When was the last time you feasted on blinchiki with red caviar, freshly made burrata cheese, real sacher torte, house-made chorizo or live crabs just picked out of the tank? We have the good fortune to live in an area of great ethnic diversity, and although many of you have enjoyed dining at the plethora of restaurants serving these interesting cuisines, how many have had the adventure of exploring and shopping in their ethnic markets, where you will discover a profusion of riches that you can't find at Ralphs?
We had a great time making the rounds of delis and markets in our area and want to pass on to you some of our finds. This is the first of two installments.
The new El Metate Market at 817 W. 19th St. in Costa Mesa is one of the biggest and best. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the mountains of fresh produce with nary a pre-packaged container in sight. A vast array of chilies of every color and size from the hottest to the mildest, as well as vats of dried chilies for making enchilada and mole sauces, were simply dazzling. Nopales, bins of dried beans, pozole and peanuts in the shell, giant aloe vera leaves and giant Mexican papayas were a few of the many items on offer and all for a staggeringly low price.
On the other side of the market is a deli case with many different fresh, white Mexican cheeses and sausages including house-made chorizo as well as exotic ingredients like three kinds of tripe and several kinds of feet, some pickled, some not. Over all wafts the smell of corn tortillas, growing stronger as we approached the table where they were stacked. We were surprised and delighted to find that they were still warm! Also, we must tell you that their tortilla chips and tostada rounds are the best ever. In the center of the store are all the pre-made and canned items: moles, hot sauces, pipians and adobos, etc.
Much further afield gastronomically is the Moscow Deli of Orange County at 3015 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa, where the cases are chock full of eggplant caviar, beet borscht, pirozhki (pastry filled with chicken or cabbage), potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage rolls and blinchiki (blinis filled with meat or farmer cheese), herring, sausages and salads made daily. Choose from a large selection of overstuffed sandwiches on Russian bread filled with kielbasa, chicken cutlets, sliced meats, etc. From the frozen food case, you can take home pierogis, pelmeni, dumplings and more. There is a whole line of Georgian and Ukranian condiments, sauces, mustards, pickles and beers.
Now we go down to the bottom of Italy in Huntington Beach. Lucci's at 8911 Adams Ave. is stocked with Southern Italian food and features a small restaurant. In addition to the usual cold cuts and cheeses, there is a nice selection of family-sized house-made entrées: lasagne, meatballs and spaghetti, eggplant Parmesan and ravioli. We thought a great idea was their section with unbaked pizza dough and all the fixings for make-your-own pizzas. This is one of the few places we know where you can get freshly made ricotta and burrata cheeses. The freezer case has pastas like stuffed shells, manicotti, gnocchi and beef or four-cheese ravioli. There is also a bakery and all kinds of packaged sweets and cookies.
In the quaint Old World Village at 7561 Center Ave. in Huntington Beach, now almost hidden by the humongous Bella Terra mall, is the Euro Market featuring German food and products. One side is a restaurant with kitschy Tyrolean décor, and on the other is the market and deli. This is wurst heaven, everything from bock to knock to weiss. Pickles, sauerkraut and a variety of herrings abound. The bakery is especially popular, with German brown farmer bread called bauernbrot and beautiful Austrian cakes like black forest cake, Sacher torte and apple strudel.
Out of our area but not far are Nina's Indian British Grocery in Lake Forest and Wholesome Choice Persian market in Irvine. Next month, we will cover the intriguing Asian markets for our second installment.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
El Metate: 817 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa
Moscow Deli: 3015 Harbor Blvd. Costa Mesa
Lucci's: 8911 Adams, Huntington Beach
Euro Market: 7561 Center, Huntington Beach
Nina's Indian Groceries: 23542 El Toro Rd. #20, Lake Forest
Wholesome Choice: 18040 Culver, Irvine