At Boqueria, one of New York City’s most-popular Spanish tapas joints, Chef Marc Vidal goes a long way to transport diners to Barcelona’s bustling and beautiful Boqueria market. He serves a menu of Spanish classics like patatas bravas, albondigas, croquetas and gambas alla ajillo. But he also loves to cook with the seasons. Every Friday morning, Vidal grabs a cup of coffee and heads to the Union Square Greenmarket where he and his team of chefs meet up to peruse the stalls for ingredients and brainstorm for the restaurant’s ever-changing Market Menu. “We just walk around and see what’s going on,” says Vidal, whose parents were restaurateurs in Barcelona. “The market menu is the fun part for us. It’s our chance to be creative and work with the seasons.”
“Local farmers literally come to our door, and they show us what they’re growing and teach us about all these cool new things,” said Ford Fry, the James Beard Foundation Award-nominated chef and restaurateur who heads acclaimed, locally focused Atlanta destinations, including The Optimist, King + Duke , No. 246 and JCT.Kitchen & Bar. Fry is fond of frilly mustard greens and the little flowery shoots that sprout early on from collard-green plants. “We love to use those,” he said.
“Food is most flavorful when coaxed with very little,” says Jenn Louis, the chef and co-owner of Portland, Oregon’s Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern, as well as Culinary Artistry, a full-service catering business. Louis loves to cook with the seasons and as simply as possible. Nearly everything in her restaurants is made by hand. Her pastas have earned her a reputation as something of an Italian nonna, and in March she’s bringing out a pasta cookbook, Pasta by Hand (Chronicle), focused on the under-loved category of Italian pasta: the dumpling (there’s a lot more going on there than just gnudi).
At San Francisco’s Le Marais, the beautiful artisanal bistro and bakery in the Marina District, the crowds come for many reasons. Some arrive just past dawn for the best Kouign-Mann and croissants this side of the Atlantic Ocean. (It doesn’t hurt that pastry chef Emily Riddell uses locally-milled organic flours and European-style organic butter). Others come for lunch — a crusty griddled ham and cheddar with grainy mustard and cornichon, and a salad of roasted beets with pomegranate, fennel and burrata, or one composed of Yali pears and wild greens, walnut, celery root and bitter onion. Late afternoon it’s bakery time again — a cup of Stumptown coffee and a slice of banana pecan bread, and then back for dinner — maybe scallops with persimmon and Serrano ham, black bass en papillote with turnips sorrel and lemon verbena, or smoky confited chicken with chickpeas, raddichio and citrus. The place is always humming with happy people.
But truth be told, it’s more than just the food that keeps the crowds in que. Owner Patrick Ascaso, a former investment professional with a passion for food, and his wife Joanna Pulcini, a literary agent, have created the kind of restaurant you can’t quite tear yourself away from. The service is great, the place is charming, and the food is divine. You may never care to leave. “The idea was to create a European eatery that serves food all day long, with the scents of bread baking in the morning, and then the pastry in the afternoon, and the wood-grilling savory dishes at night,” said Ascaso. “With the wood interior, it is remarkable how the space changes from the warmth of a bakery to the elegant feel of a bistro at night.”
If you’re talking about great seafood in Brooklyn, chances are you’re talking about the fish restaurant Bergen Hill, a snug outpost located in a quiet corner of Court Street in Carroll Gardens. The chef, Andrew D’Ambrosi, cooks out of a kitchen that seems to have been built for a doll, not a fully grown man. It’s about 3 feet by 5 feet and has no oven; it includes four induction burners, one sandwich press and a toy-sized electric oven. (Don’t complain about your kitchen!)
One Girl Cookies is one of Brooklyn’s most-beloved bakeries. Gem-size butter cookies, cream-filled whoopie pies, swirl-topped cupcakes and frosted layer cakes make this shop, located on a tree-lined street in Cobble Hill, an oasis of sweetness. Since opening in 2005, husband-and-wife team Dave Crofton and Dawn Casale have created a neighborhood spot for life’s most delicious treats and most precious milestones. Open its glass-paned door and a bell jingles — friends meet, couples fall in love and toddlers take their first steps. The couple have opened a second, larger cafe in Dumbo, have written a cookbook and are planning a third cafe for Industry City in Sunset Park for early 2015.
Crofton, the baker, has created a breakfast menu that offers all sorts of wonderful ways to start your day right: a fruit, granola and yogurt bowl (both the granola and the yogurt are made in-house), as well as muffins, scones, and savory and sweet breakfast breads. While he is a baker, he’s also mindful of serving a breakfast menu that’s actually good for you. “I think about health a lot when I create breakfast recipes,” says Crofton. “You can easily include whole grains in most breakfast muffins, breads, and scones. It makes them heartier and more filing, which is an important way to start the day.”
“I am not someone who just throws butter at things or sits around reducing heavy cream,” says Eric Korsh, Executive Chef of Danny Meyer’s rustic American restaurant, North End Grill. Korsh, who has helmed the kitchens of A-list spots like The Waverly Inn and Calliope, is all about good honest cooking. “This whole idea of healthy food, I think, is about cooking beautiful food — a nice vinaigrette, a lovely lean protein,” he said. “I think all good cooking is healthy cooking.”
If you’ve cooked from Plenty, Israeli chef and London restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi’s bestselling and award-winning cookbook, it’s probably dog-eared and food-stained from loving overuse. (Baked eggs with yogurt and greens, Brussels sprouts with tofu, and soba noodles with eggplant and mango, are personal faves.)
Now comes the hotly anticipated follow-up, Plenty More, in which Ottolenghi unapologetically celebrates the wonderful world of vegetables one cooking method at a time — braising, steaming, roasting, char-grilling and frying. In keeping with his signature inventive and vibrant style, Ottolenghi’s recipes in Plenty More feature rather exotic pops of flavor — yuzu in a dish of candy beets with lentils, sorrel and mustard in a bowl of fresh sweet peas, sweet labneh on a plate of warm baked rhubarb, and tahini on a sweet mess of honey-roasted carrots, featured below.
George Mendes, the chef of the restaurant Aldea, grew up feasting on his mother’s elaborate Portuguese meals. While he went on to cook for culinary icons such as David Bouley, Roger Verge, Alain Ducasse, and Martin Berasategui, he has always remained true to his culinary roots in Portugal. In 2009, he opened Aldea (the Portuguese word for village), as a culmination of his Iberian experiences and Portuguese heritage. There’s sea urchin toast with cauliflower puree, shiso and lime, a cucumber and wild strawberry salad with smoked sardines, fresh dill, and yogurt, and sea-salted cod with fennel puree and charred corn.
In 1995, Charles Phan opened The Slanted Door in San Francisco’s Mission District and introduced the dining public to the relatively unexplored cuisine of his native Vietnam. The restaurant became an overnight sensation. Since then, Phan has moved his restaurant to the historic Ferry Building, earned a James Beard Foundation Best Chef of California Award, and been inducted to the James Beard Foundation’s list of “Who’s Who of Food in America.” Read more