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.”
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“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.”
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!)
Trending on the tables of eateries from Portland to Paris: Avocado Toast. This open-faced sandwich, sometimes referred to as Avocado Mash or Avocado Smash, has gained momentum as it requires few ingredients, offers endless possibilities and, well, it’s quite the looker. We like it for the fact that it is easy and quick, and its star ingredient is one of the best things you can put on your plate.
With their steady rotation of grilled cheese and butter-topped noodles, the “kid-friendly” section of restaurant menus has always been unimaginative. But these days it’s hard not to notice that the offerings are also fairly unhealthy. The palette of food geared toward children is primarily white, brown and orange — the colors of french fries, fried nuggets (of one sort or another) and mac and cheese. Not only is such fare typically lacking in creativity, it’s also lacking in nutrition, although there’s generally no lack of calories or sodium. It’s not uncommon for a kid’s meal to exceed 1,000 calories, more than any adult needs in one sitting.
The good news is that many restaurants are making strides in revamping the menu options for pint-sized patrons. The National Restaurant Association just hosted the second annual Kids LiveWell Recipe Challenge — a competition that encourages chefs to come up with enticing but healthy alternatives for kids. Winners included an organic sunflower butter and jam sandwich on multi-grain oat bread and a whole-wheat quesadilla filled with broccoli, chicken, peppers and corn. Read more
Over the years, Jamba Juice has expanded its menu to include a variety of drinks, breakfast wraps, fro-yo, baked goods and even kids’ options. With so much to choose from, it can make anyone’s head spin. But here’s how to give this blender bar a whirl.