Monday, October 13, 2008

Truffles In the East Village

Despite my rather intense dislike of Williams-Sonoma, I was there once a few years ago.  I was killing some time watching a cooking demonstration by a local chef, and got to chatting with her afterwards.  It came up in conversation that she bought her vanilla beans from a place in the East Village called SOS Chefs, and as I'm always on the look out for new food stores, I was down there the next day.  What I found was a magical Aladdin's cave packed with the most beautiful foodstuffs I'd ever seen.

The walls of the long, narrow store are lined with boxes and bottles of perfectly fresh spices, nuts, grains, oils, vinegars and pickles.  The refrigerator in the back holds fresh mushrooms (porcini, lobster, morels, blue foot, to name a few), foie gras, smoked salmon, french fruit purees, truffles and the odd hard to find vegetable, like ramps.  Each time I come here, I end up walking out with some product that I am unfamiliar with but end up adoring.  This is how I fell in love with hibiscus blossoms (excellent for an afternoon/evening cup of tea, for a summer drink, mix the tea (chilled) with an equal part of sparkling water), and discovered what turmeric looks like in its virgin form (a small ochre colored suppository in case you're wondering).

The store is run by a Moroccan woman named Atef, and I find her to be the most effortlessly bohemian but completely chic person in New York.  Her collection of headscarves is really quite remarkable.  Although her products are of the highest quality, and I would probably make regular visits to SOS Chefs for this reason alone, she is probably why I promote this store so fervently to anyone who will listen.  And why I drag everyone (including Laia, who I think has cooked once...although the one time was triumphant) in.

She loves her customers, loves her products and loves her store, and this is clear just from looking at her.  She radiates happiness and warmth, and for this reason  I am always happy to buy from her, regardless of what ridiculous sum I have racked up.  She is consistently offering to show you something new and wonderful (and it really is new and wonderful), and imparting sage bits of wisdom:

Atef:  Do you need anything else?  Perhaps containers for your spices?
Me:    No, thanks, I have plenty.
Atef:  Of course, you are a woman.
Me:   Huh?
Atef:  Where I come from you can always tell a woman by her spice cabinet.  Her spice cabinet and her bathroom.  Have a beautiful day!

Now I found this exchange funny because I do literally have a cabinet dedicated to spices, and my bathroom is the only room in my apartment that is consistently clean and organized.  Paul, you are a very lucky man.  Atef says so.

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