Food, Beautiful Food

Ferranti's is a European treasure--if you can get through the busy traffic

Ferranti's Fine Foods. It's alliterative, and it's a treasure.

This gourmet food store/catering house/bistro sits just west of the ferocious Grant/Tanque Verde roads intersection on the south side of Grant--do not try approaching Ferranti's during evening rush hour unless you're already headed east and in the right-hand lane, and God help you if you miss the turn. (Once you've made it, you're fine: There's ample parking in back.) The contrast between the urban nightmare outside and the oasis of pan-European civilized living within is so complete, it's almost funny. A vast Albertsons and a Target loom over the parking lot, but once you're inside, you could be in Paris or Milan or Barcelona--in one of the really nice parts of any one of a number of European cities, really.

The concept of Ferranti's is not unlike that of another favorite, Roma Imports, but fancier and more international. What you see is mostly a high-rent specialty food and wine store, with a fine selection of imported cheeses and salumeri, plus hard-to-find things like canned San Marzano tomatoes and five different types of paprika. There are also display cases with baked goods, Berto's gelato and prepared food for takeout--including the most beautiful paella I've ever seen ($15.95 per pound). Behind the big case is a window into the kitchen, so you can watch the piratical-looking chef cooking up a storm. (I prefer a wicked-looking cook to any other kind.)

There's a scattering of tables throughout the airy store and on two patios outside, and if you think eating in a grocery is unappealing, you're not picturing Ferranti's, where every surface sparkles, and every jar sits on its shelf just so. The appreciation of food, beautiful food, is what the place is all about. A restaurant doesn't have to be as tricked out as Grandma's house or a garden in Tuscany to have an esthetic.

The first time I ate at Ferranti's, I met my friend Shirley there for dinner. We both staggered in from the roar slightly glazed and very hungry. Seated at a little table in the corner, next to a display of magnificent gift baskets, we were waited on by a French gentleman who took loving care of us. When we asked about wine, he told us about the house wines, but suggested with a wry smile that we might want to check out the "walk-through wine-list"--the shop's small, select wine section. There, on his advice, we chose a rosé pinot grigio ($12.99 plus a $2 corking fee) with which we were more than happy: dry and crisp yet faintly, beautifully pink. What's not to like?

We then chose our soup (included with dinner). Shirley picked the highly recommended bisque Valenciana, while I, the diligent reviewer, took the butternut squash and basil bisque. My soup was good; Shirley's was superb. As advertised, it was a distillation of the flavors of paella--shellfish, white wine, onions, saffron. It was one of the best soups I've ever tasted.

Shirley also did a better job of ordering her entrée. She had one of the specials, grilled lamb chops ($15.95), and they were perfect: succulent, flavorful, meltingly tender and done exactly as she requested. My moussaka ($12.95) was tasty, but a bit dry. (The dinner menu is divided into French, Italian, Spanish and Greek sections.) Both entrées came with a silky ratatouille and mashed red bliss potatoes. We finished with a scoop of gelato each ($2.75), while discussing European anti-Americanism with our waiter and having a little group moan about the Bush administration. When we asked for the check, it came instantly, but with the advice that we should not feel hurried. We didn't.

Service was just as kind, deft and friendly the next week, when my friend Molly joined me for lunch. The place was a bit busier than at dinnertime, but had the same serene, comfortable feel. The sandwich menu was fascinating--you can't get a duck-breast sandwich just anywhere--but we ordered virtuously. Molly loved her bowl of mushroom bisque ($5.95), and I was pleased with my generous, fresh salad niçoise ($8.95), which came with a huge portion of tuna and all the usual trimmings, plus a handful of blanched, skinny green beans on top. It was sophisticated and very good.

After wandering over to look in the gelato case--a meal at Ferranti's has a shopping component that's oddly amusing--we finished off with some chocolates and Arbuckle's coffee before plunging, refreshed, back into the stream.

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