food 03.25.13

La Boîte
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McCormick celery salt, Hanna's oregano of unknown age, some okay curry from Penzeys… that's the kind of thing most of us have stashed away in a cupboard or on a dusty spice rack. Time for a refresh.

New York's spice route converges across the street from The Daily Show, inside a shop, open Wednesdays-Fridays, 3-7pm, that you will easily pass by if you're not determined to find it. La Boîte, 724 11th Ave. [51st/52nd] 212.247.4407, is the deeply fragrant, small emporium of Lior Lev Sercarz, who is unquestionably the sage of spice in this city.

Sercarz was raised in Israel and got his training from Olivier Roellinger—the Michelin 3-star French chef known for his use of spices (Roellinger gave up his Michelin stars and opened his own spicery in Paris). Given a sous-chef job by Daniel Boulud, Sercarz came to NYC in 2002, left to devote himself to spices in 2006, and opened this store in 2011.

When you open a Sercarz jar, the spice blend will take you somewhere. It's uncanny. No wonder many of the city's top chefs have come to him to create custom spice blends—Sercarz possesses an extraordinary understanding of spices from around the world, how to combine, balance, and enhance them.

N. 35, the blend called Ararat, is urfa biber, smoked paprika, and fenugreek. Urfa who-now? It's a dried Turkish pepper with notes of chocolate and tobacco. We added some of this blend to oil and basted a chicken with wonderful results. Isphapan, N. 1, consists of limon Omani (dried limes), garlic and cardamom. The Galil blend, N. 13, verbena, sage and white cardamom, is an olfactory wormhole back through time and space.

The biscuits are a project all to themselves. Twice a year, Sercarz creates a new line of them and has an artist design a tin as their packaging. The spring/summer collection has just been released, a collaboration with artist Jim Houser. The biscuits are delicious—butter, sugar, and flour plus some subtle savory notes. They're too pricey (and too densely caloric) for frequent consumption ($65 for the tin) but they'd make a memorable gift. The spices are $15 for 1.5-2.5 ounces (some cost more) and we think they're worth every penny.

Mr. Sercarz has a new book out, The Art of Blending, which is the culinary equivalent of a page-turner—one interesting story after another, recipes, and beautiful photographs by Thomas Schauer.

Finally, you can hear from the man himself when he's at the Rubin Museum, part of the Brainwave series, on Wednesday, April 10, 7pm. He'll be talking with neurologist Donald A. Wilson, an expert on the ways in which the brain stores, processes, and recalls smells.
















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