The bitter Ecuadorian chocolate and buttery Spanish olive oil hit my tongue together, and John Cancilla tells me what I’m tasting—cut grass, tomato plant and fig mellowing into dark berries and leather. I think of all the wine descriptions that have ever rolled my eyes, but he’s right on the money.
“This is olive oil for chefs,” he says, handing me a bottle of his Marqués de Valdueza. “It doesn’t overpower the food, so it’s never the protagonist in the dish.”
- Artisanal Foods
- E. Sunset Road, 436-4252.
- Daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
It is delicious enough to drink straight and was named Spain’s best olive oil this year by the Ministry of Agriculture. Las Vegans can buy it at Artisanal Foods, a treasury of special edibles on Sunset Road that supplies top restaurants and recreational gourmets alike.
Founder Brett Ottolenghi unwraps Japanese newspaper to reveal wasabi stalks cultivated in the mountains of Shizuoka. He spent time there this summer learning how to spot sawa, or the best specimens, and grind them into paste on sharkskin. The fresh paste is sweet and very hot, distinct from the dyed horseradish Ottolenghi says most sushi restaurants serve. In the spectrum of East Asian cuisine, he says: “The Japanese have the most European mentality toward food.”
Jon Zearreta offers that mentality on a toothpick. He’s with Ortiz, a company based in the Basque Country that specializes in preserved seafood. I try salt-cured anchovy, vinegar-marinated white anchovy and canned tuna loins that shame what we put on sandwiches. Zearreta says Ortiz packages its fish pretty much right off the boat.
“All over the world people believe it’s only cheap food in the can, but not in Spain,” he says.
Tunisia mastered quality preserved food centuries ago with its Berber tribes, who cured and sundried everything from capers to couscous before burying the harvest in secret pits called matmoura. Today, Majid Mahjoub uses some of their ancient methods to make the delicacies in his Les Moulins Mahjoub line. I taste hand-rolled couscous with tomato, onion and raisins, then spreads of black olive, artichoke, garlic and harissa, a hot chili blend North Africans swear by.
“Rich people in Tunisia make food with meat. They are aristocracy. I am harisstocracy,” Mahjoub jokes.
Even if you’re the latter, everything from La Bauma cheese to spicy sopressata, star thistle honey to Moulard duck liver, is within reach at Artisanal Foods. Yum.