I was not surprised to find myself in a tapas bar yesterday, contemplating a glass of ’98 Clos des Mouches premier cru white Burgundy while swabbing a sliced baguette through a runny smear of triple-crème Brillat-Savarin cheese. But it was a bit startling that I was having this kind of moment within an arm’s reach of hurtling grocery carts and within sniffing distance of a supermarket deli counter, even if I did happen to be at the mammoth new Pasadena Whole Foods. My usual M.O. at a Whole Foods is to plot the shortest distance between the free-range Mary’s chickens, the organic Clover milk and the roasted Marcona almonds, then make the circuit at a full sprint. When I stopped by this new place, a behemoth with a floor space approaching 77,000 square feet, I ended up settling in for the afternoon.
The pizza counter you may have heard about, the gelato/chocolate bar equipped with a chocolate fountain, the roasted-nut station, the specialist who will blend organic New Zealand butter with whatever cheese or herb combination strikes you as appropriate. The fish counter includes whole orata and branzino flown from the Mediterranean, several kinds of oysters, a marble seafood bar, and a custom smoker that has bronzed half the creatures of the sea. The second floor is dominated by a combination sushi bar/Korean barbecue/noodle shop/Mediterranean grill, a sort of monster omnibus food court, that is prepared to mix as many cuisines on your plate as you have money to pay for. If your tastes are simpler, you can probably make a small meal out of the samples that seem to be on offer every few feet.
In the long run, of course, it is basically a Whole Foods like any other, a place whose vegetables tend to be eclipsed by the ones at your local farmers market, whose selection of cheeses is vast but can be unevenly ripened, and whose wines, often well chosen, seem at least a couple bucks more expensive than they would be at a specialist wine shop. If you are the kind of shopper who buys his sardines at Fish King, his boules at Europane and his spinach from Wild Greens, little at the new store is likely to change your mind. But in the meantime, you’ll probably find me hanging out by the escalators, clutching a bottle of Straus Family milk and watching the shopping carts ride up and down like cable cars mounting the slopes of Nob Hill. 465 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, (626) 204-2266.