Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shopping at Corti Brothers: One of the best Italian specialty foods markets is in…Sacramento?

More than a few folks have had to hear me gripe about the lack of high quality Italian food in the Bay Area. Good Neapolitan style pizza? You can probably count your choices on one hand, with a couple fingers to spare. Good Italian restaurants? While I admit I have some more dining exploration to do, based on my few experiences thus far, as well as what I’ve heard from a few people in the know, I’m not too optimistic. Italian specialty deli and specialty shops? Lucca’s can’t be beat for reasonably priced prosciutto and the like, but is not known for a great variety of wines, cheeses or other specialty products.

So when I first heard about the Corti Brothers store from my girlfriend’s parents, who live in Sacramento, I must admit that I harbored a bit of skepticism – all of which quickly disappeared upon first checking out the store’s website (I might add that had I done my homework, Iwould have expected nothing less than the best; I'd have known that Darryl Corti is revered throughout the country for his exhaustive knowledge of all things food and wine). While the array of traditional foodstuffs was impressive, what really caught my attention was Mr. Corti’s write-ups. Explanations were succinct but detailed, the sentences short and simple but presenting the reader with everything you could ever want to know about these traditional, centuries old, treasured products. As an example, check out the description for Consorcio’s canned fishes. I cannot stand tuna fish; it’s a deeply ingrained dislike of mine and I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, even when in Spain where the tuna is much better, I cannot bring myself to order even a tapa of the stuff. However, having read Darryl Corti’s Consorcio tuna write-up, I could not resist purchasing a small tin of the ventrasca tuna this past Sunday, fully expecting it to be every bit as exquisite as he describes. I exercised restraint, limiting my purchases to just several items: straw colored, delicate acacia honey, rich amber hued, slightly bitter chestnut honey, hearty fussili pasta from Puglia, and delicious, flat, rusty brown Sicilian almonds – man were these good. They are so different from any other almonds I’ve ever eaten; they literally tasted of marzipan in whole nut form, with the essence of a maraschino cherry thrown in as well.

Since we had a state fair to head to, I did not have the opportunity to fully explore the shop, just a quick glance through the wines and some of the above mentioned comestibles. I look forward to a return trip when I have more time to think about what I really want to buy. For anyone living in or visiting the Bay area, Corti Brothers is a store you ought to visit, absolutely worth the trek to Sacramento. Just be prepared to keep a running tally of the cost of your purchases, they do quickly add up….