Bristol Farms, La Jolla
After reading about this place in passing on here, finally made it over to check it out. I found it to be kind of an odd place, with a wildly varying range of stuff.
Some incredible meat, including Wagyu beef in a variety of cuts, USDA prime, and game. Very impressive wine and spirits selection. Anchor Old Potrero, a good variety of single malts, Suntory single malt (which I've been dying to try but have never seen), real German schnapps, lots of tequilas, etc. Beer selection was good compared to regular supermarket, but nothing particularly unusual. I came home w/ a bottle of Clear Creek Distillery 8 year old apple brandy aged in French oak. Very nice! Bakery section looked pretty impressive, though some of the desserts were clearly not made in-house - I've seen some of the same stuff at Whole Foods. The cheese selection was also quite nice, definitely some great options to be found there.
Cafe was kind of nasty. All the food looked like it had been sitting out way too long. I would definitely not eat there with how it was looking. Maybe its hit and miss? Also a lot of low-grade commercial food products mixed in with the gourmet goodies. Some of the breads were exactly the same as you'd find at Vons or Ralphs. A surprisingly high number of convenience food items throughout the store. It made me wonder why their selection was so schizophrenic.
I think I would go back for the meat, and for the spirits. It's nice to have an option for good whiskey that doesn't involve a 40 minute drive to Escondido.
Has anyone else shopped there regularly? What did I miss?
I shop there about once a week. UCSD gets 10% off, which is nice. They often do customer surveys. I asked for more organic produce and they have more all the time though often it is more pricey than Whole Foods but usually fresher. Outstanding seafood dept with seafood specials on the weekends such as fresh yellowtail for $4.99/lb and fresh swordfish for $15/lb. I was told that all their meats are hormone-and-antibiotic free; and prices for meats, seafoods and cheeses (when the same types are carried) are generally below those of Whole Foods. I buy my Vilux wine vinegars there--large bottles, reasonably priced. Spirits selection is as noted exceptional though if you can get the same item at BevMo or Costco for less (Costco recently had the 16-year-old Lagavulin for around $50), do. They had the Canadian Liberte yogurts first in the area. And they are generous with cheese and cold cut samples in the afternoons and on weekends. Once we were served 2 oz glasses of Perrier-Jouet Champagne by a rep. They carry Bread and Cie breads though I agree that the selection of bakery items is quite mixed. Oh, and they carry Latini dried pastas, which are rumored to be Italy's best.
I guess I didn't shop there regularly, as it opened a month before I moved out of Costa Verde. During that month, though, I would stop by their bakery section. One memorable item was a delicious lemon cake garnished with white chocolate shavings. It was very light with a nice balance of sweet and slight tartness. It's one of the few things I actually miss about living in that area.
I like Bristol Farms and usually shop there once a week. Here are some of the items I look for and buy:
Meat Dept. -- There is a large array of tasty marinated kabobs, including chicken, beef, and lamb as well as some delicious stuffed chicken breasts and stuffed pork chops. This the only place I'll buy center cut pork chops these days, since they are usually dry and tasteless from other stores (including Whole Foods) and moister and more flavorful here. Several months ago they switched over from domestic lamb to New Zealand lamb and lowered their prices. The racks of lamb and legs of lamb I've bought have been very good and less expensive than elsewhere.
Bakery -- The squares of pumpkin cake and Texas chocolate cake are favorites and all desserts I've bought there are at least okay if not great. We've stopped buying desserts at Whole Foods Hillcrest, since at least half turn out to be dry or stale.
Soups -- The homemade soup section (near the crepes station) usually has some terrific chilis, tasty, rich, and thick. The Roadhouse chili has some kick to it; the white bean and chicken and basil chicken chilis are a little tamer but very good.
Crepes station -- Good crepes here. For a decadent experience, try the chocolate crepe.
Cafe -- The prepared entrees in the Cafe are mostly comfort foods and are a nice lunch alternative to sandwiches and burgers. When the store opened, there was a much bigger selection. They used to have real flatware on the tables, but now it's service yourself plastic utensils. The Cafe has gone downhill a bit, although I wouldn't call it nasty.
"Commercial" products -- I don't object to their carrying these kinds of items. Sometimes it saves a trip to the Vons or Ralphs, so this is a convenience as far as I'm concerned.
Dairy section -- They carry flavored butters, including Epicurean Butter in various flavors and Land O' Lakes garlic butter and honey butter.
Papyrus -- Near the checkout area, there is a display stand of Papyrus products, such as cards, gift wrap, gift bags, etc., sometimes saving a trip to the Papyrus store in the mall.
You missed the Fish - an extraordinary selection. Regularly carrying Opah one of my personal favs; the scallops were a thing of absolute beauty. Prices comparable to Whole Foods - pricey for quality. Yes the fresh ahi poke (spiced and plain) were both awesome (a word i despise using as it is overused and therefore abused). The squid and octupus seafood salads were also wonderful (i thought the seafood salads were better than Whole Foods'). The jam/jelly/preserve section was also extensive. I went to Bristol Farms in quest of a good savory crepe, but the crepe stand was temporarily down, while the store did some renovations. So i will have a good excuse to go back.
Are you talking about the Cafe or the take-out counters? They're different. You can't eat take-out counter food in the cafe (really a bizarre situation, but...), I think they only have a couple tables outside and a few tables by the check-out counters for take-out counter "dining". The cafe's food is pretty unexceptional (burgers, sandwiches, salads mostly), but it's not represented by the food at the take-out counters.
I think you pretty much described Bristol Farms - excellent (but very expensive and often non-organic) meat and cheese, interesting wines and spirits, ok food in cafe but everything else pretty much average and often overpriced.
BTW, Bristol Farms (as Albertson) is now part of Supervalu.
I've been through there a few times and found most of the stuff to be unremarkable, given that I can get everything I need at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for cheaper prices. I agree w/ the hot food counter--a lot of it is "ok" at best and doesn't have visual appeal. I've eaten the food a few times and found it to be ok, not anything that was great. Whole Foods' cafe and take out is definitely more creative and fresher, although sometimes I've had to sprinkle a bit of salt on it to bring out the flavors.
Alice Q--thanks for the heads up on Vogues' ice cream--the Red Fire is very good! And now I don't have to wait for a trip to Vegas to get my fix!
You're welcome! I like the Pandan and Wattleseed flavors - I will have to try the Red Fire on my next visit! I also do most of my shopping at Trader Joes - but I have kind of switched over from Whole Foods to Peoples in OB. I manage to make it over there at least every other week, which was as often as I used to get deliveries from Be Wise Farms. I like that they label the locally produced items on the shelf. The big drawbacks are that they don't sell meat, or beer/wine, but I can get those things elsewhere.
I don't think you missed anything - the things you emphasized are definitely the high points, the cheeses and the meat counter in particular. The produce is nothing to write home about, but they do have a nice wine selection and some interesting deli items, like pickled cherries, cornichons, good pate, etc. They also have some good canned and packaged items and frozen goods, like American Flatbread Pizzas, Zambeedo and McConnell's ice creams, and this week I even found Vosges ice cream - which was very good, but exorbitantly priced at $7.99 a pint. (I love the chocolates so I had to try it - I got the Belgian Chocolate with Pandan Leaf and Wattleseed flavors, they also had a spicy chocolate called "Red Fire" and a coconut curry flavor called "Naga.")
I think you hit it on the head when you said there are " a lot of low grade commercial food products mixed in with the gourmet goodies." It's owned by Albertson's, so I assume that explains the mixture. They want to be high end, but the quality just isn't consistent. I go for the cheeses and to pick up necessities once in a while b/c my grandmother lives in the complex, but I probably wouldn't shop there much, if at all, otherwise.