Noe Valley Voice October 2012

Store Trek

By Karen Topakian

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new businesses in Noe Valley. This month we introduce a boutique eager to extol the virtues of olive oil.

Janell Pekkain invites the neighborhood to come see the collection of olive oils, vinegars, and pasta she and partner Mary Kucel offer at their new store on Vicksburg near 24th Street.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

Olive This Olive That
304 Vicksburg St. at 24th


Olive This Olive That, a new shop tucked away on Vicksburg Street near 24th, is modeled after a wine-tasting bar. Before you buy, the shop’s owners want you to come in and sample their olive oils and balsamic vinegars, so you can appreciate their distinctive differences.

“We really want people to taste,” says Janell Pekkain, who with partner Mary Kucel opened the shop on June 14, in the spot formerly occupied by First National Nail. “To really be able to understand extra virgin, you need to be able to smell it. It should have a wonderful aroma as well as a good flavor.” 

Ready for tasting are 20-plus flavors of extra virgin olive oil, many imported from the Mediterranean or countries in the southern hemisphere. There are single and blend varietals—Chilean Arbequina, Greek Koroneiki, California Frantoio—and oils infused with citrus or herbs like basil and rosemary.

The two dozen samples of dark and white balsamic vinegars are from Modena, Italy. A local importer adds flavorings—from fig to pomegranate to mango to chocolate marshmallow. Pekkain suggests drizzling these sweeter flavors over vanilla ice cream, fruit, or pound cake.

To keep the oils and vinegars fresh, Olive This Olive That stores them in 15-literfustis, tightly sealed stainless-steel containers made in Italy. Each oil has a glass dispenser nearby and a sign describing its special features.

When a customer asks to try a flavor, Pekkain pours a half inch or so of oil or vinegar into a small tasting cup. After carefully rubbing the cup between her palms to warm the liquid, she hands it over ­gently with a suggestion to inhale first, then drink.

A 375 ml bottle of either oil or vinegar sells for $17, or you can buy two for $30. Reduce the cost by $1 by bringing in your own bottle.

Besides oils and vinegars, the shop sells colorful handcrafted pastas from Pappardelle’s Pasta of Denver, Colo. Most of the 57 varieties have flavors, some as light as summer herb or as spicy as Thai curry. A 12-ounce bag goes for $8, and gluten-free pasta is available, too.

“We serve our chocolate pastas coated with some olive oil–balsamic combo—like a blood orange and a fig—put some fruit on it, wrap it in some mascarpone, and it’s so delicious,” says Pekkain, a former ESL teacher and international tour guide.

The boutique also sells hand-harvested sea salts and gift bags from the Philippines.

Pekkain says she and Kucel, a San Francisco firefighter, have strived to create a Mediterranean feel inside their 450-square-foot space. Distressed wooden window shutters hang high on the pale yellow walls, which turn to gold in the sunlight.

They want their neighbors to enjoy dropping by the store, and have planned events to whet their appetite. “Meet the Masters,” on Oct. 14, 3 to 5 p.m., will be a demonstration of how olive oil is made, and a chance to meet the growers and producers of several California varietals.

The shop also is hosting a monthly BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread) party, where tasters can dip bread into bowls of oil and exchange recipes. The next is Oct. 25, 6 to 8 p.m.

Pekkain says the idea for the store came from when she and Kucel were living in southern France and regularly filled their olive oil jug at the local olive oil store. “We couldn’t go back to the big bulk olive oil that didn’t have any flavor!”

Olive This Olive That is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It also is a drop spot for Ecopia Farms produce.