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ALL ABOUT FOOD:From bangers to rose petal jam

Foodies rejoice! A new little treasure trove of treats has opened next to Sapphire Restaurant. It’s called the Sapphire Pantry and it’s bursting with everything from fabulous international cheeses to smoked Muscovy duck breast to Armenian rose petal jam.

This is another expression of Azmin Ghahreman’s passion for bringing the very best food from around the world to his new epicurean empire atop the ruins of the Pottery Shack.

When Azmin was showing us around, he could hardly contain his enthusiasm for each and every product in the shop. “Oh, you must taste this!” (Rocky road chocolate muffins...yummy) “Oh, you must taste that!” (Sophia California Goat Cheese...irresistible)

He has personally selected almost every item and they reflect his globe-hopping background and his incredibly high standards for both the restaurant and the shop.

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When we asked about his perfectionism, he told us that he once read that airplanes have a 99% safety record. The implication (1% of planes are not safe) suggested to him that you must strive to be perfect all the time.

For the restaurant, he searches out the highest quality ingredients, many of which can be found in the shop, such as Puget olive oil from France.

Items that are hard to find elsewhere in Orange County are here in profusion, for example; Nueske’s apple wood smoked bacon, Kobe style steaks, Kansas City beef and a selection of salamis and sausages including: blood sausage, Spanish chorizo and English bangers for those ex-patriot Brits longing for a taste of home. For their convenience, he amusingly stocks cans of Heinz 57 Baked Beans.

This international selection is an extension of his concept at the restaurant of bringing his patrons “global cuisine.” Where else can you buy Armenian whole black walnut jam, Italian fruit mustard, wild violet jelly, authentic paella rice, Italian lavash crackers or goat butter?

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Wines from the restaurant are available along with international beers and soft drinks. Terry thinks their coffee is the best in town. You can also buy it by the pound but prepare yourself for some sticker shock. There is a lovely selection of aromatic teas as well.

The pièce de résistance of this wonderful emporium is the cheese collection, displayed in a chilled room and presided over by the new cheese monger, Starr Cornwall, the woman responsible for the cheese program at the Montage.

Starr is a formidable match for the high energy and enthusiasm of Azmin and she is equally personable.

We all have a few favorites that we choose again and again because we can easily be overwhelmed by the vast selection out there. Eighty or more can be found at the Sapphire Pantry alone.

This is where Star shines. She just loves to talk about cheese. Her friendly manner makes her easily approachable and she is more than happy to give you tastes. Her desire to de-mystify it means that she will be offering classes in the near future.

She offered us a sample of sweet caramel flavored Geitost from Norway that she has loved since childhood.

It turns out that Starr’s full name is Turquoise Morningstarr Cornwall and she is the child of hippies from Northern California. Her mother was a gourmet cook and a professional chef.

Starr was cooking in a French bistro by age 15. After living in New York, where she learned about cheese while working in a high stress job as a personal chef to celebrities such as Donna Karan and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, she began to miss California and surfing, so she moved back.

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She shared some interesting anecdotes about the underside of cheese. For instance, Parmigiano Reggiano has become so desirable that it is being stolen, like gold bullion, from trucks in Europe, to be sold on the black market. To circumvent this, microchips are being implanted in the cheese wheels in order to locate them and their cheesenappers.

Another bit of cheesy gossip is: while the holes in real Swiss cheese are produced by gases given off during aging, some American manufacturers are actually punching holes in the cheese to circumvent the aging process.

At the moment, the Pantry is focusing on expanding its breakfast business. New tables and chairs are being ordered for the patio so customers can enjoy the freshly baked muffins, bagels, croissants, cinnamon rolls, apple strudel, coffees and teas.

Bagels may be ordered with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Croissants can be filled with turkey chili from the restaurant or ham and cheese. They also have a yogurt parfait with honey and citrus zest layered with homemade berry compote and topped with granola.

At lunchtime you can pick up a fabulous beach picnic by putting together cheese and salami with some olives, a baguette or Sapphire’s fabulous cheese rolls and a bottle of wine. Or you can select one of the pre-packaged salads such as chicken Caesar or chicken cobb and/or sandwiches like albacore and avocado, the Italian cold cut trio or grilled vegetables to name a few, all made with heirloom tomatoes.

If you plan 24 hours ahead, the chef will prepare an extravagant mouth-watering Mediterranean picnic for two with grilled vegetable couscous salad, marinated olives, a cheese tasting plate, chilled shrimp with harissa aioli, asparagus tips with truffled mayonnaise, roast tenderloin sandwich with arugula pesto on ciabatta, raspberry tart for two and white peach sangria and lemonade.

Most exciting are their future plans for dinners to go. They have recently acquired another kitchen and in a month or two will have re-heatable entrées like lasagna to take home.


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  • ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned A La Carte for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@yahoo.com

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