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This chain of delightfully pretentious grocery stores is located along the eastern seaboard, concentrated in New York and the suburbs of Washington, D.C. It is an absolutely terrible place to buy ordinary, necessary food; as such things will always be in tiny packages and cost more money than equivalent amounts of certain powdery white substances. It is not even always the best place to buy many specialty items, because you can likely find those at far better prices in ethnic markets or even some general grocery stores, with a bit of effort. But it is absolutely perfect for one thing, which is discovery. Drifting along the aisles, seeing the innumerable unfamiliar items and occasionally tasting them at sample tables, one can develop entirely new passions for food. Almost every item is strongly appetizing, intriguing, beautiful, fragrant, or a combination thereof. Shopping there is entirely pleasant and enriching, and a worthy use of any extra funds.

So: If you want to buy flour and eggs, go to Giant or Shoppers or Kroger or whatever.

If you want to buy anchovy filets, genuine wasabi powder, or fresh quinces, go to a store which you know stocks such things. If you know what you want, you probably know where to find it. (If you don’t, try your plain ordinary grocery store first. You may be surprised.)

But if you want to sample imported European cheeses for the first time, or if you want to find a lot of interesting strange little fruits for a fresh-fruit tart, or if you want to try eighteen types of Italian olives, or if you just want to spend a lovely evening in an exquisite world of flavor, go to Balducci’s. It merits its prices and tony atmosphere by being one of the few places where all the best foods and many of the most unusual ones come together to be admired and to entertain you splendidly.

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