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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Number 24: Le Sanctuaire's Vadouvan

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Golden vadouvan from Le Sanctuaire, $10.69 at Rainbow. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Golden vadouvan from Le Sanctuaire, $10.69 at Rainbow.

SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition


In 2005, a Los Angeles chef named Ludovic Lefebvre asked Le Sanctuaire, a merchant of spices and molecular-gastronomy tools with branches in Santa Monica and San Francisco, to develop a spice blend for him. Called vadouvan, the blend is rumored to have originated in a French colony in South India but is now prevalent in French kitchens. 

It took Le Sanctuaire many tries to get the blend right, says co-owner Fany Setiyo. The firm started selling vadouvan to chefs about five years ago, and in 2008, began packaging it up in smaller portions for retail sales. It's now the company's best-selling spice blend. "We make a batch of 100 pounds and it's gone in a day and a half," Setiyo says.

In the past three years, Le Sanctuaire's vadouvan has shown up in almost every high-end Bay Area restaurant, from Saison and Commonwealth to Wayfare Tavern and Incanto. At first whiff, it greets you like a standard curry powder, the fenugreek, cumin, and ginger in the blend evident. But the genius of the blend is that just behind that garrulous greeting lopes the nutty, sweet flavors of slowly toasted shallots and onion. They give the vadouvan an unexpected richness, uninterrupted by chile heat, that broadens the flavor of everything the spice blend touches.

Vadouvan is not an easy spice blend to make. In his new cookbook, Aziza chef Mourad Lahlou gives a recipe for his version -- based on Le Sanctuaire's -- that requires at least 10 hours of mincing, frying, roasting, and dehydrating. It takes much less time to head to Rainbow to pick up a 23-gram package, which costs close to $11. The moment you take off the lid, though, its potency becomes apparent. A pinch is all that is needed to sprinkle onto scrambled eggs or to flavor a warm vinaigrette for roasted vegetables. Lahlou makes brown-butter sauce with vadouvan for drizzling over chicken, and Setiyo recommends sprinkling vadouvan over steamed lobster.

Le Sanctuaire: 315 Sutter (at Grant), 986-4216. Private appointments only. Spices also available online or, slightly cheaper, at Rainbow Grocery.

Other favorites in this series:

25: Crab louis salad at Nettie's Crab Shack

26: Soy sauce chicken from Happy Bakery & Deli

27: Locanda's Jewish-style artichoke

28: Local: Mission Eatery's asparagus-egg sandwich

29: Memphis Minnie's 18-hour brisket

30: Custard buns from City View

31: Mission Chinese Food's kung pao pastrami

32: Panisse frites from Frances

33: Izakaya Yuzuki's chawanmushi

34: Fatted Calf's chorizo

35: Silvanas from House of Silvanas

36: Linden Street Brewery's black lager

37: Aged oolongs from Red Blossom Tea Company

38: Broken Record's crawfish grits

39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar 

40: Nutella-hazelnut hand pie from Black Jet Baking Co.
41: Fifth Floor's burger
42: Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin
43: Iced coffee from Sightglass
44: Cypress Grove's Purple Haze Chevre
45: Lechon from Tastebuds Cuisine
46: Duck with beets from AQ
47: Tai nigiri at ICHI Sushi
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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