A friend who doesn't consider herself a 'foodie' but knows good food like nobody's business, told me about this gourmet warehouse sale, right near my 'hood - that is amazing: Epicure Imports. After checking it out this weekend, I want to stay right where I am, yes, to be as close to this awesome little warehouse as possible.
Epicure Imports' primary business is selling gourmet goods to hotels, higher-end grocery stores and specialty retailers. Once in a while, they open their
treasure trove warehouse to the public in two day sales, Friday and Saturday (the September sale was 9/14 and 9/15). Yesterday, I got up at an ungodly hour of morning to beat the crowds - the warehouse sale opens at 9:30am and I managed to get over there by 9:40 (pat myself on the back). I am SO not a morning person, so it will take something major on a weekend to get me out the door that early - and it was a good thing I did as I got the very last spot in the small parking lot.
Inside, the set up really was as others have described, like a miniature Costco with towering racks of goods in a no-frills space - *except that the food will not just blow your mind in terms of price, but quality and selection*. And, hearing French accents everywhere (from customer reps to the shoppers around me) - I knew this place was going to be legit. I died several times strolling through it.
There were two sides to the warehouse; let's start with my favorite - the refrigerated side: I almost got whiplash from trying to take in all the deliciousness on offer at once (and trying to make sure I spot and grab popular items before they sell out) - but almost "foodgasmed" on the spot when I saw a table of amazing butters: Echire Butter ($7.37) Urbani Truffle Butter (white: 3 oz $10.07 6 oz $19.61 black 6oz $16.43). I haven't seen any other place open to the public that sold Echire butter - supposedly the best butter in the world, so much so that it's protected, like champagne - only butter from that region in France can be sold under that name. Joel Robuchon uses it (in amazing oysters that I had at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon on my last trip to Vegas). So I was ecstatic to be able to pick up a bar at just a few bucks more than mass produced, grocery store butter. Also, the price on that black truffle butter is also amazing, especially for Urbani (designer truffle brand) - a 'regular' tub of truffle butter normally goes for around that same price at retail.
The Fabrique Delices brand was also well represented at the sale - there were tons of products in the refrigerated area from them. One of these, for those into bacon products of all sorts, was Bacon Butter ($6.36). I'm a bacon fan, and could imagine this butter being great in a sandwich, but I am MORE of a truffle and duck fan and decided that's where I was going to focus my shopping spree this time round.
One of the exciting things about Epicure Imports is that they carried lots of brands/things I'd never seen before: one of these was the Tartuflanghe Perlage di Tartufo truffle pearls ($21.15) - these were basically black truffle juice in caviar form.
This one was a necessary splurge. For someone who doesn't cook much, this was an ingredient that could add an instant, effortless touch of luxe to ordinary foods. I made some soft scrambled eggs this morning for brunch, topped with a dollop of this truffle caviar - and it was amazing.
Then there were the mouth-watering imported cheeses: including one of my favorites of all time, a triple cream cow's milk cheese from France called Brillat Savarin (small 200g $9.38 large 500g $15.64) - you can sometimes find these at Whole Foods or artisan cheese stores, but the large one will run you closer to $25. Score! (They also conveniently have a cart full of baguettes in the other section of the store for $2.50 so you can go home and enjoy your cheese with bread right away - very thoughtful!)
A cheese I hadn't seen before came in a cool package wrapped in leaves: Banon de Chalais cow's milk cheese ($4.19) at that price I thought it was worth 'experimenting' - will let you know how it tastes once I've tried it!
There were other cheeses - some are domestic from Vermont Creamery ones - including Boschetto (with black and white truffles!) - but as a single household I didn't want to overdo it and end up wasting some. Very happy with the Brillat Savarin and Chalais cheese already, and will grab some others on my next trip to Epicure Imports!
Oh actually, I lie. I did pick up some DiStefano fresh made local Burrata as well, at $2.65 each. I skipped the smoked salmon and anchovies etc. even though they looked beautiful...as I was on a mission. Truffles, cheese, duck.
The first thing I picked up was the Fabrique Delices Boudin Blanc aux Truffes pork and chicken sausage with truffles ($10.12/lb) - keeping this in the freezer for a nice weeknight breakfast for dinner meal.
Oh, did I mention that while you shop - like Costco, Epicure Imports gives out tons of samples so you can try before you buy? Sausages on the grill filled the space with an intoxicatingly delicious sizzle and char.
As well as pates - even one that has truffle in it (of course my fav!) And everyone was super friendly and welcoming - it really felt like you were at the local farmers market versus a warehouse.
On the non-refrigerated side, they have several aisles of shelf-stable gourmet goods from imported olives, to flavored olive oils, nut oils to fruit and balsamic vinegars.
I love the packaging on some of these items too - perfect for gifting to food-loving friends. This balsamic vinegar made me think of an old school ink pot - it just needs a quill-shaped re-stopper to complete the set. Putting this on my list as a gift idea for food-writer friends (oops did I just ruin the surprise?!)
There was a whole aisle of spices and condiments - I picked up a box of Smoked Maldon Sea Salt Flakes ($4.93) and Camargue Fleur del Sel ($9.81). A girl can never have too much salt, right?
Then at last, the truffle aisle. I was in heaven flitting from shelf to shelf of things that sound insanely good. Urbani which really has the market cornered on truffles and truffle products - was everywhere: White Truffle flavoring, Truffle Honey, and White Truffle Salt ($30.05).
I loved the branding on these tins: "Truffle Thrills" - that's the kind of culinary adventure I'd sign up for. Got a tin of White Truffle and Porcini ($12.67) even though Urbani's site lists it for $9.95 and LAFunghi sells these at local farmers markets - I was just in the mood.
Also available are ethnic goods that you can probably find cheaper at markets focused on the respective cultures (like I'm not going to get Sriracha from here when I can buy at Ranch 99) - but for those who don't know of or want to drive out o specialty markets, Epicure Imports carries things like Cortas Rose Water / Orange Blossom Water ($2.97). I love orange blossom anything and can't wait to try this - maybe in panna cotta? Do share if you have any recipe recommendations!
I skipped over chocolates and sweet things for the most part, as I still have a stash of Max Brenner and Compartes treats I'm working my way through - but Epicure Imports had some awesome offerings like Valrhona chocolate bars ($4.50) and Le Caramel, a CA produced Sea Salt Caramel Cream that would be amazing over ice cream (I had to get a jar of this after tasting their sample - incredibly light and smooth, perfectly balanced between salty and sweet - not at all dense with sickly sweet sugar like most other caramel - I am not normally a caramel fan but loved this one!!!) There were also lots of fruit preserves and jams.
They had a tin of Gavottes but it was over $48! So I went for another brand that I hadn't seen around town: La Mere Poulard cookies ($13.20) - love the design of the tin!
After stacking my cart as much as I dared (I already know even with the savings I'm gonna have to stay in for a while to recover budget-wise), it took about a half hour to go through checkout. The long lines are definitely justified - so happy with all my purchases! So, seems that this is already a popular event with those who know - and I struggled selfishly with whether to post about it - it was already packed when I went early on that second day of the sale (and I know I mostly won't be able to hit up the first days, usually Fridays, as I'll be at work in WLA). And, its local small business vibe is so perfect I kind of don't want it to change as word spreads. But, it's too good not to share - afterall I also only did make my way there at the generosity of a friend - and also I truly hope that Epicure Imports continues to expand and be super successful!!!
Looks like they hold these a few times a year. Next warehouse sale is November 16 & 17! Sign up for their free newsletter to get updates! (And remember to bring an insulated bag with ice pack when you go!)
[For more pictures from my visit to Epicure Imports, check out my album on Facebook.]
UPDATE October 2015: Unfortunately, Epicure Imports has announced that they have closed for business.
6900 Beck Ave., North Hollywood, CA 91605
Parking: Free in attached lot or on street (of course, double check street signs before parking)
Next warehouse sale: November 16 & 17, 2012