Benessere Olive Oils and Balsamic
907 SW 9th Ave., 206-5317; 1428 NE Broadway, 281-6389; oilgoodness.com.
This specialty oil and vinegar store opened downtown to very little fanfare—kind of surprising for a fat- and flavor-focused business in a food-obsessed city—but is absolutely worth discovering. Sampling cups, large metal casks and unobtrusive staff leave customers free to taste their way through every one of Benessere's vast array of liquid treats. Olive oils range from a basic house blend to infused concoctions like blood orange and basil. The butter extra virgin olive oil is outrageous. Vinegars and balsamics run a similar rainbow of fruit flavors, from fig to blackberry ginger, with several aged varieties. There's also a range of other high-end oils, including truffle, porcini and roasted French walnut. Best of all, you can mix any of the products to make your own custom blend. Mushroom, sage and white truffle oil, anyone? RB.
Shopping list: Bottles of flavored olive oils (200 ml) and balsamic vinegars.
Real Good Food
833 SE Main St., realgoodfood.com.
Former WW food writer Jim Dixon sells really, really good olive oil from Italy and California (and sometimes sea salt, balsamic vinegar, farro, haricot beans and hot sauce) from a table at the Portland Farmers Market and out of a tiny warehouse at his Southeast Portland Activspace. His prices are pretty reasonable. If you're into oil in a big way, he'll sell you a share of his next shipment at a discount. BW.
Shopping list: Excellent olive oil, heirloom brown rice from California.
HERBS AND SPICES
120 NW 10th Ave., 227-6777; 11322 SE 82nd Ave., 653-7779; 11787 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway,
If it's ground, dried, cured or macerated for use by human beings, this spice mecca probably carries it—online if not at one of its retail shops. The Wisconsin-based company is known for seeking out the best varieties of vanilla bean, Turkish Aleppo peppers, curry mixes and Szechuan peppercorns and selling them at surprisingly reasonable rates. Penzeys' Portland outposts are packed with tidy wooden crates and bins of more than 250 spices and herbs. They smell like a particularly festive day in heaven. All of Penzeys' wares come with detailed labels, with samples stored in apothecary jars so you can take a whiff of the stuff yourself. BW.
Shopping list: Sanaam chili peppers, crystallized ginger, Berbere powder, orange extract, Chinese cassia cinnamon, an "Ethnic Milwaukee" gift box of spices ($33.99) packed with rib rub and cheese sprinkle.
The Spice and Tea Exchange
536 SW Broadway, 208-2886, spiceandtea.com.
This high-end spice shop doesn't have the breadth of Penzeys Spices or the obsessive depth of the Meadow, but it has a super-accessible location—making it a fun, chic place to taste and sniff your way through the world, and buy a few small gifts while you're at it. Ivy O'Brien's crimson-colored Old World boutique (part of a small Florida-based chain) boasts all the sweet, savory, herby basics, plus funky-flavored sugars and lots of cooking and finishing salts. But its secret weapon is a wall of spice blends the crew grinds fresh every week, from Thai coconut rub to za'atar blend. KC.
Shopping list: Mini microplane, big chunk of Bolivian rose salt, dynamite herbes de Provence blend, and beer extract powder, just because.
Stone Cottage Herbs
3844 SE Gladstone St., 719-6658, herbsspicesteas.com.
It didn't take long after the closure of Limbo, Southeast Portland's beloved bulk-spice emporium, for a new business to step up and fill the shop's very large shoes. Joshua Stephens, himself a former Limbo employee, opened Stone Cottage a stone's throw up Southeast Cesar Chavez Boulevard with all of the old market's spice inventory and none of the often iffy produce. With some 900 medicinal herbs, teas, specialty salts and spices from ajwain seed to wintergreen leaf, nearly all of them organically grown or foraged, Stone Cottage offers an even larger selection than Limbo. Customers are welcome to bring their own containers. BW.
Shopping list: Powdered cinchona bark to make tonic water, fair-trade cinnamon, honey so local it doesn't have a label.
3731 N Mississippi Ave., 288-4633, atthemeadow.com.
Salty, sweet, bitter: These are the flavors of the Meadow, a quaint little North Mississippi gourmet boutique that trades in salt, chocolate, wine, cocktail bitters, fresh flowers and very little else. The salt is actually the store's biggest attraction: a whole wall of high-end sodium chloride from all over the world that will make you feel like a philistine for ever letting a box of Morton anywhere near your food. Smoked salt, saffron salt, chocolate salt, pinot noir salt, and a Korean salt baked in bamboo that costs $29 for a tiny 1.2-ounce jar—what do you even do with these things? Ask proprietor and self-appointed "selmelier" Mark Bitterman, or if he's not around, buy a copy of his authoritative tome Salted. RB.
Shopping list: Salt starter set, Himalayan salt block, Xocolatl de David salted caramel sauce, Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters.
The Olive and Vine
8711 N Lombard St., 285-2686, theoliveandvine.blogspot.com. Closed Monday-Tuesday.
The best part about visiting the newly opened Olive and Vine, across the street from the St. Johns Twin Cinemas, is tasting all of the specialty salts and vinegars. Various salts are available to sample in small glass dishes, and the vinegars—ranging from Champagne to blackberry balsamic—are all laid out in sample dropper jars. Big glass canisters of loose-leaf teas also line the shelves of this tiny shop, along with imported olives and olive oils, tins of anchovies and more. Even though most of the products are on the spendy side, they're parsed out into small, affordable amounts—lots of tiny bags of salt for $2 to $3—making it a great place to shop for culinary gifts. LC.
Shopping list: Applewood-smoked salt, anchovy-stuffed Manzanilla olives, drinking vinegars, unusual baking extracts.