Le Plat du Jour: Wednesday March 21, 2012
Spring is here, which means it’s one of the best times of the year for seemingly everything. The snow will soon be melting. March Madness basketball leads to opening day for baseball. Movies? Ok, well this is the slow time for film season, so catch up on the classics or see the new season of “Mad Men.” Of course Spring means Spring Break, so perhaps off to Cancun or Key West next week?
But at the bistro, it means the end of root vegetable season and the arrival of bright, beautiful Spring produce. I was thinking this morning what will I be most excited to see at the Farmers Market tomorrow?
Strawberries: Already seen these at a few places. Nothing can beat a plump, as red as Santa’s suit strawberry. Plain, with chocolate, or better yet in my favorite chocolate-strawberry tart with walnut crust, the classic Spring fruit.
Asparagus: The classic Spring vegetable. The perfect side, steamed or grilled, or use the tips in rice and pasta stir fries. I particularly love them in an asiago based risotto with caramelized scallops. White asparagus in parts of the world reach their peak in about a month. I remember being in Munich right when the first white asparagus arrived. They thrive apparently in Bavaria and every restaurant insisted I try them. On their own they are sensational. Unfortunately most restaurants drowned them in hollandaise sauce. Nothing wrong with hollandaise, just that it completely covers up the wonderful asparagus below it.
Fava Beans: Perfect with a nice chianti…or in a puree or with the beans, shelled, and used in salads or pastas. Fava bean puree on a crostini may be the the single greatest hors d’oeuvres created.
Artichokes: Saw some fresh ones in the Artichoke belt recently (Watsonville-Castroville-Pescadero in Northern California). Perfect on their own, in salads, or like at the famed Duarte’s Tavern, pureed for a soup.
Carrots: FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale’s chef Charleen Badman is a wizard with vegetables. Last week she used the fresh carrots as a foil to dill, oil cured olives, feta and snap peas for a perfect spring fish heavily influenced by Greece.
Rhubarb: Under appreciated, great for desserts and sweeter sauces with fish or meat. Ray’s Boathouse near Seattle has an excellent recipe for salmon with a rhubarb compote and balsamic marinated strawberries. Very simple, very delicious, very Spring.
Peas: Eat your peas! Fresh, beautiful peas add crunch, color, and even a touch of sweetness to a side or sauce. I still vividly remember my lamb chop at The Kitchin in Edinburgh years ago with about 4 different variations of pea sauces and sides involved. The dish was as green as Ireland.
Also on this Wednesday, Marilyn Hagerty, America’s favorite food critic, reviews New York legend Le Bernardin.
I’m guessing Grand Forks doesn’t have any Eric Riper caliber chefs, but you never know.
Michael Bauer of The San Francisco Chronicle raises an excellent point that has already frustrated me: how inept restaurant websites can be. At least 25 % of websites make it impossible to find the hours and days of operation. Even worse, many restaurants feature flashy minute long introductions and exotic texts and graphics that make your computer crash. Keep it simple, most visitors just want to know who is the chef, what’s on the menu, where are you located, and when are you open.
Finally, the return of “Mad Men” tonight means a return to stuff whiskey drinks as The New York Times writes. Time for that Manhattan or old-fashioned!