There are a lot of really fantastic retail stores in Beverly Hills. Rodeo Drive only starts to highlight what the "Beverly Hills Triangle" has to offer well-heeled shoppers looking for something a little bit better or fancier than the norm. My absolute favorite store, just one block away from the fabled Rodeo Drive, is The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills.
This emporium of culinary decadence is as analog and awesome as it gets for those of us who dig such things. They have a nearly endless supply of the most sought-after (and often a little stinky) fromage, and they'll hand-craft you the most epic yet simple sandwich on a super fresh roll, with hand-cut meats (because an electric motor heats up the fat, which changes the flavor of the slimy-yet-awesome exotic European meats).
You're pretty much guaranteed to have a great time if you ever can make it in to see Norberto Wabnig and his crew. Smile at them and they will let you taste $20-plus-per-pound cheese until you nearly explode. They aren't in a rush. They know you will buy something, be it a sexy bottle of White Burgundy or some crusty-soft cheese, or even a $8,000-per-pound Italian white truffle bathing in a bed of dry Arborio rice waiting for you to do something exotic when you get back to your kitchen.
Our offices aren't in Beverly Hills anymore; in fact, they don't exist anywhere anymore, as we are a virtual and paper-less company these days. So, I don't make the trek east to Beverly Hills every day anymore. I truly miss the place, as during the day the population of this small town located fully inside the boundaries of the second largest city in America booms to over 300,000 people. People lunch, walk around, and take in the sights. It's people-watching at the most compelling level.
I do make it back to my old stomping grounds one a month to get a haircut, though, and after a recent trim on nearby Canon Drive, I walked over to see Norberto and his guys. The second I walked in the door, they began to protest the fact that I haven't been in the store in forever. I gave them a handful of half-hearted. "I am a vegan now" (not even close to true). "I just got out of prison" (also not true but seemingly believable to this audience). They all laughed.
I wasn't merely there to catch up with old friends, though. I was in the market for an Italian white truffle for homemade, almond-wood-fired pizzas that I was going to make for Thanksgiving. Good white truffles are physically light, but they carry a heavy price. One of them thinly sliced over top of a pizza might cost well into the hundreds of dollars. They are seasonal, fragile, and pretty much the greatest food item ever. When the staff of The Cheese Store introduces you to the truffles that they get from Italy periodically, it's like a first date. And the staff is protective too... "No, this one is no good for you. I know what you like and you won't like this one." It's a shopping experience like no other. I can't afford it very often, but it's so much fun.
I selected a truffle on the smaller side of things and it was packed carefully. But before I could leave, Dominick reached to the shelves and pulled down a small, $14 glass jar of black truffle sea salt and then dove into the dairy case and pulled out a small brick-sized chunk of French butter. He said, "you like popcorn for your movies, right?" I guess. He said, "I guarantee you this will make the best popcorn of your life," and he put them in my bag.
A few nights later, I made some of this gourmet popcorn, and you know what? It was exactly as fantastic as promised. Perhaps the best, most flavorful popcorn that I have ever eaten. The butter is long gone now, but my six year old has gotten into the habit of requesting a sprinkle of this salt on his eggs in the morning. Kids and truffles--only in L.A., right?
Click on over to Page 2 to find out what the heck all of this has to do with AV...