It’s the dead of winter in most of the country, and a salad of sweet, juicy oranges is like sitting in the warmth of the summer sun. Gerard Craft, the five-time James Beard-nominated Best Chef: Midwest, is serving a beautiful Orange Salad tossed with picholine olives, tarragon leaves, red onion and extra virgin olive oil at Pastaria, one of his four St. Louis restaurants (others are Niche, Brasserie by Niche and Taste by Niche).
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Take a glance around the airy dining room at Natural Epicurean — the health-minded restaurant at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. — and you may be surprised to find diners perusing tablets, not menus. The tablets are stocked with in-depth nutritional information, allergy alerts and gluten-free ratings for the menu developed by Sous Chef David Patterson with guidance from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. “A growing segment of diners are in tune with nutrition and diet, and they are reaching for our tablets, because they are looking to eat well, but they may have dietary restrictions,” said Patterson.
When Chef Brad Farmerie opened Public in New York City’s hip Nolita neighborhood in 2003, fresh from a stint at London’s Providores, he was already taking chances with dishes like grilled kangaroo on a coriander falafel with lemon tahini sauce and green pepper relish. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. The dish is like sunshine on a cold, gray day. It became a signature and it is a perfect example of his gift — marrying unorthodox ingredients with layers of contrasting textures and a riot of flavors. It put him on the map as a serious player among New York City’s culinary consigliere.
There was a time when carrot skins, radish greens and beet tops used to go straight from the cutting board to the trash bin. Then came the compost movement and all those vegetable scraps were destined for a future as fantastic fertilizer. Now comes chef Chris Barnett of Los Angeles’ Stir Market — a boutique California take on the classic European food-hall experience — who’s decided that one chef’s trash is indeed another’s treasure. Rather than toss his vegetable scraps in the garbage or compost bin, he uses them on his menu — think nose-to-tail cooking but with a carrot standing in for a pig.
If you’ve ever thought, “How can I get my kids to eat more vegetables?” you might want to read on. Chef Erin Smith of Main Kitchen, a beautiful new restaurant in the JW Marriott Houston Downtown, turns fresh carrots into fluffy pancakes and serves them in a short stack for breakfast with maple syrup. Other than the pancakes’ slight orange hue, you’d never know carrots were the main ingredient. Smith uses carrots from local farms like Black Hill Ranch and Sustainable Harvesters, and makes her pancakes gluten-free by using chickpea flour from a local gristmill.
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.
Oh, what to do when, at 11:30 p.m., in both a famished and weary state, you return to your hotel and discover that ordering a black bean burger via room service will take 45 minutes? One glance at the won’t-save-you-either minibar reveals nothing more redeemable than a $10 container of Pringles. A vending machine, of course, would instantly sate those late-night cravings. But do you really want your impromptu dinner to be comprised of a decidedly bad-for-you bag of chocolate chip cookies?
“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.”