As I stepped into the tiny elevator that goes to the fifth floor of the building that houses Le Sanctuaire, a man came in behind me, lugging two huge overstuffed suitcases. He said hello; I said hello back. I wondered if this was Jing Tio, the owner of the shop, and the person the Chronicle called "the guy who knows how to get things."
It was, but I didn't formally meet him until nearly an hour later.
Once inside, he disappeared with the suitcases (I never did find out what was inside!), while I made a beeline for my friend Adam. A woman named Koko greeted us both warmly and told us to browse to our heart's content. And so we did: gleaming white shelves held shiny knives and gorgeous plates and all kinds of gadgety things that made Adam's palms get sweaty. Another shelving unit held olive oils and shiny copper pans and several different kinds of salt.
When Koko saw us stare longingly at the spice boxes arrayed behind a long thin counter, she invited us to take a seat, and proceeded to take us on an olofactory tour. She opened up box after box of beautiful seeds and pods and spice blends; she described their aroma and flavor profiles, and told us about their provenance; three of the exotic peppers, for instance, were grown on a plantation in Indonesia that is owned by Jing.
Other spices had passport stamps from all over the world, but they had one thing in common: the ahhh factor.
These are A-list spices, the glitterati of aromatics. They're ready for the limelight, no makeup required. They have deep, vibrant colors and wild textures and they smell - oh, baby - they smell like nothing you've ever smelled before. You could design dishes around these beauties. You could design meals to highlight their preciousness. They're that amazing.
Think you know cardamom? Think again. We stuck our noses into four different kinds of cardamom pods, each one different from the rest, and loved them all. We went gaga over a bag of black limes. I swooned into two different kinds of Ras el Hanout.
Here's the best part of all: Adam and I were the only two people there, and so we got Koko's undivided attention. We got lucky; the place is often buzzing, and we happened to slip in on a holiday, but wow. What a find.
315 Sutter St