Dear Mr. Gold:
Ever since the aptly named All Spice in the Farmers Market closed, I have been bereft. No Vietnamese cinnamon. No fat-ass vanilla pods. No lectures about saffron. No weird curry blends. There must be more to the world of spices than the stale little bottles that line the shelves at Ralph’s. Help me!
It’s kind of a haul from Hollywood, but the first California branch of Penzey’s, the revered mail-order merchant, just opened near the Del Amo mall in Torrance, a giant emporium selling nothing but herbs, spices and other seasonings. At Penzey’s, you can find, for example, not just the most pungent Vietnamese cinnamon imaginable, available in containers ranging from wee to a lifetime supply, but also Indonesian, Chinese and fruity Ceylon cinnamon, cinnamon in the form of sticks, chunks or cinnamon sugar, as well as recipes for cinnamon shortcake — all at a small fraction of supermarket prices. There are samples of pretty much everything in apothecary jars, so you can decide whether regular Spanish saffron is pungent enough for you or whether you’d rather spring double for the Kashmir saffron, or whether Sarawak peppercorns are worth the surcharge over Malabar. The Madagascar vanilla beans, sold three to a test tube, are as powerful as an uppercut to the jaw.
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Penzey’s is a Milwaukee-based firm, so things like bratwurst seasoning and cheese sprinkle and lemon-pepper tend to take the place of the Thai or Guatemalan or esoteric Italian seasonings we might expect to find on the West Coast — I looked in vain for fennel pollen and ras al hanout — but the curry blends aren’t bad, and the classic French quatre epices mixture is the stuff of a thousand terrines. If you can make it all the way home from Penzey’s without sniffing your jar of smoked paprika at least once, you are a better man than I. 21301 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (310) 406-3877.