Friday, April 12, 2013

Scratching the Culinary Surface at Surfas

Surfas Culinary District
3303 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Truth be told, I was not too excited to come to Surfas. I am not much into shopping. I very rarely cook at home, even though I love to cook. I had only been to the South Coast Collection (SOCO) center once before, and was not so excited by the hipster type vibe I experienced there. I mainly went to Surfas because when Katie had heard that we were invited, her eyes lit up like I haven't seen them in a long time. She was ecstatic about our trip to Surfas. I have to admit that after our trip, I was pretty ecstatic about the store also.

First a little history behind Surfas. Started in 1937, this is truly a family owned business, now with their third generation working here. The original Surfas operated in Los Angeles as a major supplier of equipment to the burgeoning culinary market that LA was becoming. In 1989, they outgrew their warehouse/showroom on Jefferson, and moved to their current LA location in Culver City. This larger location allowed them to carry gourmet cheeses, and other specialty food items that are just not available anywhere. Still only open to wholesalers and restaurant industry personnel, in the mid 90's Surfas flung open their doors to the public to allow them to experience some of the 20,000 food products, along with their large collection of commercial quality kitchen necessities. After many years of people asking for another location of Surfas to be opened up, the owners found what they think is the perfect spot, the South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa.

This is the third location of Surfas, (they have a small storefront in the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas). This OC location has become a culinary wonderland to the many kitchen designers, chefs, foodies, and just your average run of the mill consumer. From the moment we walked in I was amazed at all of the things that they carry. Lucky for us, we had the wonderful Kaitlin Novell to guide us along on a tour of this food lovers paradise.

We started off our tour by checking out all the products used to make great food. I was really impressed by all of the state of the art kitchen items that they carry. Deep fryers, pots and pans of all sizes and types, mixers, ovens, ranges, sinks, faucets, freezers, shelving and more. Surfas not only sells these items, but for over sixty years they have helped design and install commercial kitchens for a good many clients, big and small.

Need a gravy boat, tea kettle, bar supplies or maybe some new glassware? Surfas has the small stuff covered as well. Aisle upon aisle of kitchen gadgets of the higher quality than you can find at your local Target store. In fact, I was recently at Target trying to find an ice pick, a simple item that I was sure they would carry. No such luck. During our visit to Surfas, I not only found an ice pick for $4.70, but I also found an ice chisel, ice carving knife, and an ice carving tool set. Great for when I start my new career as an ice block designer. I will for sure know where to go for my tools.

Katie made me promise that I would spotlight the seconds that are offered at Surfas. These are dishes that may have a tiny chip on the bottom of them, or have a slight factory defect. The prices on these are incredible, and of a higher quality since they are to be used in restaurants. They have to be sturdy since they are being used everyday. These seconds are reason enough for Katie to come back to Surfas.

We unfortunately did not get a chance to tour the test kitchen at Surfas because they were holding a cooking class at the time of our visit. This test kitchen is located right off of the showroom, and hosts a variety of events. The already mentioned cooking classes take place here on a regular basis, along with chef demos, workshops, and private events, such as wine tastings, pop up dinners, and group parities.

Surfas also boasts a cafe that helps feed hungry shoppers. A good many of the items served here feature items from around the store. Back in 2006, when the first Surfas Cafe opened in Los Angeles, they were named by Zagat as one of the top ten new restaurants in Los Angeles. A pretty big honor for a store that started out as a kitchen supply store. Kaitlin kept us moving right along, but both Katie and I made a mental note to come back to Surfas soon to try out their cafe.

Now for the part of the tour that I was most geared up for, the food portion of the tour. Looking for Himalayan coarse pink salt? They got that. Searching your supermarket for Guajillo powder? They definitely will not have that, but Surfas does. Want to find that olive oil that you had while in Italy? They have close to 100 kinds of olive oil at Surfas, so there's a chance that they will have it. I have worked in the grocery business for 25 years, and have yet to see a collection of food items like the ones they have Surfas. They carry items that other places simply do not. From Swedish pancake mix straight from Sweden, to honey mustard powder to give your popcorn an extra flavor boost, Surfas can definitely get a chef's creative juices flowing.

Not only does Surfas carry dry goods, but they also have a wide array of refrigerated and frozen items as well. Clarified butter, rare bottled sodas, black truffle butter, rabbit, gourmet ice cream, and clotted cream can all be easily gathered at Surfas.

This is not like your Ralph's or Pavilion's deli case. The Epicurean Center at Surfas had almost any kind of cheese you have heard of, and a lot of them that I had never heard of. There were plenty of people behind the counter to help you select the right kind of cheese or packaged meat you are looking for. Unsure about some of the cheeses? Off to the side of the cheese counter are two communal tables where they offer Cheese Taster Trio's ($16.00) and Salumi Samplers ($18.00). After our tour around the store I was very excited to have this opportunity to sit down and rest, and of course try some of the meats and cheeses.

These were much more than your average meat and cheese trays. You can see that the guys behind the counter really take great pride in their work. For the Cheese Taster Trio we selected Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, the Midnight Moon, and the Le Amuse. I am by no means a cheese connoisseur, but my favorite of the three was the Midnight Moon. It had a good earthy flavor, while still being a little on the buttery side. The jam that came with the cheese plate was made by the good people behind the counter, with items made from things right in the store. So good, and it went well with the cheese too. For the Salumi Sampler I wanted something a little peppery, so our guy suggested the Olli Speck Duroc. This was probably one of the best prosciutto's that I have had. It was peppery, but did not overshadow the meat. Very well balanced, but still with a kick. This was paired with a San Danielle Prosciutto, which comes exclusively from one of ten regions in Northern Central Italy. The meat can never be frozen, and has to be matured for a certain amount of time. This was a very clean prosciutto, very meaty bite, and good texture. It was hard for me to keep from gorging on the breads here, but I definitely had my fair share. This plate was garnished with some dried fruit, almonds and chocolate. Really good respite after our tour of Surfas.

Surfas really won me over. I admit I went into this with a bad attitude. I thought everything was going to be over priced, that the employees would look down on me for not being gourmet enough, and that the customers here would be too snooty. I was wrong on all accounts.  I found the prices to be pretty good actually. The employees were very helpful, even taking the time to explain cooking methods and making suggestions based on our interaction. The customers were actually nice, and when we stopped to look at an item, more than once a fellow customer would let us know what they thought of a particular item. That's something people don't do at Albertson's. It was really a very nice experience at Surfas, and with so many reasons to return, it will not be long before we do.

We would like to thank everyone at Surfas for the opportunity to visit their wonderful store. We were really impressed with all of you, and because of you, we will be back soon. We would also like to thank our tour guide, and new friend Kaitlin from Purry Communications Group. She set up this opportunity, and took time out of her Sunday to drive down the 405 to show us around the store. We can not thank you enough Kaitlin.

If you would like to know all the latest happenings with everything going on at Surfas, do not hesitate to check out their web site:


  1. I've been able to get a number of obscure things there, and some good stuff from their cafe too.

  2. Christian - We are going back to their cafe soon. I was really impressed. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog.

    Griffin - I would have never known this place was here. We never come to SOCO, but now we might have to make some trips up. Thanks for the comment.

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