Stores with Class
Three new tableware shops are not only importing unusual objects from around the world, they’re also offering cooking demonstrations, tea tastings and more.
Philadelphia’s Kitchen Megastore
Walking into the massive, 10,000-square-foot Foster’s Homeware in Philadelphia can be an overwhelming experience. There’s an entire wall dedicated to Oxo products—450 different items—and another with almost everything the Scandinavian design company Iittala makes. Plus, there’s ingenious tableware like Ineke Hans’s porcelain soup bowl, with a handle that doubles as a spoon rest, and MarlaDawn Home’s two-spout teapot that pours two cups simultaneously. The five-month-old shop simplifies the lives of owners Ken Foster and Larry Lantz by combining their two previous shops—one focused on kitchenware, the other on tableware. And the store includes a full-scale apartment, modeled after Foster’s own, complete with a Pop Art kitchen where influential local chefs and restaurateurs like Jose Garces of Amada and Ellen Yin of Fork hold cooking classes and demonstrations four times a week. Next year, the lineup will expand to include classes in flower arranging and eco-friendly housecleaning.
399 Market St., Philadelphia; 800-734-8511 or shopfosters.com.
Foster’s Top Picks
1"Two for Two" tea set by MarlaDawn Home, $100.
2Bowl and spoon by Ineke Hans for Royal VKB, $40 for two.
3"Utopia Country" mugs from Loveramics, $14 for two.
L.A.’s Tableware & Tea Emporium
At the tea-centric los angeles boutique Algabar, customers are welcomed with a cup of smoky hojicha green tea. "In today’s world of Internet shopping, the experience of purchasing an item has to be worth the trip," says owner Gail Baral, who along with her business partner, Robb Wain, turned a cavernous space with 20-foot ceilings into a tabletop store, tea-tasting bar and specialty-food shop. Twice a month, Baral holds classes on how to properly taste teas, selected from the shop’s 60 varieties, which come from Japan, China, India and South America. "Tea is like wine," Baral says. "It has a multitude of smells and flavor profiles."
To complement the teas, Baral sells artisanal accessories like matte-glazed teacups made in Mino, the pottery capital of Japan. She also offers food tastings: In a tiny back kitchen, Baral prepares simple dishes using ingredients sold at the store, like vanilla ice cream mixed with black pepper and Acetaia Reale’s 10-year-old balsamic vinegar. "If you’re going to spend $65 for vinegar, you should be able to taste it," she says. "And when you taste it, it should inspire you."
342 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; 323-954-9720 or algabar.com.
Algabar Top Picks
1Mino cup and saucer, $28.
2Hand-harvested Mallorcan hibiscus salt, $28 for 5.3 oz.
3"Dot" from Tampopo, $18; "Bamboo" from Roost, $16; "Bellini Bubble" from Mariposa, $25.
Boston’s Latin Hangout
Shopping at diseno is an education in latin culture. The eight-month-old home-interiors store (diseño is Spanish for "design") in Boston’s South End not only sells handmade tableware from South America, but also presents tastings of Latin wine and food. "Many people in the United States have no clue about what exists in South American cities in terms of style and sophistication," says Frank Campanale, who, along with Argentina-based co-owner Mariano Brener, scours the continent for exclusive finds, such as supersoft Peruvian llama-wool blankets (from $400) and nested ceramic bowls with dinosaur-egg-like exteriors and brightly glazed interiors from Argentina ($200 for a set of five). Staff from the Wine Emporium, a respected local store, lead the wine tastings, which showcase star South American grapes (Malbec, Tannat, Torrontés) along with snacks like empanadas. At night, Diseño takes on the atmosphere of a lounge, as customers hang out on hand-stitched leather "Pampa" sofas ($6,600) watching videos of Bahian beach parties on flat-screen TVs. Campanale even negotiated an arrangement with a Buenos Aires record label to play its database of songs on the store’s four music-listening kiosks.
409 Harrison Ave., Boston; 617-423-2008 or disenoboston.com.