When I was in Las Vegas recently, a friend emailed me from London asking what I did during the day there. I spent some time hiking in Red Rock Canyon, hunkering down in my room to work and checking out what’s new at Unica Home’s showroom.
I also visited Artisanal Foods, about three miles off the strip. Since I was last in Vegas, Brett Ottolenghi had opened a retail shop. Since 1998, he’s been providing area chefs with truffles, special oils and vinegars, Iberico ham and more. He started his wholesale business as a teenager and was the subject of a New Yorker profile in 2010.
Nothing fancy to look at: just shelves and some refrigerators stocked with top-quality, hard-to-find ingredients. I could have spent a lot of money here -- in fact, I did spend quite a bit, but could have spent more, much more.
How about that entire 19-pound jamon Iberico de bellota for about $900? (He even sells the ham holder as well.) Or a whole summer's worth of chorizo for paellas and bean soups? I would have bought some of the giant prawns caught 600 feet down near the Great Barrier Reef if I could figure out how to get them home in the car safely.
Ottolenghi is a charmer, as much a geek about quality ingredients as Steve Wozniak is about computers. He knows a lot. That’s why the chefs come to him if they have trouble finding something. “If they need asparagus or cucumber vinegar,” he says, “they come to us. So we end up with a lot of vinegars.” Some of his favorites are those from Albert Katz in Napa Valley, who grows his own grapes and his own apples and makes vinegar in a 19th century barn. “He sells out every year, but refuses to raise his prices or make more.”
I bought a 5-liter can of estate-bottled Arbequina olive oil called Merula and some gorgeous freeze-dried saffron from Spain, plus incredibly fresh and moist vanilla beans from Madagascar and Tahiti and some Q brand tonic water (a fave for gin and tonics). And if I hadn’t already been stocked up with espelette pepper and fennel pollen, I would have bought some of that too.
He has salt cakes the size of dinner plates from the Himalayas and a slew of other salts, great anchovies from Cantabria too. He breaks out a giant tin of the saffron, each pistil pristine and intact, the fragrance overwhelming. Next, he pulls out a container of fresh wasabi from Oregon. I could have spent hours there checking out everything the store offers.
What’s next? He’s excited about finding a source for ... snail roe.
OK, next time I see a recipe that calls for snail caviar, I know where to go. Meanwhile, I’m going to be enjoying my vinegars and olive oil and most of all, that saffron.
Check out the store's website where you can order a number of items by mail. In the works: an Artisanal Foods app.
Artisanal Foods Inc., 2275 East Sunset Road., Las Vegas, Nev. 89119; (702) 436-4252; www.artisanalfoods.com.
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-- S. Irene Virbila
Photo: Brett Ottolenghi. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times