Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Take Out

Food would seem to be one kind of experience that would be relatively difficult to represent digitally in online environments, since smell and taste can not be easily manifested on the screen or speakers of most computer stations. And yet, in the field of e-commerce, food-related businesses are often thriving, and thanks to their Internet presences, many local eateries are finding new clientele to savor their products.

As a city-dweller who often walks past the physical locations of many fancy food purveyors, I rarely find myself stopping in Santa Monica's pricey and noisy restaurants. Instead I am much more likely to go in some of the specialty stores, many of which depend on their online customers to supplement the income derived from foot traffic.

So I've assembled my own top-ten list of places to eat in Santa Monica to which I would be happy to direct tourists and others who come here from neighboring municipalities.

1. Andrew’s Cheese Shop is a newcomer to the neighborhood, but for those homesick for French cheese shops, it offers a genuine fromagerie in which the cheese is not suffocated by plastic. I wouldn't give their website particularly high marks, but it does have a listing of "cheese bytes" with the information for cheese platters that Andrew also disseminates on physical notecards with his product.

2. Bay Cities Italian Deli has been a community staple for the better part of a century, since it once represented the Italian fishermen and gambling operators who flocked to the city during its early years, when it was a mini-metropolis of poverty and corruption up to the time of Raymond Chandler novels. The store sells fresh canoli and warm bread to reject any Atkins diet for, along with real Parma proscuitto and other meaty delicacies from the Boot. The heart of the business has always been their sandwiches, for which there are often very long lines, so more efficient Internet orders for same day lunch items are a popular feature of the Italian table cloth website.
3. The Continental Shop offers the possibility of recreating every nasty flavor described in Thomas Pychon's famous "Disgusting English Candy Drill" from Gravity's Rainbow. You can also buy every kind of canned British product imaginable along with PAL conversions and bucket shop flights to London. Their website also includes the history of their business.

4. Funnel Mill is not a place to go if you want a quick coffee to go, since each serving is created in your own individual French press and brought to your table on a silver tray with peanuts on the side. This place is designed for hard-core coffee connoisseurs and is even known to serve Kopi Luwak, the coffee made from beans found in the excrement of a civet. Despite the exoticism of many of their coffees and teas, the website is poorly designed for Internet orders and instead emphasizes "events" and "associates" that are situated in the physical space.

5. Le Pain du Jour should be appreciated by Francophiles who miss good bread and good tarts and can't stand the greasy monstrosities that impersonate croissants throughout the region. They are currently remodeling their store, which is already in a place that gets little food traffic, so it is probably good that they are finally investing in a website, although it is little more than stock photos and a list of products.

6. Santa Monica Farmers' Markets provide fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, flowers, eggs, cheese, and even meat. Although the market has been a site of shots in Hollywood movies and at least one horrific scene of real-life death, in general the focus is on healthy food. The local government website that hosts information about the markets does little to promote products or lure visitors, but it does offer interactive maps to the locations of other farmers' markets and information about what constitutes "organic" for their purposes.

7. Santa Monica Seafood is planning to expand their gourmet seafood operation into a new hybrid site in my neighborhood that is part store and part restaurant. The website for their current location contains information about prices and specials, so you don't have to haggle, and a calendar to announce upcoming tastings and foodie events.

8. Di Dios can satisfy your craving for blood orange gelato and novelty candies and still manages to compete with the ritzier Angelato store on the promenade, despite not having its own designated website. (Address and hours are here.)

9. J&T Gourmet Food is an important gathering place for Eastern European émigrés and is probably best known as a place to get fresh Polish sausage. It also doesn't have a website, so the hours and address are only available on review sites like this one.

10. Ukrainia Deli sells everything related to the former Soviet Union from gourmet caviar to Russian nesting dolls with contemporary figures. Alas, they too do not have a website, although this website give you basic information about the when and where.

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