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Favorite things at Surfas

I'm planning a trip to Surfas in the near future to bone up on some kitchen basics and other lust-worthy items, but i was wondering what your staples and favorites are at this wonderland..maybe there's something not quite on my radar that you can turn me on to!

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    Seriously though, it really can get silly once you get there... :) I am lucky enough to live nearby (almost dangerously) close and what I regularly buy...

    * Canned Sam Marzano Tomatoes
    * Beer and Wine (I love Hitacho's Nest beers they have and they have a Sparkling Syrah that was a HIT at my last dinner party)
    * Cheese and Charcuterie (You buy this at the cafe, they have the BEST prices on common fancy cheeses like Humboldt Fog and others)
    * Flours (All types)
    * Cute seasonal stuff (I got Halloween Cupcake Liners! :))
    * Chocolate!! (they have entire line of Voseges chocolate among others!)
    * Oils and Vinegars (They have them available to taste)
    * Loose Leaf Tea Bags (I buy my tea elsewhere but get the saks here)

    I could go on and on... :)


    1. *Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. Butter with sea salt.
      *Snake River Sarsparilla.
      *bulk chocolate and cocoa from all the best names.
      *great pates.
      *stone ground grits.

      1. I'm due for a pilgrimage to Surfas. Is the cafe still open? They have these fantastic pressed sandwiches, so try to time your visit to grab some lunch.

        Saffron Spanish Tin (1 oz/28.5 gram) -- Price: $28.50
        This should last you over a year and still be frangrant. I mostly use it in Risotto, which I cook probably twice every three weeks, and have no prob using about 1/2 a gram in the dish. Wonderful!

        Check out their bags of dried lentils etc. Nice quality and nice prices. Red lentils are lovely, also fancy 'beluga' lentils and 'puy' lentils.

        They have a brilliant range of high quality olive oils and viscous, aged balsamic vinegar, you can sample them with a bit of bread.

        I love the mild French olive oils -- sometimes they have this brilliant one in a tin from Marseille called Nicholas Alziari Olive Oil 34 fl oz (1L) -- $35.95.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Maxmillion

          ooh, no, don't use Spanish saffron! Saffron from the Middle East and India is much better. Go to Elat Market on Pico east of Robertson, on the left side of the store there is a guy behind the spice counter from whom you can buy excellent saffron at a good price (1 oz for $20 I think...)

          1. re: amandine

            no kidding?!
            thanks v much for the tip!! Will check it out.

            1. re: Maxmillion

              spanish saffron is mediocre but even with the indian saffron one has to be careful. amandine's tip is a good one.

            2. re: amandine

              ooh, have you ever gotten saffron from the bel air caviar merchant on santa monica and beverly glen.....it is so so good, try it.

              1. re: budlit

                no i haven't! but the intersection you mentioned sounds like a likely place to find good saffron. will check it out.

          2. What Dommy said about flours - this is I think the only local source for White Lily, absolutely the best Southern-style flour and cornmeal, both conventional and self-rising. With WL self-rising flour, even Mr. Heavyhands here can make tender, fluffy buttermilk biscuits.

            They also have the widest variety of dried beans I've found in captivity, and some wonderful "heritage" varieties of rice as well.

            As for the seasonings and spices, this is where I found the Spanish smoked paprika - a bit of this and a bit of saffron, and your arroz con pollo gets really Mediterranean all of a sudden!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Will Owen

              oh, that's right. At Surfas I believe you can also get a very high quality 00 flour for making pasta.

            2. I strongly agree with the recommendations for San Marzano tomatoes and White Lily flour, although I've outlived my stone-ground grits days. Give me the breakfast grits they serve at every corner cafe in the South (neither stone-ground nor instant), and I'm happy.

              While you're at Surfas you might want to pick up one of those nifty cast-iron plates for weighing down everything from bacon to chicken (under a brick). And if you don't have a fine-screen Chinois for the final straining of your favorite meat stocks, that's another worthwhile purchase.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Mel Gee

                Ok, I'll bite. Breakfast grits vs. stone ground grits. Are they finer ground, softer to uh.....digest? I have yet to determine the difference between the grits I've brought home from Amish country, i.e. stone ground white, or yellow, with corn meal and then polenta? What????? I just serve the grits for breakfast, the cornmeal in cornbread, and then the polenta, well, you get the idea.

                1. re: Ginger Wolf

                  See the Wikipedia entry on "Grits" for a more complete discussion, including the obviously correct description of grits as "an inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food." Grits, it goes on, quoting a 50-year-old newspaper article, "should be made popular throughout the world ... given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace."

                  There's nothing wrong with stone-grinding, the original method of grit milling, just as there's nothing wrong with the prosciutto currently in my ice-box. But I grew up on country ham, not prosciutto, and on steel-ground grits, whose mild flavor and slightly pebbly texture -- especially when softened by a large lump of sweet butter -- taste better to my rebel tongue.

                  Paraphrasing Don Williams, we're all going to eat what we're going to eat.

                  1. re: Mel Gee

                    Large lump of sweet butter back at you. Thanks, and now I will have to stock yet another form of dried corn product.

              2. I like the imported butters from Normandy and Italy. The last one I tried was from Parma, made with the cream otherwise used for making parmigiano, and it was quitely lovely.

                Wild dried mushrooms, in large commercial size bags. A larger stock of Cambro lexan storage containters than anywhere else. What you don't see can be ordered.

                I buy commercial grade cooking tools that aren't stocked at frou frou gourmet shops, like my instant read thermometer that goes up to 550F.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Professor Salt

                  I've got some of that Parma butter right now, and it's great in the omelet pan.

                  Another suggestion: Surfas has the best garlic press I've ever owned. I don't recall the brand, but it's the really heavy-duty model with self-cleaning holes.

                  1. re: Mel Gee

                    The garlic press you could be talking about is made by Messermeister. I have one as well. I used to be anti-garlic press, but this one converted me. I read that you can even press without peeling the cloves, but I think it wastes a lot of the clove.

                2. Along with everything else (!), Surfas has Bubba's thinly sliced dill pickles in the cold case. These are the same pickles that Joan's on Third carries, and they are really, really crispy and delicious...especially when very cold. They're not just an accessory -- they deserve front and center stage...mmmmm, that good!

                  5 Replies
                    1. re: mnosyne

                      Yes, mnosyne...thanks for the correction! Have you ever tried them? If so, do you like them?

                      1. re: liu

                        Yes, I have tried them and liked them very much, especially COLD! Also, Bubbie's dill tomatoes are yummy.

                        1. re: mnosyne

                          Does Surfas carry Bubbie's dill tomatoes as well as the pickles? I would like to try them if they do. Do they have the same loud crisp as the pickle disks?

                          1. re: liu

                            I haven't looked for them at Surfas. I buy them at Vicente Foods. The tomatoes are hard with a snappy skin. I guess 'crisp' is a good description.

                  1. Vahlrona cocoa is a bargain at $10 for a large container - and makes some delicious brownies. I also like Peach Bitters to put in cocktails. Check out the cheese and meat case - sometimes they have unusal types of bacon. Don't leave without grabbing a lemon lavender bar from the cafe!

                    1. Theiri cannelé in the freezer section are outrageous. You heat them individually at home, they are better than in the streets of Paris.

                      1. While I always bring some edibles home from Surfas, I go there more for supplies -- I adore their pre-cut parchment sheets. I buy a big stack and just keep them in the bottom of a drawer. Doesn't sound like something you'd have to have, but if you do any cookie baking or cook anything messy or sticky on sheet pans, they are indispensable -- none of the cleanup of silpat or curling and tearing of rolled parchment.

                        And that reminds me to stop by and pick up a bunch of paper bread pans before the holidays -- perfect if you give cakes or breads as gifts.

                        I also buy their kitchen towels by the dozen.

                        I agree with the recommendations for no-nonsense commercial-type kitchen tools, beans and lentils, and chocolate (with a big bag of callebaut milk chocolate chips and those parchment sheets, you can make some fabulous cookies).

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jnovgirl

                          That reminds me. The beans at Surfas are fantastic -- especially the small white beans. (Cook them with a hambone, cracked to let the marrow out for flavor and tenderness.)

                          1. re: Mel Gee

                            Good reminder...and I just did a sort of Tuscan cassoulet thing with Tongues of Flame beans that I got on our last Surfas trip. Gonna post it now on Home Cooking, if anyone's interested...

                        2. polly's pickles and pickled vegetables

                          1. Their interesting flavored italian sodas (strawberry basil, raspberry violet) convinced me to buy a bottle of Rose flavored monin syrup @ the market.


                            3 Replies
                            1. re: AquaW

                              Hello, AquaW!

                              I use unsweetened, distilled Rose Water often in my green tea. I have been tempted to try the Rose syrup, which I think I have seen at some Indian and Middle Eastern markets. What do you use it for? Is there a difference in the various brands? Is Monin the one to buy?


                              1. re: liu

                                I've used it to punch up champagne, give a floral jazz to iced teas. Surprisingly, it's delicate aroma even comes through in coffee. I'm also tempted to make some rose-vanilla desserts (cookies, panna cotta) with it.

                                Well, I bought Monin at Surfas because I had their delicious Raspberry-Violet Italian soda there. Not sure about other brands though. (for flavoring syrups, I usually prefere da Vinci, but they pretty much stick to the traditional flavors)


                                1. re: AquaW

                                  Thanks, AquaW. This expands me a bit.

                                  On the weekends I have fun, but during the week days I am all about cottage cheese and the gym. I think I will try spiking my cottage cheese or yogurt with a little rose water or rose syrup...yum! I do enjoy orange blossom water or rose water in my hot green tea, but you have offered me some other options!