Mike rubbed the bright green herb paste,
pungent with garlic and anchovies, onto the lamb flesh. Earlier in the week, I’d called Mike, a butcher at Bi•Rite Market , a neighborhood specialty foods shop a few blocks from my house in San Francisco. (He is now becoming a high school teacher.) He agreed to bone two legs of lamb for a party I was catering but not to tie the roasts up until I arrived with the herb paste.
We chatted as he tied up the legs, draping the long string around his neck so it stayed clean and untangled. And I thought of all the times I had written that a good butcher, if you cook and entertain, can be your best friend.
By doing the boning, smearing, and tying up, Mike saved me time, frustration, and clean up. I’ve boned just enough cuts of meat and birds to know it takes lots of practice to do well. And tying up a slippery, large piece of meat is not my idea of fun either. With Mike’s help, all I needed to do was carry the well-shaped roasts home and cook them.
Bi•Rite became my familiar as I worked on Hubert Keller’s Souvenirs: Stories and Recipes from my Life (Andrews McMeel 2012). From the meat department, I ordered cowboy steaks and a venison rack. Once I walked in hoping, but doubtful, that such a small shop would have jarred, preserved lemons. When I tentatively asked a staff person about them, I was led directly to the spot where the jars stood on a high shelf.
That happened again and again. A staff member—and often more than one—always stood ready to help me find anything I needed. In a shop crowded with both people and products, I’ve never lacked for as much help as I wanted for as long as I needed. And the shop is a real democracy: everyone gets treated the same way.
Somehow Sam Mogannam, Bi•Rite’s owner and himself a cookbook author (Bi.Rite Market’s Eat Good Food), has managed to choose and motivate the staff so that they appear to be as excited and interested in my shopping as I am. Once a cashier remarked that the vermicelli from Molino e Pastificio I had in my basket and knew nothing about was his favorite. Now that I’ve tried it as well as the company’s Ternetta, I second that emotion.
We are lucky in San Francisco to have a number of stores that turn into beloved resources. But they can exist anywhere both in brick-and-mortar incarnations and on the Internet. What are your go-to shops?