The anticipation outside Epicure Imports on Saturday morning was as thick as the French accents inside. Customers of the gourmet warehouse sale, which happens seven times a year, lined up in this industrial part of North Hollywood well before they would be let in, like teens at a rave -- except here, instead of a DJ, it was the late-arriving truffle-butter vendor who cut through the fawning crowd.
A manager came out to apologize for the delay -- it was already 9:35 a.m. -- and invited the crowd inside. Someone at the front shouted "Charge!" and others scrambled for one of the many mismatched carts (Ralphs, Target, 99 Cents Only Store).
Shoppers headed straight to the back -- past the long, tall shelves of imported French juices -- to tables of cheeses, pates, salamis and grilled sausages all ready to be sampled. Hot links of duck and fig, lamb merguez and pork were snatched up as quickly as they came off the grill. Costco has nothing on this place.
There was a bit of tension at the cheese table when the first discerning shoppers found the Taleggio too firm to cut. "It's still cold," one woman said. The cheese hostess did not offer sympathy or eye contact, so the woman moved on to the small slab of mild Comte and found comfort in that.
The sample tables stood outside a cold storage room (wrong place for flip-flops) where high-fat French butter, flavored butter (porcini!), creme fraiche, cow's milk cheeses from Chablis, containers of duck fat, frozen duck breasts and vacuum-sealed paper-thin slices of French ham and thick porchetta awaited.
Frenzy ensued as misinformation spread about the unavailability of Boudin blanc, a white pork sausage. But the frozen sausages soon appeared in the numb hands of the rushing clerks, and things seemed to quiet down.
To check out, you had to walk past the truffle vendor, who had a dish of sweet strawberries in white truffle balsamic vinegar. The last table of samples was chocolate. The extra bittersweet chocolate discs were a nice way to end things.
Epicure Imports, 6900 Beck Ave., North Hollywood. (818) 985-9800. Four more sales this year. Check the website for dates.