On Monday night, I joined the 1,900 person throng that descended on the new Whole Foods store in Darien for a "Sneak Peak Party." My two boys and I were treated to dozens of tastings, all from local vendors, that spanned the perimeter of the store, from appetizers to desserts.
First up was raw oysters, handed over by Captain Northrop, a local aquaculture farmer who informed us that the shellfish were pulled from the water in Westport just an hour-and-a-half ago. They were large, fresh and worthy of any reputable raw bar. Other raw offerings at the store include clams and other oysters, plus tuna, salmon, eel and shrimp sashimi.
We sampled sashimi tuna steak, served Tataki syle with Whole Food's wasabi aioli, which was a bit milder than expected, but a good find. We eyed the freezer-section, soon to be stocked with baby octopus, squid, sea bass, halibut and, later this summer, harpoon-caught swordfish. These fish are caught by Whole Foods fishermen in Gloucster, Mass., and sent straight from their boats to the store. Some are packed in marinade and vacuum-sealed in clear plastic bags, where they instantly become scallop scampi, ginger soy Atlantic salmon and cajun salmon (look for them in the free standing, open-face freezer).
As we turned the corner, we encountered Bilinski's chicken sausages, which are organic, nitrite-free and without casings. These kept the kids coming back for seconds, notably the sweet Italian sausages. Such pre-cooked items heat up under the broiler in about 5 minutes, a truly effortless way to make a quick dinner when faced with ravenous children.
Most kids enjoy potstickers. But a whole-wheat dumpling stuffed with shredded cabbage and carrots? Fine for me, but I truly did not expect my boys, 7 and 8, to eat this vegan product made by Tang's Natural. Yet they each devoured their sample, which goes to prove that dumplings are always a winner. If your child is truly picky, however, try the packaged potato gnocchi, which won us over. Either is an easy side to round out the speedy sausage dinner.
The wall of cheeses at Whole Foods was vast. I went straight for a sample from the giant round of Parmigiano Reggiano, a savory, salty delight that made me think about doubling back for more. But I pressed on, toward a creamy brie topped with one of four spreadable fruits infused with herbs. The peach with rosemary and the rhubarb raspberry with thyme were divine with the cheese. Now there's a delicious hors d'oeuvres.
Meanwhile, my boys were patiently waiting in line for Mama Mancini's meatball sliders. They were not disappointed. Though packaged, they tasted like homemade, with a simple marinara sauce, and I was please to find I could read every ingredient on the label.
Along the final aisle were dessert stations that stretched to the doors and beyond. We sampled irresistible chocolate chip and molasses ginger cookies from Divvies, all made without milk, eggs or nuts. Next we sidled up the gelato bar for some ColdFusion vanilla gelato, all natural with real vanilla bean, a treat that will surely make this a destination point for young connoisseurs.
On our way out, we tried one last item: a perfect chocolate truffle. Who could resist such a delicious ending? There are winning items throughout the store, but what will keep me coming back is Whole Food's commitment to honest foods. The promise that there are no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors or hydrogenated fats in any product creates a comfort level that makes me want to try new things. And with the hundreds to choose from, in addition to 200 organic fruits and vegetables, there's fun to be had with food.
The Whole Foods Market 150 Ledge Road, Darien