A platter piled with a selection of raw and blanched vegetables, also known as crudites, is never out of style, no matter what the occasion. Crudites, after all, offer something for everyone--a mini-carrot, a sugar snap pea--to dip or nibble in its natural state. Nothing greasy. No weight gained.
Such a veggie presentation is easy to throw together. Slice the vegetables into bite-size pieces. Whip up a dip. But it does take time and a little artistic sense because the arrangement should look appetizing. And not everyone has the time or the patience.
Enter Burke Ponti, our fictional host. This guy is lost in the kitchen. Still, pals are coming over. He needs crudites. He wants the best. The Food section comes to the rescue.
We called nine specialty markets and supermarkets and ordered a small veggie platter and dipping sauce for Mr. Ponti. Some were nice. Others were ordinary. The most attractive display came from Fresh Fields, a market known for its fine produce department. (Order crudites at least 24 hours in advance.)
FRESH FIELDS WHOLE FOODS MARKET
Our favorite platter ($31.99, serves 15) was a feathery, fanned assortment of 12 fresh vegetables cut to the perfect size. The Dill dip was flavorful as well. Red Pepper Hummus, a second dip choice, didn't work as well. The crudites came from the Fresh Fields at 2323 Wisconsin Ave. NW; call 202-333-5393.
SHOPPERS FOOD WAREHOUSE
A plentiful raw vegetable assortment ($24.98, serves 20-25) with veggies cut to just the right size. One gripe: Wedges of pulpy tomato don't work as finger food. The Ranch dressing was a salty descendant of onion soup mix. The crudites came from Shoppers Club, Potomac Yard Center, 3801 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Alexandria; call 703-518-4711.
SUTTON PLACE GOURMET
Sutton's composition ($40, serves 15) drew mixed reviews. Some liked the way both raw and blanched vegetables were casually arranged. Others felt that it was simply sloppy and that many of the vegetables were too large for one or two bites. Everyone enjoyed the Dill dip, which was served in a yellow bell pepper. The crudites came from the Sutton Place Gourmet at 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW; call 202-363-5800.
It's fun to feed a crowd with the large portions of foods at reasonable prices available at Costco. But its crudites ($16.99, serves 16-18) were an exception. No fun here. Seedy bell pepper slices were not trimmed properly. On top of a mess of large, raw broccoli florets someone had heaped a handful of raw, untrimmed asparagus. There were two containers of oily white stuff (dip). The crudites came from the Costco store at 1200 S. Fern St., Arlington; call 703-413-2324.
DEAN & DELUCA
We expected D&D, a specialty grocer known for fancy food displays, to arrange vegetables artfully in a basket. Its pricey crudites ($60, serves 10-15) had instant curb appeal. But upon closer inspection, high fashion turned to low value. The grouping, which included pretty baby carrots and perfectly cooked asparagus as well as brown-edged pattypan squash and mealy cherry tomatoes, would serve 10, at most. The unremarkable Lemon dip was yogurt with bits of something in it. Dean & DeLuca, 3276 M St. NW; call 202-342-2500.
EATZI'S MARKET & BAKERY
The best dip we sampled, a Basil Cream, came from Eatzi's. At first glance the attractive grouping of vegetables ($28, serves 12) was nice as well. But there was a size problem. A full third of the platter was filled with fist-sized, blanched broccoli stalks. There were large, fat slabs of portobello mushroom and whole spring onions-- two veggies that don't work on a vegetable tray. Eatzi's Market & Bakery, 11501 Rockville Pike, Rockville; for catering call 301-816-0330.
"Dip-A-Hoy" was a predictable collection of tired, raw vegetables ($22.95, serves 10-12) neatly stacked on a plastic tray with no frills or thrills. The sour cream-based dip tasted of instant soup mix. The crudites came from the Giant store at 5400 Westbard Ave., Bethesda; call 301-652-1484.
Not a tray, but rather a tall, plastic bowl of mature, raw vegetables ($16.99, serves 16-20). The industrial chunks of celery as well as the florets of cauliflower and broccoli were too large. There was a choice of dip flavors. Ranch was adequate. The crudites came from the Magruder's store at 5626 Connecticut Ave. NW; call 202-686-5271.
Someone at the "Social" Safeway made an attempt to cut the raw vegetables properly and arrange them on a tray ($32.99, serves 15). There were ripe cherry tomatoes on toothpicks and a "collar" of fresh lettuce. But overall the selection was ordinary. The dip was a very salty Ranch dressing that no one liked. The crudites came from the Safeway store at 1855 Wisconsin Ave. NW; call 202-333-3223.