writer & photographer
|| New York is Hot Spot for
Olive Oil Shopping
Published in The Boston Globe, June 21, 2006
Although New York is thousands of miles from Spain, Greece, Australia, or any other olive oil-producing region, it offers an outstanding variety of extra virgin olive oil to buy, sample, learn about, and consume. If ''first cold press,'' ''unfiltered,'' and ''grassy overtones'' are phrases that make your mouth tingle with a ''peppery finish,'' make the trip here and experience its abundance of liquid gold.
SOHO/LITTLE ITALY: The once bohemian SoHo neighborhood has been transformed into a frenetic shopping area, chic retailers replacing wholesalers and galleries. But fixture Dean & DeLuca retains its artisanal gourmet market feel, created in the '70s with its first store. Among the perfectly displayed produce, coffees, cakes, and cheeses are 35 extra virgin olive oils (herein referred to as olive oil) displayed by country. There is the fruity, $40 a bottle Capezzana from Italy, and Australian Yellingbo, with a subtle peppery taste, selling for $27.50. After soaking up the atmosphere of fresh cut flowers, classical music, and beautiful shoppers, walk south and east to Dom's on Lafayette Street, where some of the same olive oils sell for less.
Dom's doesn't have the same ambience — the lighting is strange and the smell of homemade sausages produced in the back pervades the store, but the selection of olive oils is diverse and unusual. Frank Migliori, the no-nonsense co-owner and manager, points to a bottle of Fior di Macina from Sicily for $15.99 as one of his favorites, and maintains that Italy still produces the best olive oil at decent prices.
The beautifully designed Despaĝa, a minute's walk east on Broome Street, is a recently opened specialty food store. Spainophiles might feel as if they have crossed the Atlantic upon entering. There are Spanish hams, cheeses, vinegars, jams, honey, paella pans, a sandwich and coffee bar, and 15 olive oils from all regions of Spain.
Behind little sample bowls are three of co-owner Ang³lica Intriago's favorites: Reales Almazaras de Alcaĝiz, a mild Caràcter, and a spicier Primicia, of which Intriago warns, ''Careful, you can get addicted to that.'' Another favorite is Marqu³s de GriĝÑn, an exquisite estate-bottled olive oil that comes from outside Toledo.
Walk several blocks east on Grand Street through shrinking Little Italy and you hit the lively, fourth-generation-owned Di Palo Fine Foods on Mott Street. The tin-ceilinged store is packed with hanging Italian cheeses and meats, and organized chaos rules the floor from an endless stream of customers. But no matter how crowded it is, once at the counter, ''You get their undivided attention,'' says lifelong customer Arthur DiBiasi, a native of the neighborhood. ''It's really an education.''
The jovial Luigi Di Palo, one of three siblings running Di Palo's, douses pieces of bread with various olive oils for tasting while giving impromptu history lessons about Romans, their olive trees, microclimates, and olive oil's health benefits. ''For years bottles used to say 'For Medicinal Purposes' but they can't say that any more,'' says Di Palo as he pulls out hidden bottles from behind the counter for further tasting. One of the more unusual finds is Trampetti from Umbria, a peppery olive oil that leaves a slight burning sensation.Continued...
WEST VILLAGE: On picturesque West 4th Street, Extra Virgin, the reasonably priced Mediterranean restaurant, offers diners the choice of either the house olive oil, Monini, for dunking bread, or a special oil of the day, such as Olave, the organic olive oil from Chile, or the unfiltered, delicate Raineri. Every dish, from the asparagus, beet, blood orange salad, to the toasted almond crusted codfish, is finished with a drizzle of olive oil.
Nearby on Bleecker Street is Murray's Cheese, a neighborhood store famous throughout the city for its cheese selection. Murray's also boasts a hearty variety of olive oils, including the hard-to-find Bourbon Del Monte from Sienna. Manager Sarah Zaborowski describes it as having ''a faint artichoke and slightly peppery flavor.''
QUEENS/BROOKLYN: For the hard-core Greek olive oil lover who is willing to take the half-hour subway ride to Astoria, Queens, there is Titan Foods. This Greek market sells groceries, olive oil beauty products, and freshly baked goods, including the best baklava in the city.
''We have about 15 different oils from Greece,'' says manager Nick Luzis. ''We also have organic olive oil — 'New Age olive oil,' as some people say.'' The two bestsellers are Spitiko, a mild olive oil, and Sitia from Crete, a little harsher in taste, leaving a slight aftertaste.
D'Vine Taste is a gourmet market in Brooklyn, in the middle of Park Slope's tree-lined, brownstone neighborhood. Nalie Elsebaie, a native of Lebanon, runs D'Vine Taste with the help of her two brothers. Besides the wonderful selection of olive oils from Spain, France, and Italy, they carry five olive oils from Lebanon, which Elsebaie describes as having a stronger, greener taste. Make sure to sample the fresh fig treats, with figs imported from Lebanon.
UPPER WEST SIDE: In this neighborhood, two gourmet markets on Broadway are Manhattan shopping landmarks, Fairway at 74th Street and 70-year-old Zabar's at 80th Street. Both are densely bustling markets overflowing with people, produce, breads, cheese, olives, and just about any edible item you can imagine. Fairway, open until 1 a.m., sells 10 of its own private-label olive oils, always out for sampling, from $11.99 to $29.99.
UPPER EAST SIDE: Felidia and Fig & Olive are two restaurants in the neighborhood that cater to olive oil connoisseurs. The upscale Felidia Ristorante, on 58th Street near 3rd Avenue, offers a $7 olive oil tasting as part of its lunch or dinner menu, while Fig & Olive, on Lexington and 62d Street, is a Mediterranean restaurant and olive oil store.
Fig & Olive is olive oil nirvana. Not only are diners given three olive oils (usually from France, Italy, and Spain) to dip their bread into, but the menu specifies what olive oils are used for various dishes: the papillote de sole has Moulin Baussy, and the fig, jamon, goat cheese carpaccio has Aguibal. Approximately 14 olive oils are used in the cooking, and 30 bottled olive oils are for sale.
Laurent Halasz, owner of Fig & Olive, has encyclopedic knowledge of olive oil-producing regions in Spain, France, and Italy. ''But like cosmetics,'' says Halasz of today's market, ''there can be good packaging, and not such great oil. The best thing you can do is taste it.''
Dean & DeLuca
Di Palo Fine Foods
Dom's Fine Food
Fig & Olive