Aventura Mall food kiosk offers a taste of luxury caviar

Fri, May. 30, 2008


As unsuspecting shoppers mill around her, Sarah Freedman-Izquierdo pulls out a tightly wrapped hunk of wild boar -- straight from the forests of southern Spain -- and props it up in the middle of Aventura Mall.

"This is, literally, a whole other animal," Freedman-Izquierdo said. "People who travel a lot and enjoy food a lot have heard of it."

It's one of those only-in-Aventura stories: a small stand that has survived by selling luxury foods to mall-goers -- like the gamy yet subtle paleta Ibérico de Bellota, also known as Pata Negra -- for more than a decade. The Pata Negra costs more than $100 a pound, and that's just the beginning. The stand offers high-end cheeses, Belgian chocolate and $600 cans of caviar.

The stand is owned by North Miami-based importer-exporter Marky's, which uses it to reach out directly to customers and to test out new products. Freedman-Izquierdo, a former chef and, more recently, a buyer for the Epicure gourmet food market, has been tasked with overhauling the stand, adding new recipes and expanding the clientele.

"We want to bring it up a notch," she said "We need to offer more to [shoppers] besides Sbarro's."

The affordable sandwiches are a good start. The smoked salmon goes for $3.84; Manchego cheese and salami is $2.99. Salmon roe on a baguette with cream cheese, a treat that takes some getting used to, is $7.50. A slice of foie gras is $14.

Another audience-building tactic: making the luxury foods more accessible to the masses. Rachel Klebaur, who spent two years behind the counter at famed Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City and now oversees cheeses at the stand, said she encourages customers to sample the goods before they commit.

"You don't want to plunk down $20 on some cheese if you don't know what it's going to taste like," Klebaur said.

But the intimidation factor and the sometimes-hefty price tag mean not everyone is tempted to settle down on one of the booth's six stools and savor a platter of fine meats and cheeses. That's where the mall's large number of foreign visitors comes in handy.

"It's not common in the United States to see these foods in the middle of the mall," said 30-year-old Luiz Busnello, a visitor from Sao Paulo, as he sat in the tiny eating area.

Halfway into his prosciutto and cheese platter, he added: "It's amazing."

Thanks to special approval from the Aventura City Commission last month, the stand is now allowed to serve a 4-ounce glass of wine or champagne to customers sampling the food. Marky's president Mark Zaslavsky said they fought to get the permission for years.

"Now that we have the champagne, it's really going to make a difference," Freedman-Izquierdo said.

But it's not just about the perks. Maintaining a strong following requires training the palate of mall visitors, said Klebaur as she stood next to a $27 can of escargot.

"You have to acquire taste," she said. "I mean, who liked goat cheese when they first had it?"