no longer live without the celery vinegar from Keepwell; if you have any desire to make celery soda, this is a great place to start.
And then there is Balsamic vinegar… The real stuff is aged and extremely expensive. If you have someone you really want to treat well, order the extra vecchio Cesare from Pedroni; aged for almost a hundred years it has developed into something really special. You dole it out one delicious drop at at a time, so this is a gift that will go on giving. I wrote about it here.
Speaking of Italy… Gustiamo is another on-line source that has made my life happier. I am never without their capers packed in salt, their canned tomatoes, their flours, their great apricot jam…
The Chef’s Garden in Huron Ohio grows some of the world’s most wonderful (and nutritious) vegetables; instead of flowers, I often send a bouquet of their beautiful produce. And I consider their new book, The Chef’s Garden Cookbook absolutely indispensable for anyone who wants to know about cooking or growing vegetables. Why it’s not on everyone’s list of best food books of the year is a mystery to me.
About twenty years ago Alice Waters sent me a box of sweet Kishu Tangerines from Churchill Orchards. I’ve been addicted ever since. These tiny, juicy, seedless little mandarin oranges bring sunshine to even the darkest February day. I wrote about them here.
Modern peaches are a pretty dispiriting lot. They're so hard that an entire generation thinks peaches are a crisp and crunchy fruit. And so lacking in fragrance that the seductive perfume of a peach had become an extremely rare experience. But real peaches still exist. The best I've found come from Frog Hollow Farm. They're seasonal, of course, so you’ll have to wait until summer. But right now you can send the promise of peaches to your favorite friends. Worth the wait; I can't think of a better present.
When I ordered this indoor orange tree last year I expected it to blossom once and then slump into sadness, dispirited at being stuck indoors. But here it is, more than a year later, still bearing fruit. The fruit is pleasantly puckery, and when the tree is in blossom the fragrance could not be sweeter.
Live Santa Barbara spot prawns! Live abalone! Gooseneck barnacles! I find the e-fish site absolutely dangerous because I invariably want every single item they sell. Their ensui uni, which comes packed in saltwater is spectacular. The spot prawns arrived live and kicking, and when simply steamed were the best meal I’ve had all year. (They are, sadly, not in season at the moment.)
Browne Trading Company is the go-to fish site for many chefs (think Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller), and their products are always superb. During the height of Covid when I started craving sushi, I ordered toro, hamachi and hiramasa and learned how to cut the fish myself. Also a great source for Dover sole (wild or farmed), and excellent caviar.
While on the subject of sushi… Regalis trades in all manner of specialty foods, but I know them primarily as a place to go for great (and easy to slice) hamachi and kampachi, and excellent broiled eel (all you have to do is put it in the oven). Not to mention fresh wasabi root. They also have caviar, wild mushrooms and occasionally really arcane wild game.
Yakobi Fisheries. People always ask me where to buy wild salmon; this is my answer. Traceable, sustainable, caught by real people.
And speaking of salmon…. when I’m in the mood for lox, I go to Russ and Daughters. I have literally been going there all my life. Great caviar too - and the best Turkish pistachios.
Nick Kokonas of Alinea once said to me, “When I’m in a bad mood I call Will Harris at White Oak Pastures and he always makes me feel better.” I know what he means. White Oak Pastures, a regenerative farm in Bluffton Georgia is one of the most inspirational places on earth. Their animals - they raise just about every kind you can think of - spend their lives outdoors in fields, woods and pastures; ordering this meat always gives me enormous pleasure.
Flannery Beef is a family-owned butcher in San Francisco that deals primarily in Holstein cattle. I wrote about them here. The meat is prime, beautifully aged and quite different than Angus. I love their Jorge cut: I just ordered a couple for a holiday feast.
Debragga has long been my go-to source for prime aged beef. I think their dry-aged hamburger is the best you can buy (and yes I’ve compared it to just about every other high-end blend on the market). Hamburgers are Michael’s favorite food, and I always have a few packages in my freezer.
Nobody on earth is more obsessive than Roy Shvartzapel, which is why Roy’s Panettone is the best I’ve ever eaten. Crazy expensive, it’s dangerous; once you’ve tried it you’ll want it again. I wrote about it here.
Umami Cart has a huge array of prepared Asian dishes. Some are better than others; I’ve tried all their bao and not one impressed me. But there are a couple of products I really love. Their sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves is a standard lunch at my house, and these scallion pancakes are delicious.
Sadly Ugly Drum, which I considered the greatest pastrami on the planet, is no longer in business. Happily, you can still order great smoked brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Be sure to include the sausages; they are, hands down, the most delicious I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat.
I was planning to include kitchenwares, plates, glasses and so forth, but this list is becoming too long. Look for more next week. Today, just for the fun of it, I’ll close with a vintage menu from Tadich Grill, the oldest continuously-run restaurant in California. Next week we’ll end with a vintage review of the restaurant.