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Whole Foods Goes 'Local' For 1st Birthday With African Peanut Soup (Of Course)

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Nothing says Upper West Side cooking like African peanut soup.

At least, that's what gourmet grocer Whole Foods thinks.

The high-end food retailer is celebrating its one-year anniversary on the Upper West Side with a community-minded birthday party this Friday at its store on Columbus Avenue and West 97th Street.

The menu promises to represent the "flavors of the neighborhood," according to the store's website.

That could be tough to do in a neighborhood that's not exactly a culinary hub, but Whole Foods didn't shy from the challenge.

The party's menu, aside from the African peanut soup, includes Dominican rice and beans, a "kosher cheese and wine pairing", Sugar Hill Beer and soul food staple collard greens.

The store manager couldn't be reached immediately for comment Wednesday night.

So did Whole Foods succeed in capturing the Upper West Side's culinary soul?

"I'm sure their heart is in the right place, but (the menu) seems a bit mismatched and out of place," said food blogger Yvo Sin, editor-in-chief of the Feisty Foodie, in an e-mail interview.

Sin said the store was "trying a bit too hard to include everyone," but credited Whole Foods for serving Harlem-themed dishes.

It's difficult to say what constitutes Upper West Side cuisine, Sin said, because the neighborhood is so large and "seems to be a big ol' mish-mash of cuisines."

Some longtime locals were equally hard-pressed to define their neighborhood's signature dishes.

"It's not like downtown or the Upper East Side or even Midtown — there aren't that many great restaurants on the Upper West Side," said Jay Rahman, a 20-year Upper West Sider.

He said he thought Upper West Side food could best be defined as "French bistro-ish."

But others zeroed in on dishes that Whole Foods neglected to include, such as bagels, Jewish deli fare and Chinese take out.

Jane Curtis, a 33-year resident of the Upper West Side, listed Absolute Bagels and lox as two key neighborhood dishes.

"We have Barney Greengrass, Zabar's, Murray's Sturgeon," Curtis said. "It's like the trifecta of smoked salmon."