I mentioned a while back that I was going to do an edible edition of my little black book. Sorry it's been so long in coming, but better late than never, no? So here goes... Mangia, mangia!
- Fishmonger - I have to confess, I haven't actually bought anything here yet myself, but I know people who do it all the time, and I hope to soon! Catalina Offshore Products is a wholesale seafood warehouse - they sell to all the best restaurants (including the top sushi bars) but they allow walk ins to pick up order from 9-2 on weekdays and 9-12 on Saturdays. More info here. When I want something quick that I can't get at Whole Foods, I usually head to Point Loma Seafoods. Nijiya, the Japanese market on Convoy is also a great source for sushi-appropriate seafood items.
- Produce and bulk quantity ingredients - Specialty Produce is primarily a restaurant supplier but is also open to the public. They're located down in the Middletown/Midway area, near PCH and Washington. You walk in, register at their desk and you are free to shop. They have just about every kind of in-season produce imaginable, micro greens and edible flowers, bulk cheeses and dairy, and a large selection of non-perishable items like oils, vinegars, condiments, grains and rice, spices, herbs, etc. It's an especially great resource when you're having a party.
- Catering - For high end catering, I would head straight to Campine, the new company owned by James Brennan of Stingaree fame with Andrew Spurgin (formerly of Waters) and Brian Malarkey. In the short couple of months they've been open, they've already become the top choice in town for money's-no-object type parties. If your budget is a little tighter, I think the French Gourmet does a pretty decent job at a bargain price. For casual catering - say a business lunch or picnic type thing - Saladstyle will prepare buffet sized versions of their delicious salads, and Mama's Lebanese does really nice platters of mezze.
- Kitchenwares - When I need a special pan, a new knife or a specialty baking ingredient, I head straight to Great News in Pacific Beach. It's as well equipped as Sur la Table with better prices and nicer staff. They also offer a wide variety of cooking classes. In a pinch, I also have a soft spot for Williams-Sonoma at Fashion Valley - it's a California company that started out as a small business in Sonoma, and unlike Betty Crocker, there really is a Chuck Williams - even if he hasn't owned the company since 1978.
- Cheesemonger - The most convenient choice is Venissimo. They now have three locations - the original in Mission Hills, an East Village shop just a block west of Cafe Chloe, and a North County branch in the Flower Hill mall. They carry a phenomenal selection, are great about letting you taste as many cheeses as you want, and they even keep track of your purchases so you don't have to try to remember what you like. Gina, the owner, is delightful. They also sell a $5.00 cheese sandwich for lunch - your choice of any cheese on a baguette or roll from Bread & Cie. As much as I like Venissimo though, I usually buy my cheese from Mary (Taste Cheese) at the Farmers Market - either at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday or Hillcrest on Sunday. It doesn't require a special trip for me since I'm already there buying my produce, and Mary knows what I like. This week's purchase was a round of sharp creamy muenster, and a wedge of salty, crumbly, blue-veined Cabrales. :)
- Bread Bakery - I really want to love Bread & Cie, but they're not making it easy for me lately. The bread just isn't what it used to be, and the service at the Hillcrest cafe ranges from barely polite to downright dismissive. I like their sandwiches and pastries though, and it's always crowded so obviously a lot of people love it. Con Pane in Point Loma is not super convenient for me, but I like their sandwiches for lunch, and I pick up a loaf whenever I go in. I actually buy a lot of my artisan bread at the organic bakery inside Whole Foods. It may not be the most exciting or original choice, but it's organic, it's pretty darn good, and it's convenient if you're already there shopping.
- Produce/Farmers Market Stalls - My favorite Farmers Markets are Saturday in Little Italy and Sunday in Hillcrest. Sage Mountain Farm, Schaner Farms (only at Little Italy), Womach Ranch (only at Hillcrest) and Suzie's Farm are some of my favorite vendors. I'm also currently addicted to something called "Bitchin' Sauce" which a local company is selling at every market in town. It's a vegan and gluten free dip made from a mixture of almonds, nutritional yeast, Bragg amino acids and seasonings like chipotle, pesto and garlic. It's amazing.
- Chocolatiers - We have three very good local chocolatiers in San Diego. Eclipse, on the North Park/Hillcrest border, specializes in large, dipped truffles featuring bold flavor combinations and a variety of chocolate-centric baked goods. They also make great chocolate bars and carry some baking ingredients. Chuao has outlets in Del Mar and UTC. Their chocolates also feature some unusual flavor combinations. I shy away from some of their more odd-ball combinations like the olive oil and breadcrumb and spicy cabernet raisin, but I love the Parchita - passion fruit caramel, and the firecracker, a spicy caramel coated with poprocks. Dallman Confections rounds out the selection. They offer a beautiful assortment of classic chocolates that are as lovely to look at as they are to eat, and they feature both traditional and more adventurous flavor combinations, like curry and pb&j. They just opened a lovely new boutique in the Flower Hill Mall attached to the Pannikin.
- Italian Deli - We don't have a branch of Eataly in San Diego just yet, but Mona Lisa provides a surprisingly strong selection of Italian ingredients at their shop on India Street. Their prosciutto (choose the domestic over the imported kind,) fresh Gioia mozzarella and ricotta, canned tomatoes and imported pastas are virtually indistinguishable from any the best you'll find elsewhere, and if you go around lunchtime you can pick up one of their sandwiches to go. I like to add prosciutto to the caprese. They also carry Italian cookies and candies, liqueurs, coffees and canned and bottled goods like sauces, olives and pickles.
- Asian Market - Convoy in Kearny Mesa is packed with Asian markets and restaurants, and conveniently two of my favorites are located in the same shopping center - Nijiya and Okan. Nijiya is the market, and they carry a wide selection of organic Asian produce grown on the company's own farms, lots of organic baking products, a wide selection of prepared foods and sushi, and an absolutely fascinating array of packaged foods, the labels of which I cannot read, nor could I discern the contents to save my life. I especially love the wide selection of "beer snacks" - things like wasabi covered peanuts, spicy rice crackers, etc. I try to stay away from that aisle!
- Mediterranean Market - North Park Produce - with locations in Normal Heights, Poway and El Cajon, this local chain is a great source for party foods - olives, yogurt and labneh, pita bread, mezze, seasonings, interesting packaged foods, etc. I also hear good things about the Balboa International Market over in Kearny Mesa, but haven't made it there yet.
- Mexican Market - I've mentioned before how much we love Tortilleria Salsa Market in El Cajon. We usually get their stuff for parties and get-togethers. It's easy, inexpensive and everyone loves it. We kinda had to put the kibosh on keeping the chips and salsa around all the time - but they're always good. I also kind of like the fact that they have different varities all the time - the other day they had some creamy green salsa we'd never seen before, and the roasted salsa was the best I think we've ever bought there.
- Italian Bakery - For my money, Cafe Zucchero has the best cannolis and Italian pastries in town. I think there is better gelato elsewhere, but their display sure is pretty. Great little spot for a date or afternoon tea (or espresso.)
- Gelateria - Speaking of better gelato, Pappalecco in Little Italy is my favorite. The Lemon gelato (not sorbetto, gelato) is my favorite, and I normally go for the chocolate/caramel/nut flavors. The blood orange sorbetto is amazing too. They also have a location in Hillcrest now.
- Coffee Bar - I'm partial to Peet's in Hillcrest because its conveniently located on my way to work, and I can sometimes meet up with friends there before work. When you get the right barista (and order a cafe macchiato instead of a cappuccino) it is possible to get a great espresso drink - no easy feat in this town. I think Pappalecco in Little Italy generally serves very good espresso and Joes on the Nose serves great coffee at their trucks at the Farmers Markets on the weekends - Saturdays in Little Italy and Sundays in Hillcrest. (I also hear good things from trusted sources about Caffe Calabria in North Park and The Lofty Bean in Encinitas though I can't vouch for them since I haven't been yet!)
So that's what I can think of right now - if you think I missed something or if you have something to suggest to me, please let me know! Oh, and Happy Halloween!