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Upscale Meals to Reap at Bristol Farms

Bristol Farms is the Nordstrom of delicatessens: a blue-chip market with wide aisles, well-made classics and such consistently kind service you’d think it was 1955. But we’re clearly past the age of Eisenhower when the supermarket carries double-yolked eggs, fresh sushi and ghee .

The culinary aesthetic of Bristol Farms is upscale and contemporary--a middle ground between blue-haired Old Pasadena and blue-haired Melrose Avenue. The freshness and the care Bristol Farms takes with producing its enormous volume and range of food is impressive. And when it comes to consistency, it’s yards ahead of every other in-house supermarket delicatessen I’ve tried in Los Angeles. So what was good?

The sweet, dense meaty moussaka , when it’s available as a special, has the richest, creamiest top you’ll find this side of dessert. Also packed with calories and intensely worth it: the sundried tomato aioli , far thicker than any “dip” (as they call it) I’ve ever combed a piece of celery through. It would make a splendid sandwich.

I’ve become wary of the word succulent but sometimes there is no other way to communicate that certain experience of eating juicy meat: the wide veal ribs, lightly marbled with fat and handsomely roasted with herbs (and only $2.99 per pound; prices tend to be quite reasonable), were truly succulent. (But that was at the South Pasadena location. A second time, at the Rolling Hills Estates location, some skinny veal ribs didn’t have quite the same cachet.)

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What else? I’m amazed that the already-packed-to-go selections are pretty good. The large salad nicoise ($4.49) has first-rate tuna, firm red potatoes rife with capers, crisp green beans, calamata olives and tasty tomatoes, laced with a tasty olive oil vinaigrette.

I generally bypass packed cut-up vegetables meant for stir-fry. I figure they must be dried out. But in the name of science, I tried the “Chinese stir fry” pack here--and was pleasantly surprised. The vegetables (bok choy, red cabbage, bell peppers, snow peas, green onions) were crisp, the already flash-cooked chicken strips moist, and the ginger-sesame oil-soy sauce well-balanced to boot. The directions, tucked on the bottom of the package were soaked, however, and need to be attached differently.

Celery root remoulade was bold with fresh tarragon; cole slaw was clean and lean. I liked the traditional Greek salad (called “Greek ensalada "), every part distinct yet harnessed into the whole. While delicious large red potatoes were roasted with plenty of garlic, another spicy potato salad with whole hazelnuts, was a deafening advertisement for chili paste.

Roasted chicken breasts were moist and flavorful, roasted and stuffed Japanese eggplants were soft and plain like beguiling baby food. In the baby department, baby back ribs are the well-mannered kind: not much fire and a ladylike amount of sauce. A brazen hummus , darkly flavored with lots of cumin, tasted like falafel and hummus rolled into one creamy bite. The chopped chicken liver was too one-note strong.

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I would pass on several no-taste things: spa salad, Indonesian rice, chicken in white wine sauce.

Both stores have tables and chairs adjacent to the bakery where you can start your day with bagels and lox or fresh croissants and end it with good coffee and lots of rich, gooey freshly baked things. If man lived by take-out alone, Bristol Farms wouldn’t be a bad place to live.

Bristol Farms Cuisine-to-Go, 837 Silver Spur Road, Rolling Hills Estates; (213) 541-9157. Open Mon-Sat. 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.. 606 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena; (818) 441-5450. Open Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Parking in lot. Full service catering and cooking classes available. Gift and picnic baskets and party platters available with 24 hours notice.


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