Best Spice Shop: The Spice Station
If you happen to be cooking your way through the tomes of Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert, and other authors who mine the depths of specific cuisines, you know the ups and downs of assembling ingredients. Some days it's a joy to stop at three different shops to find the spice makings of that chana masala or Syrian mix. Other times you just want to get in the kitchen.
The Spice Station, which has locations in Silver Lake and Santa Monica, has got you covered when it comes time to dealing with the aromatics. The seasoning shop combines under one roof (well, technically two roofs in Silver Lake) what it took us centuries to gather. Whereas Magellan had to cross oceans, these days it often just takes a trip across a bottlenecked freeway.
Finding the store itself is part of the experience of the original Silver Lake Spice Station. Because it's set back from that stretch of Sunset Boulevard's groovy restaurants and comic book shops and whatnot, the Space Station feels like stumbling onto a quiet secluded temple. But one that's full of specialty spices, teas, and other dried goods from around the globe.
J. Ritz The Silver Lake Spice Station's tea table.
A walkway between Forage and Secret Headquarters brings you to the tea room first, where the walls are lined with dozens of jars that are there for the opening, smelling, and tasting. And that's before you get to the main shop, which faces a charming, serene courtyard. The Spice Station is about sensory experience and exploration -- and return visits. Peter Bahlawanian, who co-owns the stores with his wife, Bronwen Tawse, says "we want to inform people before they buy anything." There's even a lending library and check-out system, complete with custom library book pockets.
J. Ritz Co-owner Bahlawanian peruses the lending library and shows support for another Silver Lake business.
This isn't a fill-up-the-shopping-basket kind of store. Each item is hand-dispensed, packaged and/or ground to order. But beware: intentions of buying just an ounce of anise seeds might turn into a haul of asafoetida from Afganistan, lemon peel granules, Mexican chile morita, Peruvian pink salt, wild blueberry sugar, and seven spices baharat blend. Pre-packaged or custom sets assembled in sensible tin canisters are also available.
Both outlets of the Spice Station carry more or less the same inventory, but with a few distinguishing characteristics. The Santa Monica store, which is in the former Herb King space on Main Street, has a larger organic section due to customer demand; in Silver Lake, Bahlawanian notices customers are more interested in "the flavor and quality of product" rather than certifications.
Bahlawanian and Tawse use reclaimed wood, salvage pieces, and other aged and simple materials that show the passage of time to great effect. Because hyperbolic as it may sound, the contents within those glass jars essentially tell the history of the world.
The Spice Station: 3819 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 660-2565
2309 Main St., Santa Monica; (310) 450-0505.