Live music at Nicole's!
Thursday, August 12th & Thursday, August 26th
Join us Thursday, August 12th and Thursday, August 26th for two fabulous evenings of friends, food, wine & the beautiful live music of acclaimed accordionist Nick Ariondo!
Nick Ariondo, a recipient of many awards, is recognized as a concert artist and composer of international prominence. His performances and compositions contribute immeasurably to raising the status of the accordion through the promotion and presentation of chamber concerts, solo recitals, and orchestra appearances. Equally proficient in musical styles ranging from the great classics to modern contemporary, ethnic and jazz, Mr. Ariondo has won accolades from noted composers, conductors, and musicians alike.
We are currently trying to organize a Guest Chef demonstration event. Basically, we will invite some of our Chef friends from L.A.'s top restaurants to come in and perform various cooking demonstrations. It will be lots of fun, and educational too. Check back with us soon for updates on this event and be sure to add yourself to our mailing list on the home page.
Pasadena Star-News™: "Mad About Cheese"
June 11th, 2003
HOMAGE TO FROMAGE – A TRIBUTE TO CHEESE AT A SOUTH PASADENA GOURMET FOODS STORE
Staff Photograph by Sarah Reingewirtz
MAD ABOUT CHEESE
By Martin S. González – Staff Writer
CHARGING into Nicole's Gourmet Foods like a young boy leaping from a swinging rope into a calm lake, chef Damon Bruner heads to the counter to check on the order for his restaurant, Cinnabar in [Glendale], but is halted by the display of cheeses for sampling. He grabs a piece of bread and slathers on a rich helping of Brin d'Amour, a raw sheep's milk cheese and feasts.
"This is so good," he tells me, savoring every bite. "These guys are the best. Great product and they really know their stuff." Minutes later, chef Hideo Yamashiro, owner/chef of the ac claimed Shiro Restaurant in South Pasadena drops by, visibly exerted from his bike ride to the shop. As he frantically selects a variety of cheeses from the cooler, he chats briefly with other customers, many of whom are regulars at his restaurant. I ask him what cheeses he is using on his menu and he gives me a quick recipe for a salad.
"The Etorki I like very much," he said, referring to the firm and supple sheep's milk cheese with a burnt caramel sweetness and creamy texture. "I make a salad with beets and the Etorki, sliced thin, with balsamic vine gar, olive oil and dill. Simple, but delicious."
The small gourmet shop on Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena is a big hit with locals and restaurant chefs alike, mainly because of its tremendous selection of more than 200 cheeses from around the world, and largely because of the passion and knowledge owner Nicole Grandjean and her son Steve share about the foods they import. Every Thursday and Saturday afternoon, the shop hosts a cheese tasting, presenting a selection of cheeses deemed by Nicole to be at their peak. The tastings, said Steve Grandjean, are a way for customers to discover new cheeses and for the shop to sell cheeses when they are at their peak ripeness.
Staff Photograph by Sarah Reingewirtz
"We can control the final stages of a cheese to a certain extent," said Grandjean. "The Brin D'Amour, for example, is better when it has developed a slight blue mold on the rind and the cheese is creamier, so we'll hold it until it is just right."
The mold, Grandjean pointed out, develops on the rind of the cheese, which is coated with herbs, chilies and juniper berries, and is not eaten. The properly aged cheese, delectably creamy, had a surprisingly sweet tang, nutty and with a pleasing herb essence, not at all the flavor portended by its moldy, harsh exterior.
"Since we've been open we have seen our customers be come more and more interested in cheese," said Grandjean, "and not only in the flavor, but in where they come from and how they are made. So we try to put out a varied selection of cheese, made with cow's milk, and goat's milk and sheep's milk, and of different ages."
No matter what milk the cheese is made from, how old it is, or what method was used to make it, the only way to truly know if you like a cheese is to taste it.
"We'll get customers who find a cheese they really like, and they'll just buy that cheese over and over. With the tastings, they can taste new cheeses without having to buy them."
Among the varieties available for tasting on this particular week were Torta La Serena, a Spanish unpasteurized sheep's milk cheese aged 60 days and with a strong, complex, gamey flavor. The Explorateur, a triple cream fresh cow's milk cheese named in honor of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer, was indulgently creamy, due to addition al cream added to the cheese during production. Mild in flavor, slightly salty and aptly named, it's the perfect cheese for a beginner venturing into the world of cheese beyond Monterey Jack.
"The important thing to remember about the Explorateur is to serve it at room temperature. When it's cold, you can't taste its true depth of flavor."
Although Grandjean admits cheese is a great ingredient to cook with, he is a cheese purist, preferring to enjoy cheese simply, with a fresh baguette, a nice glass of wine and maybe some fruit.
As for storage, Grandjean points to moisture as the greatest enemy of any cheese. A fresh cheese should easily keep for two weeks if tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, and aged cheeses, which have less moisture, should keep longer. "No cheese would last more than two weeks in my fridge," said Grandjean.
LA Weekly: "Dangerous Liaison"
June 14th – 20th 2002
By Michelle Huneven
I AM STANDING AT THE CHEESE case of Nicole's Gourmet Foods and cradling a wedge of hard aged chèvre when a man behind me says, "This is a very dangerous shop."
He's right. I came in for lunch, but while waiting for my sandwich, I've been shopping. Well, it started out as browsing, but one thing led to another, and soon enough I had to get one of those little wooden baskets to accommodate the must-haves. Which include: a small jar of purple French mustard (made with grape must, it's sweet and hot like chutney) and a wedge of mimolette, that intensely orange cheese which, when whole and round, looks very much like a cantaloupe, and whose preternatural color comes from carrots. I also have aged Gruyère from Switzerland, gelatin sheets from Germany (sheets are clearer than granular gelatin and preferred by chefs), Gorgonzola from Italy (to stuff some squash blossoms) and various French sea salts, which here are about half the cost of what I've paid on the Westside. Yes, there's nothing I can't live without. And nothing that doesn't make life just a wee bit better. My rationale is this: The prices are excellent. Cheeses that routinely run $15 to $24 a half-pound at certain gourmet shops are $7 to $17 a pound here. That mimolette, for example: $8.95. Beautiful, grainy parmigiano reggiano: $10.95.
I exclaim to owner Nicole Grandjean, a French woman from the Salogne, "Your prices are so reasonable!"
Pleasure et pain: Nicole Grandjean, center, tempts L.A. Francophiles with her daily bread and cheese. . . and pâté . . .
(Photo by Anne Fishbein)
"I want people to learn and know about this food," she says. "They won't ever try it if the prices are high."
If these prices seem high for experimentation, then know that on Thursdays and Saturdays, Grandjean sets out a great board of cheeses, free for the tasting. If you want to go a little deeper without full commitment, the café menu offers a cheese plate (designed to feed two people) that offers four types of cheese along with a baguette and grapes.
Grandjean and her son Steven have been supplying restaurants with imported goods for 13 years. In 1996, they opened a small retail store on Allen Avenue in Pasadena — "It wasn't a good location," says Grandjean. So six months ago, they moved to this pretty yellow-walled, spacious shop in South Pasadena, on the corner of Meridian and El Centro, where they share the building with Barrister's Tea Shop & Antique store.
A visit to Nicole's Gourmet Imports is like a miniature shopping tour of France. You can buy beautiful enameled cast-iron or ceramic poeles (pots), beautiful Lagioule knives (the kind with the decorative metal flies on their handles), colorful Provençal tablecloths, woven dishtowels and napkins. A cold case holds salamis and pâtés, and fresh foie gras by the pound. Grocery shelves hold a well-chosen selection of often hard-to-find gourmet groceries, from harissa in a tube ($2.50) to 5-kilo bricks of Valrhona chocolate ($50-$55). There's a good section of olive oils — if you can't decide on one to buy, there's a tasting table; if a bottle you're interested in isn't open, Grandjean will happily open one.
All this can happen in that brief span of time while you're waiting for a sandwich. Sandwiches are made to order, although there are also pre-made, grab-and-run sandwiches for those who can't wait, or who have learned that, well, 10 minutes at Nicole's is deliciously dangerous to the pocketbook — even at her prices.
So far, Nicole's is a secret little lunch spot — only half a dozen tables, which, since the weather has turned warm and sunny, are all outside on the sidewalk under green umbrellas. I suspect these tables will multiply — there's plenty of room. Students from the nearby cooking school, bedecked in their standard chef's jackets and houndstooth pants, duck in and out. Other lunch customers seem, like me, delighted to eat French-style lunches without having to spend 10 hours in economy class.
The menu includes sandwiches on fresh baguettes, half a dozen salads, a couple of daily specials. The croque monsieur — melted Gruyère, French ham and a cushioning of bechamel on a baguette — is the Eastside's best ham and cheese. The tuna salad is made without mayo; it's a juicy, lively mixture of albacore, celery, scallions, olive oil, vinegar and whole-grain mustard. Country pâté (or mousse creole pâté) is also served in a sandwich, with romaine lettuce and cornichons — you can't get much more French, not in South Pasadena, anyway.
Meal-size salads include one made with smoked, meaty Muscovy duck breast, dried cherries and greens, all dressed in an excellent fruity olive oil (Critelli, a blend made in California). There's also an authentic Greek salad — feta, cukes, tomatoes, red onion and kalamata olives topped with rosemary, olive oil and some of that crunchy fleur-de-sel — and a niçoise salad with albacore, haricots verts, niçoise olives and potatoes. An assortment of beverages is in a cold case along with little cartons of fromage frais (a fresh cheese that the French eat like yogurt).
Grandjean is a great resource for those of us Francophile gastronomes who don't have the wherewithal to keep a pied-à-terre in Paris or pay $24 a half-pound for brin d'amour (herb-encrusted goat cheese). To my mind, her will to educate and her public-friendly prices constitute a public service: She's taking great foodstuffs out of the realm of sheer luxury and adding a few simple, tangible pleasures to daily life.
921 Meridian Ave., Unit B, South Pasadena; (626) 441-9600. Open Tues.Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. till 5:30 p.m. Sandwiches. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V.
LA Magazine: "The Food Issue"
November 2002 (Pg. 104) – www.lamag.com
Photographs by: Victor Schrager
NICOLE'S GOURMET FOODS
By Margot Dougherty, Linda Burum
Owner Nicole Grandjean has an accent that melts like gouda de chèvre. Born in the Loire Valley, she is well schooled in fromage and was a cheese importer before opening her airy store a year ago. Her finely honed assortment focuses on the French (Bries, bleus, chèvres) but includes a few Basque offerings, too. Grandjean hosts weekly educational tastings (did you know the Mimolette was General de Gaulle's wheel of choice?), and her prices are a delight, The ethereal Brin d'Amour sheep's milk from Corsica sells for $17.50 a pound here, versus $24 at La Brea Bakery and $40 at the Cheese Store.
To read this entire article, or to find other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives.
Cheese is in. Granted, it was in last year, and the year before that, and several thousand years before that. But here, now, cheese is in-er, more in, at its in-est since the 1970s rage for fondue and French onion soup. Restaurants are laying in humidified glass boxes, which they grandly call cheese "caves." They have cheese menus, maitre fromagers and one of these maitres, Max McCalman of the New York restaurant Artisanal, has even written an excellent new cheese book.
It is all too fabulous — if you are rich. No ordinary mortal can afford to routinely eat cheese this way, and without eating cheese all the time, it is impossible to learn about it. For the man on the street, mastering cheese by ordering it at swank restaurants is about as affordable as tackling metallurgy by shopping at Tiffany's.
Rather, the time-honored classroom has always been a good cheese shop. As you enter, the proprietor might look up from tasting a new Emmental, and ask if you'd like a sample, then offer a contrasting bite of Gruyere. You're about to discover real "Swiss" cheese. You came in for sea salt, but you leave with Gruyere, bread, wine and plans to serve asparagus soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and Gewurtztraminer.
What a great fantasy this might seem, since shops like this are rare in this town. But several new ones have opened in Los Angeles in the last two years. In a chronically underserved field, this doubles the ranks of dedicated shopkeepers intent on selling cheese the way it needs to be sold: by knowledgeable staff offering plenty of free tastes...
In South Pasadena, a beloved shop among locals, Nicole's Gourmet Foods, is settling in nicely after a move from Pasadena proper two years ago. French expatriate Nicole Grandjean and her son, Steven, have cheese tastings on Thursdays, to coincide with the farmers market next door. Otherwise, customers choose for themselves from a refrigerator bearing a handsome selection of French cheeses, including what seem like a fanatical fan's concentration of two types of Roquefort, their most expensive cheeses from roughly $13 to $15 per pound. Those interested in expert help from the owners are well advised to go outside of lunch time, when the proprietors and staff are run off their feet by the sandwich trade...
...For consumers buying cheese by appearance alone, some tips: Beware of discoloration. The paste of Stilton should not be dark brown and slimy. This spells oxidized surfaces and rancid flavors. A touch of blue veining in a Cheddar is fine, even desirable, but a darkening outside paste is not. Also look for disproportionate amounts of rind, which is inedible, but still costing you from $15 to $20 per pound.
Better yet, take your business to a store that earns it. You'll not only leave knowing what you've bought actually tastes like, if the shop's worth the bell over its door, you'll leave enthused.
LA Weekly: "Nine Kick-Ass Dishes of 2002"
Dec 27th – Jan 2nd 2003
NINE KICK-ASS DISHES OF 2002
By Michelle Huneven
6.) Croques-Monsieurs are cropping up all over town, but my favorite — for its simplicity and quality — is at Nicole's Gourmet Imports in South Pasadena. A baguette, sliced lengthwise, is layered with just enough béchamel, a good thin-sliced flavorful French ham, and aged Gruyère, all topped with a dash of nutmeg, then toasted till the tips of the ham are crisp and the cheese bubbles and browns.
LA Times – Cook's Walk: "A Tasty Corner of Pasadena"
November 8th 2000 – Food Section
A TASTY CORNER OF PASADENA
At this quiet old shopping center you can choose hummus, mole or foie gras.
By Cindy Dorn
Allen Avenue is a grand old street that starts at the entrance to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino and stretches to the foothills of Altadena. Its heart — at least food-wise — is where it crosses Villa Street in Pasadena, especially the great little shopping center on the northeast corner. Along with the dry cleaner, the liquor store and the dog groomer, you can buy a surprising variety of foods.
The surrounding neighborhood is filled with the kind of shady, bungalow-lined residential streets Pasadena is known for. Families sit out on porches; kids play on the tree-lined sidewalks. The area is more diverse these days but no less middle class than it was in the '20s and '30s when most of these houses were built.
The shopping center has been there about as long. Its facade had a make-over after the 1992 L.A. riots and, like many an L.A. face lift, it ended up looking worse than before. Just ignore it. The food being sold inside is about as good as food gets. As you enter Nicole's Gourmet Foods in the morning, you may find a Mozart string quartet on the radio competing with the sound of Nicole Grandjean chirping in French on the phone. Nicole will win. She hails from the departement of Loire-et-Cher and originally imported and sold her French delicacies to restaurant chefs. Her clientele urged her to open to the public and, with the help of her son, Steven, she keeps the shop well stocked with fresh foie gras, jambon cru, duck leg confit, duck breast, smoked salmon, pates, caviar, baguettes and croissants from a local French baker, an assortment of French artisanal cheeses, butter from France, white anchovies and even, in season, fresh truffles. She also carries Valrhona, Callebaut and Scharffen Berger cooking chocolate, tablecloths and dish towels and various pottery from Provence.
Stop in on Saturday for cheese tastings and, on occasion, tastings of vintage balsamic vinegars.