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ONLINE HOLIDAY SHOPPING GUIDE

Gourmet Food

November 16, 2000|MELINDA FULMER, melinda.fulmer@latimes.com

You can find some fairly unique gifts online for your epicurean friends and relatives, everything from a wine-and-cheese-toting waist pack at Harry and David (http://www.harryanddavid.com) to an olive-wood cheese board filled with rich British cheese and its own double-handled knife at IGourmet.com (http://www.igourmet.com).

Forget the cheese log at Hickory Farms, now you can buy a food-related gift that actually manages to come off looking personal, like the Luxury Spa Basket of chocolate truffles, bath accessories and champagne at Tavolo (http://www.digitalchef.com) or the monogrammed cook's jacket at Williams-Sonoma (http://www.williams-sonoma.com).

Best site to shop: The most colorful, simple-to-use site was IGourmet, which features a wide selection of unique cheeses, interesting themed gift baskets and some neat kitchen accessories. It also lets you create your own gift baskets.

Best site to buy: Tavolo was even more compelling. It stocks everything from All-Clad cookware to creme brulee cheesecake to martini shakers and Caribbean food, making it easier to fill your Christmas list.

Convenience: Beats running to a lot of stores. One drawback: Many gift items can't be gift-wrapped. Most sites specify that in the description, but with others it isn't as clear. Harry and David is the best--you're assured of festive holiday packaging on almost everything.

Shipping and return policy: Most items can be shipped either overnight, two-day air or standard delivery. Prices range from $6 to $20, which isn't much if you're buying an expensive pan, but fairly pricey if you're buying a German stollen or fruitcake. IGourmet ships its perishables in temperature-controlled packs so they're still fresh when you get them.

Refunds or exchanges should be sought as soon as possible, as most of the sites specify a five- to 25-day window after delivery for returning damaged or unsatisfactory goods.

How it compares with offline: Buying gourmet food online is almost as unsatisfying as browsing for perfume online. You can't pick up a uniquely shaped bottle of liqueur-drenched fruit, sniff the cinnamon aroma of an apple tart or get a sample of that Stilton cheese laced with lemon.

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