Having a party or maybe wanting to treat yourself and your family to something special? Either way, two local gourmet outlets offer indulgences from both land and sea that will make any day worthy of a celebration. In fact, if you walk in without a specific plan, beware. It's hard to walk out of either of these fantastic specialty stores without a bag full of delicacies.
La Maree Smokehouse, 434 Waverly Ave., Mamaroneck; 914-698-7700
The first thing you notice when you enter La Maree Smokehouse is the tantalizing smell of wood smoke; the second is what you don't smell: fish.
La Maree, a division of Portier Fine Foods, also sells furred and feathered game, "air-chilled" and grain fed poultry, caviar and truffles and truffled products, but fish is the main event.
Winner of several "Chefs in America" gold medals, La Maree smoked fish is sold to restaurants and retail outlets including Peter Kelly's Xavier Group, Dean and Deluca and Fairway Markets (Did you know that Westchester's first Fairway opens mid-April in Pelham Manor?).
Portier says the difference between his smoked fish and most others is threefold: freshness, a dry brine of sugar and salt and attention to detail like the hand-removal of and every pin bone.
Fish from around the world are flown in, with salmon arriving from waters off Scotland, Ireland, Norway and Alaska less than two days after leaving the boat. Demonstrating its freshness Portier brings out a sparkly silver, clear-eyed salmon just arrived from Scotland. Pulling open the gills he exposes a deep red interior, the fish passing a sniff test with flying colors.
When it's time to taste, I'm treated to beautifully marbled, delicate, smoky salmon and rich, buttery and salty trout. Smooth, sweet and lush sea bass is followed by creamy sable- delicious and surprisingly free of the off-putting pin bones I remember from even the finest stores in Brooklyn. Finally, a spoon of fresh made meaty white fish salad bears no resemblance to the pasty, mayonnaise laden version sold at bagel stores and supermarkets.
The retail side of La Maree's primarily wholesale business peaks during the Jewish holidays when smoked fish platters fly out the door. La Maree's prices are close to market, with Scottish salmon at $31.99/lb, less expensive Norwegian at $24.99/lb, and platters starting at $22.99 per person.
Auray Gourmet, 144 Larchmont Ave., Larchmont; 914-833-2274
In 2008, Auray Carolynn Dilworth and Matthew Peretz, owners of a tiny quality cheese shop on Palmer Avenue, brought in consultant Ben Aiello and decided to expand. Dilworth told me they wanted to create something that would even out the shop's sales, which peaked during holidays and weekends but lagged during the week. A bigger, bolder version of Auray, they decided, could provide a smooth cash flow. At a time of economic contraction, many thought the idea a crazy one.
Reminiscent of a French bistro but without the attitude, the bigger, brighter, consistently busy open space that is the new Auray Gourmet is proving many wrong. With prepared foods and a well developed breakfast and lunch menu, Auray's offering of charcuteries, crepes, panini, salads, soups, coffee and baked goods is impressive. But make no mistake: going straight from the display case into the savory crepes, sandwiches and salads, cheese still plays a starring role.
Dilworth and Aiello (Peretz was bought out of the business in 2009) went into the new location with a commitment to natural, artisanal food products. Along with the daily selection of more than 100 cheeses, Auray offers Nieman Ranch charcuterie, French butters, organic smoked salmon from Samaki and fresh turkey roasted in-house, along with a wide selection of natural sodas and rich, brightly flavored fair trade coffee certain to kick your addiction to that other place a few blocks away.
It's easy to walk into Auray with modest intentions to buy just a bit of cheese, maybe coffee and a flaky croissant, but it's hard to walk away without all the necessaries for a full-on feast.
How do you decide between an indulgent Brilliat triple cream brie, a five-year-aged French Comte, a tangy Humboldt Fog or a Le Chevrot goat? Should you select the Moliterno black truffle pecorino or the Forme de Ambert French bleu? A nearly impossible task.
Dilworth will taste you through all, but I dare you to walk out with just one; I couldn't. And who can buy cheese alone when there are tangy cornichons begging to be paired with one of the luxuriously creamy pates and a crusty baguette? Near the register, evenly golden, sugar enameled palmiers call from the pastry case, and don't let Dilworth even show you the hand-painted truffles made by a local chocolatier.
With weather turning warmer every day, it's a sure bet the airy blue tables outside will soon be as full as those inside the store. Perhaps it was Dilworth's experience in investment banking that informed Auray's decision to expand just as other longtime local businesses were shutting down. Maybe Aiello's food industry experience in Canada told him that Larchmont was a perfect location for their concept. Or maybe it is simply that offering delicious, high quality, fresh, natural gourmet foods at fair prices in a spacious, lovely setting wasn't such a crazy idea after all.