Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Craving for Guacamole and a Trip to Nino Salvaggio

Earlier this week I had a wicked craving for some guacamole. At the time I was in Troy, so I decided to swing by Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace to pick up the fixin's (fresher than they would be from a Meijer).

There are three different Nino Salvaggio locations in metro Detroit--Troy, St. Clair Shores, and Clinton Township. All offer the same fresh produce and quality meats and cheeses, as well as on-site bakeries and delis which offer fresh products made daily, without anything pre-packaged.

Nino Salvaggio takes the concepts of freshness and quality and applies it to all areas of their markets. Chefs trained in culinary institutes prepare the daily selection of 75 different entrees, sides, and salads made fresh and packed for you to take home, and the bakery offers an endless array of fresh-baked goods and pastries, as well as a selection of imported treats to satisfy a more cultured palate. There are 15-20 kinds of bread baked fresh daily. The glass pastry counter is filled with pretty mouses and tortes and fruit flan made from produce picked that day. You can also get whole cheesecakes from St. Clair Shores' Cheesecake Shoppe, voted the #1 cheesecake in metro Detroit and just one example of how Nino Salvaggio also promotes other locally-based businesses. There are also hundreds of varieties of imported olives, cured meats, and cheeses. Meats and cheeses are cut in-store by trained and certified cutters, and as for their cheese selection...well, how does 305 choices sound?

Meat cutters chop your meat the day you buy it and Nino's makes their own kabobs, sausages, and hamburger patties. If seafood is more your style, the market offers over 100 fresh seafood items flown in fresh 6 days a week and cut the same day it is put on display--this fish is fresh enough to make your own sushi without worry, and if you don't find the particular sea-faring item you're looking for, they encourage special orders. The grocery portion of the store boasts a tremendous selection of imported and exotic items (at fair prices) from a variety of different culinary traditions all around the world--but it's also practical enough for a person to do his casual shopping as well. Nino Salvaggio is also one of the largest purveyors of supremo coffee beans in the country, with their Master Blender producing 32 blends daily from plantations all over South America and Africa.

The wine selection is enormous, daunting even. With over 3,000 labels in can be difficult to sift through, and due to space issues the wines are only loosely organized by region and style. And while they do offer a wide variety of mid-range labels, their pricing is still on the average to high side. I did find some labels I was excited to see, including Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon (a wine I hated the first time I tried it due to its overwhelmingly pungent sense of terroir) and Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero, a true knock-your-socks-off wine (and my first foray into Tempranillo) that you can probably find a few bucks less than the $32.99 they were charging...but it might turn into quite a journey to do so.

And now I must share a memory. I was introduced to Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero when the importer--Christopher Canaan at the time, though I'm not sure if this is still the case--was at an industry wine event at the Whitney. I was there with the person I was dating then whose father owns the Riecine vineyards in Tuscany (they've been known to make a killer La Gioia); their winemaker was also at this event. I got to meet a number of different importers and sample more wines than I had ever done previously, and one--Emilio Moro--began in me a lifelong love of Spanish wines.

Nino Salvaggio also offers a full floral and gift basket line, with fresh-cut flowers flown in 6 days a week from all parts of the world and bountiful gift baskets overflowing with sparkling fruits that can be shipped to anywhere in the continental U.S.

But the produce is where Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace really shines: for 32 years they have exercised the highest standards and have set those standards for all other gourmet marketplaces. You will not find a single bruised fruit or wilted green, as their team of educated workers comb through the items three times a day to weed out any undesirables. Overnight the produce is stored in coolers with humidity levels set to the item's appropriate requirements. They take great pride in offering items you will not find in any other grocer or market, from exotic tropical fruits to 15 different kinds of eggplant. They also have a number of signs posted to help you along your way, indicating the heat of a pepper or the uses of an herb. Nino Salvaggio recognizes that as the economy has globalized, so has cuisine, and they enjoy being able to proclaim, "If you can't find it here, you probably can't find it anywhere." Nino Salvaggio has helped define lifestyle food retailing over the years, and has defined itself as the region's benchmark of quality, availability, and exceptionally high standards. And all of the prepared foods they sell are assembled on the premises from fruit plucked right out of the produce bins, and sold with the highest standards of freshness and quality.

When highest levels of quality marry exceptional customer service, the result is something like Nino Salvaggio. (Don't get me wrong, Eastern Market, I love you's just that sometimes I want to buy fresh produce at 7:30PM on a Tuesday, or at any time on a Sunday.) The staff at Nino's is trained to be very knowledgable and helpful, and they are willing to cater to their customers in any way they can. A place like this is aces in my book.

So, getting back to that guacamole...I must first preface this by saying I do not cook. I eat. I eat lots. But I do not cook. I know everything about food, but if you put a pile of it raw in front of me, I would not know how to magically transform it into the creative and cleverly-presented dishes I like to review. It's a sad thing--like a brilliant musician gone deaf, really...only not really--but it's the truth. I've been spoiled by frozen pizza, no-fuss cheese, and boyfriends who like to cook. So there it is. I've lived to the ripe old age of 27 never having learned to cook beyond scrambled eggs and...did I say frozen pizza yet?

So. That guacamole. That guacamole was my first attempt at "cooking" (granted, there was no heat source involved) since my tween years when I fancied myself a baker (I can make a mean banana bread). If you think I'm kidding, ask anyone who knows me personally. It's painfully and completely sincerely true.

After running a 7-second Google search, I found a recipe I thought sounded particularly appealing. See, I don't really care for onions, but I love garlic. Good guac for me is free of onion chunks and HEAVY on garlic. To the point that it would be coming out of my pores. Two days later. (This is why I love Woodbridge Pub.) I found a recipe that suited this preference, and off I went to Nino's.

Guacamole by D-Tales:
2 - peeled and pitted Hass avocados
1 Tbs - lime juice
1 tsp - kosher salt
1/2 tsp - ground pepper
1 cup - chopped Roma tomato
1 - minced shallot (I only used about half as I'm not a big onion fan, though shallots aren't as strong)
1 Tbs - minced garlic (I really like garlic so I used more like 3 Tbs)
1/4 cup - minced cilantro (I skipped this since I would have had to buy a bundle of cilantro just to use a pinch)
1 - small serrano pepper, minced (I used about is hot)

Directions: Blend. (Note: it is very difficult to mash avocado with a fork. You'll need a blender or a potato masher at the very least, unless you like your guacamole extra-chunky.)

So, how was it? see that "note" above? Suffice it to say I own neither a blender or a potato masher. So. It tasted great, though. Just. A little. Chunky.

Ah, well. This is why I pay other people to make food and serve it to me. Those who can't, review, right? Bah. I'll just keep dating boys who like to cook.