An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

A curated list of recommendations for mail-order delivery of lobster, caviar, olive oil, cheese, aged balsamic vinegar and all the other necessities of life.

Some years back I was in Germany, interviewing a chef who had just received his third Michelin star. The locavore movement was getting started at that time, and I asked the chef what he thought of it. His response resonated with me: "Where a product comes from is of no importance. The only important thing is the quality of that product."

Does this mean you shouldn't buy local products? Of course not. What it means is that a better-quality product that comes from two 2,000 miles away is superior to a local version of lesser quality. We live in an age where virtually anything you desire can be delivered to your door within 24 hours, so take advantage of it when you can.

Disclaimer: If you click on these links and purchase a product, I'll receive a small commission. That's not why the merchants are recommended. I'm highlighting them here because I believe they offer the best quality and service in their category. This conclusion is either based on personal experience, research or both. Shipping speed, fulfillment standards and overall customer satisfaction are important things to consider when buying a mail-order product, and those factors have been taken into account.

Caviar - Buy The Best Caviar Only At Beverly Hills Caviar

Established in 1976, Beverly Hills Caviar is the premier caviar merchant in America. They have an A+ rating with the Better Business bureau and offer an unbeatable combination: the lowest prices, highest quality product, and free next-day shipping on weekdays across America. Hesitant about ordering caviar by mail? Don't be: they chill the packages with the same refrigerated gel packs used to ship organs for transplant. If you're ready to jump into caviar, Beverly Hills offers an array of Beluga, Imperial Sevruga, Classic, Royal and Imperial Osetra, as well as domestic blackfish and paddlefish. If you're uncertain what to order, there are samplers available. They also sell blinis and mother of pearl serving pieces. Highly recommended!

Lobster Anywhere has been in business 18 years and has an A rating with the Better Business Bureau. They offer a comprehensive selection of live lobsters, fresh and frozen tails, lobster meat, dinners, chowders and bisques. If you don't have the right equipment (lobster pots, crackers, forks and bibs), you can also buy them here. Shipping is swift and reasonably priced. You can send any item as a gift, or purchase certificates for friends and family. Is there anything nicer for a loved one than having a Boston Lobster Bake delivered to their door?

Many of us believe we make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. However, the guy who really makes the best cookies on the planet is probably Francis Nelson Beebe of Gold Canyon, Arizona. Mr. Nelson, as he is known to his growing legion of fans, is a classically trained chef who now works in his own commercial bakery. He turns out 24 dozen cookies per day, four days each week, and sells them only online. They cost $5 apiece, and may be ordered in batches of six or 12---provided you log onto his site before they sell out for the day. The cookies are shipped by two-day air, accompanied by a cool pack to stabilize the temperature; each cookie is wrapped in airtight foil and nestled in its own compartment. The packaging is almost as stunning as the cookies themselves. Give a gift to a lucky friend or relative, or just treat yourself.

Snake River Farms and Double R Ranch are leading purveyors of American Wagyu beef and Kurobuta pork. Both companies are part of Agri Beef Co., a family owned and operated business founded by Robert Rebholtz, Sr., in 1968. Wagyu (sometimes referred to as American Kobe) is the result of cross breeding Japanese Wagyu cattle with American breeds. The result is intense marbling and a high percentage of inter-muscular unsaturated fat. 

For the pork, Snake River Farms uses only 100% purebred Berkshire hogs as mandated by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture.

Both beef and pork are available in a wide variety of cuts such as ribs, roasts and ham (for the pork) and steaks, brisket and burger for beef. The product is used in many Michelin-starred restaurants around the country. All meats are aged, individually wrapped and sealed in air-tight packaging, then shipped packed in dry ice in a reusable polystyrene container.

Christmas Gourmet Gifts

We're particularly fond of Sensibus for their amazing selection of gourmet cheese from all over the world. They carry nearly 200 varieties ranging from burrata and DOP mozzarella di bufala to comte', appenzeller and the king of all cheeses, the Burgundian epoisses. There are truffles available as well (only fresh and in season), and a solid selection of Italian salumi. Don't log on to their website when you're hungry!

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Parisian native and New York transplant Olivier Wittmann has assembled a formidable collection of nut & seed oils, olive oils, fruit and vegetable vinegars, spices, salts, peppercorns, mustards, condiments and other specialty products from all over the world. After supplying these ingredients to great chefs for years, he extended his reach to the public. His portfolio includes everything from Alsatian Quince Jelly and grand cru fleur du sel to Eric Ripert's collection of exotic spices. Visit Olivier's Gourmet Pantry and take advantage of his experience at the top levels of the restaurant business to add variety and unique flavor to your kitchen.

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Astor Chocolate was established in New York in 1950; the founder had been making chocolate in Europe for over two decades. Today the business remains family-owned and in its third generation. All Astor products are made from premium Belgian choc0late, acknowledged to be the best in the world. They offer a formidable assortment of bars, rounds, truffles and liqueur cups, and lactose-free chocolates are available as well. Their gift assortments for birthdays, anniversaries and holiday are dazzling. And who doesn't like to receive chocolate?

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If, like me, you're not a big fan of Stuff of the Month Clubs, you may be surprised to see this listed. But like me, you may be interested in the subject of craft beer and be unable to describe the difference between an Amber, Stout, Porter or IPA. If so, this is the perfect solution. You get a dozen bottles delivered to your door each month---three bottles each of four different styles, from some of the nation's top craft and micro breweries. It's a great way to get an introduction to one of the hottest beverage trends at the moment.

                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

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