All About Food: In a paradise for gastronomes

Surfas has come to Orange County, and it is a paradise for gastronomes and cooks of every stripe. It's also a great place to pick up a gift for your foodie friends. Located at the OC Mart Mix, its official title is Surfas Culinary District. It is a restaurant supply dealer but is open to the public, and what a plethora of fabulous gourmet treasures are to be found there!

You can get an entire iberico ham or a few slices of pancetta. You can buy a 50-quart stockpot or a larding needle, plus everything in between. There are more than 18,000 items to choose from.

Surfas has been family-owned and -operated since 1937. It started out in an abandoned Los Angeles garage and eventually opened its huge location in Culver City in 1989. In the mid-1990s, in response to overwhelming customer demand, it opened its doors to the public and in 2006, added a café.

In addition, there is a test kitchen with the latest equipment. It provides a venue for chefs to test new menu ideas and hold classes and cooking demonstrations. It can be rented for meetings and private parties. The new Orange County location has all of these facilities as well.

On your very first visit, allow yourself about an hour to meander through the aisles and check out the goodies, many of which you won't find elsewhere. The first thing that catches your eye when you enter is the bountiful display of cheese and charcuterie, along with beautiful, freshly baked, crusty breads. Caviars, bottarga, mullet roe and bacalao have a case all of their own.

Across the aisle is a self-service salad bar filled with olives, pickled peppers, kim chee, artichokes, marinated eggplant, beets, sauerkraut, etc., etc.

If you find yourself salivating and simply can't wait another minute, step around to the marble counter, pull up a tall stool and order a sampler plate of cheese and/or salumi, served on house-made bread, and accompany it with a glass of wine.

Thus fortified, it's time to venture forth into the aisles of this culinary wonderland. In addition to what you might find in your grocery store, the selection of jams and jellies includes unusual items such as black raspberries in cassis, plum and onion marmalade and pomegranate pepper jelly. There are a multitude of mustards, a plethora of pickles and olives and a stunning array of sauces spanning the globe. We counted almost 40 different hot sauces. There are also many different sauce bases to intensify flavors in homemade sauces.

Bakers will revel in exotic flours like garbanzo, organic quinoa and specialty bread and cake flour. There's an avalanche of chocolate products from nibs to pearls to discs and bars, with colors from white and milk to dark and extra-dark. Non-professionals and pros alike will delight in pre-made cake decorations, including roses and leaves, jimmies and gel pastes in every color.

Tons of oils and vinegars line the shelves, as well as every pasta shape you might possibly imagine and then some, mostly imported from Italy. You will also find many types of beans, eight types of lentils, red rice from Bhutan and forbidden black rice from China.

Step up to the frozen food case and you'll discover ready-to-heat snails stuffed with garlic butter, battered soft-shell crabs ready to fry, a large variety of sausages including wild-boar bratwurst and boudin noir (blood). In addition to prime meats, there are exotic blue-foot chickens and boar baby back ribs. Puff pastry hors d'oeuvres and stuffed pastas make entertaining easy.

We haven't begun to cover it all, so check out

If all this shopping makes you hungry, there is the Surfas café featuring interesting sandwiches like pulled pork and lamburgers, pizzas, paninis and baked goods. If you come early on Saturday, you can complete your shopping with fresh produce from the farmer's market just outside the door.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

If You Go

What: Surfas Culinary District in the OC Mart Mix

Where: 3309 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Information: (714) 453-2665

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