Seasonal organics chefs can’t resist
Frank Sabatini Jr. | Uptown News
Springtime signals some of the best produce that Mother Nature has to offer. The season also excites the heck out of chefs, who race to incorporate the organics into their dishes while the bounties are still young and tender and full of nutrients.
This year’s yields are no exception to the rule, despite our ongoing drought that has either forestalled or sped up the growing cycles of certain crops. Below is a partial list of seasonal “newborns” fresh from the soil and where to find them when dining out in Uptown.
Fiddleheads at Brooklyn Girl
Chef Colin Murray has seized upon these coiled, premature leaves from the fern family, which hail largely from the Northeast and have a very short season. He’s already used them in vegetable beddings for seared duck breast and plans on tossing them into risotto that he’ll pair with another protein in the coming weeks.
“Fiddleheads are very curious looking and they have a green, springtime flavor like asparagus, and with a nice crunch,” he noted. “I like using them with minimal ingredients so that they stand out.”
4033 Goldfinch St. (Mission Hills)
Heirloom carrots, kale and fava beans at Cucina Urbana
Sweet, multi-colored heirloom carrots are the star ingredient in a new salad with radicchio and burnt orange vinaigrette, a dish that Chef Joe Magnanelli says could potentially disappear by late May.
“These carrots are babies and they come in all different sizes. It’s the imperfectness of them that attracts me,” he said.
For Caesar salad, he’s snagged a fresh bumper crop of kale from a farm in Oceanside that he describes as “the most flavorful and tender kale you can imagine.”
The kitchen has also seen the arrival of newly sprung fava beans, which set the stage for roasted Jidori chicken and house-made ricotta gnudi.
505 Laurel St. (Bankers Hill)
Green garlic and ramps at Heat Bar & Kitchen
“I’m all about green garlic from Suzie’s Farm,” said Chef Joe Herrmann, who sweats out the young cloves, purees them and spreads the fragrant mash onto flatbread. The green version, he said, is sweeter and milder than regular garlic and doesn’t carry the pungent bite.
“We’re also using fresh ramps that are out right now — in a couple of pasta dishes and on flatbread,” he added.
3797 Park Blvd. (Hillcrest)
Sunburst squash, ramps and morel mushrooms at Prepkitchen
Early-season Sunburst squash, touted for its sweet zucchini-like flavor, recently landed in Chef Ryan Johnston’s leg of lamb, roasted with garlic and parsley. “I also taste a hint of sweet corn from the squash,” he said.
Ramps are among his seasonal favorites as well. He’s currently sourcing the leek-like bulbs from Specialty Produce and serving them with beef heart carpaccio. Next up: morel mushrooms, which Johnston will begin purchasing in a couple of weeks to use in roasted form on toast.
1660 India St. (Little Italy)
Mustard greens at 100 Wines
These leafy, spicy greens are just beginning to sprout and Chef Miguel Valdez has already pre-assigned them to mixed salads and for balancing out an appetizer of bone marrow.
“I’ll start getting them in another month or so and they’ll last until the end of summer,” he said, at which point he’ll begin focusing on radishes, turnips and other root vegetables that follow in fall.
1027 University Ave. (Hillcrest)
Green tomatoes and watermelons at Urban Solace
Though never meant to ripen, green tomatoes are nonetheless a little behind schedule because of the drought, said Chef Matt Gordon, who expects their arrival in the coming month. Once in, he will offer them coated in organic corn meal, pan-fried and served with chimichurri sauce and feta crème fresh.
Juicy, ruby-red watermelons are also coming soon, allowing the return of Gordon’s famous seasonal watermelon-tomato-cucumber salad, which he has added to the menu each year since opening the restaurant in 2007.
3823 30th St. (North Park)
Asparagus at Uptown Tavern
Chef Dana Francisco is smitten with springtime green asparagus because of its snappy texture and onion-y flavor. The early harvests sourced from regional farms are currently being roasted for flatbreads; pickled and used in braise for St. Louis-style pork ribs; and served grilled alongside flatiron steak.
“We change our menu every three months so we’ll get a full season out of it,” he said.
1236 University Ave. (Hillcrest)
White beets and cucumbers at The Red Door and Wellington Steak & Martini Lounge
Rare, albino beets have begun appearing in home garden of Trish Watlington, who owns the adjoining restaurants. With little time left before they stop producing, Executive Chef Karrie Hills is taking full advantage of the crispy root vegetable by using them in various salads on random nights.
She is also awaiting the first yields of “snack cucumbers” from a North County grower, which she says have less seeds and thinner skins than Persian cucumbers.
“I use them for a lot of things and I’m out of pickles right now, so I’m excited to get them back soon.”
741 W. Washington St. (Mission Hills)