Anya Grottel-Brown is a recent transplant to LA from the East Coast. Her series, The Newcomer Journals, is about all things local that are new, different and same.
My husband is our family’s executive chef. He shops often, scours multiple food stores (and the Larchmont Farmer’s Market) for supplies and ingredients, and gets into a creative menu planning zone at least once a week (don’t talk to me, I’m thinking!)
Like many chefs, he hates being unprepared. Bottles of canola oil, extra virgin olive oil, sherry wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar stand to attention on the kitchen counter. There are hidden shelves of grains and lentils, and multiple packages of pasta shapes from farfalle to orecchiette and tortellini.
After nine months in Los Angeles, he has gotten our food shopping expeditions down to a science. There is no one-size-fits all; the goal, inspired by years of globetrotting and intense pâté-making sessions with a French uncle, is to find the best source for the required dish or flavor. Here are three great Los Angeles haunts for family chefs with ingredients to match:
Herbs and spices: Fresh herbs are best of course but dry spices are essential to any pantry. Spice Station in Silver Lake has an impressive collection of aromatic spices and teas that range from all-purpose to highly unusual. The courtyard, complete with colorful tiles, fountain and peaceful-looking Buddha, always make me feel as if I’m walking into a spice bazaar somewhere in the Orient.
Japanese vinegars, mirins, soy sauces, tofu, rice seasonings, seaweed (nori) and a top-notch selection of short-grain white and brown rice: the Mitsuwa supermarkets are a fabulous place to get all this and consume a pork flavor-bursting bowl of Santouka ramen. The only downside: the food court is generally filled with Japanese families whose ramen-eating technique far outstrip mine.
Mustard, horseradish: for condiments with a powerful Eastern European bite, we head to one of the Russian stores on Santa Monica (Odessa Grocery at 7781 Santa Monica Boulevard is one). Our favorite mustard brand is named, appropriately, “Mother-in-law’s mustard.” I’m usually tearing up after the first dollop.