Cupertino Whole Foods versus Austin Whole Foods

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my friendĀ  Shelly in her town of Austin, Texas. One of the places she lead me to was the Whole Foods store, which also happened to be the headquarters of the worldwide holistic-substenance Whole Foods chain.

In a word, it was mind-blowing. I had never seen a store anything like this: it was like the most fantastic gourmet foods store I’d seen, combined with a save-the-world vibe. I think there were about 300 different kinds of butter on sale, from exotic Irish butter to goat milk butter; fresh Enoki mushrooms sprouting in a tray and ready to pick; and a huge range of deli kiosks serving up whatever you might fancy, whether it might be vegetarian entrees or south Asian fusion food. Of course, it being Whole Foods, it was all fabulously expensive, and even holistically-minded Shelly bought her vegetarian sausages at a food co-op. But I knew if I wanted to go for an all-out incredible gourmet dinner, whether Iron Chef or culinary forefront style, nothing could beat the Austin Whole Foods for quality or range of ingredients.

And so we fast forward to today. Several months ago, a mega Whole Foods store opened in Cupertino, which from various accounts, sounded like the Austin Whole Foods store. Naturally, all the foodies and yuppie organic types rushed to the opening, and it was slammed. I decided to hold off until the initial crowds died down. Today was my opportunity.

Both Peter and I are fighting off colds, and we’ve opted for a low-key Valentine’s Day celebration. Since I like to avoid a rush whenever possible, we’ve been having our Superbowl-decided Valentine’s Day dinner (if at a restaurant) the day before Valentine’s Day anyway, and it was no big deal to postpone the same dinner to March. And what’s a box of chocolates, when I’m planning to go see the chocolate museum in Cologne next week? I figured I could buy something healthy (and possibly cold-curing) and see the Cupertino Whole Foods at the same time.

I was shocked to get a good parking space, even though the massive parking lot was well filled. In short, the Cupertino Whole Foods is impressive in comparison with an ordinary Whole Foods store, but it’s just half of the Austin Whole Foods experience. There were corners offering up gourmet cakes (even a vegan chocolate cake, if that’s what you’re into); roasted dinners and side dishes; Asian food; chocolates and other confectionery; and a broad salad bar. The fish section included crab wellingtons, which I almost bought, but didn’t; and the cheese and wine sections rivaled those of any local grocery store. But even though there were plenty of exotic mushrooms to be had, they were largely packaged, and there wasn’t as much of a range in the other items. It’s still all enough to keep Silicon Valley locals in awe: one reviewer said she brought visitors to this Whole Foods to impress them. But, honey, you ain’t seen Whole Foods until you’ve seen the Whole Foods in Austin.

Nonetheless, I was able to put together a fabulous dinner, and the staff there was exceedingly helpful. I bought Guinness-braised lamb shanks (because Guinness is good for you), broccoli raab which I’ll steam with organic garlic (which cures all ills) and pecorino romano cheese, and a bowl of berries (which are full of anti-oxidants.) I also bought some ginger ale (which aids against inflamations like colds), and a “Get Gorgeous!” Tea (so watch out Heidi Klum!) I almost bought a tiramisu cake, and a box of chocolates, but they were about $30 each (there’s a reason Whole Foods has the nickname “Whole Paycheck”) so we may make up for it with an after-dinner walk to a pastry shop.

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