Restaurants with Gardens: Chefs serve up fresh picks of the day
Green-thumb chefs serve the season’s freshest picks
Mary, Mary, quite contrary… Living in the Bay Area it is easy to take for granted our world-class produce. From mainstream to regional, markets are relying on über-local farms, large and small, for high-quality produce. This makes it easy to get spoiled by convenient year-round access to produce that was previously available only seasonally. And if a wide variety of brick-and-mortar produce options didn’t provide enough choice, the abundance of farmers markets fills in the gaps.
Why go out if we can get can such freshness at home? A number of local restaurants are boosting up the taste, health and flavor of their cuisine by sourcing from their own gardens. Chefs plan and prepare daily-picked seasonal menus and combinations, and diners are finding that eating out and eating fresh are not contrary at all.
Johnston’s Saltbox, 1696 Laurel St., San Carlos
The rooftop garden at this local favorite is a testament to the Johnston’s philosophy of using quality, local ingredients as well as a symbol of their commitment to the community. Nine types of citrus—including the underappreciated finger lime, calamondin, orange and pomelo—provide Chef Adam Thompson with flavor profiles not found on every street corner. The four large raised beds change seasonally and produce favorites such as snap peas, a variety of lettuces, leafy greens and chicory, onions and edible flowers like pansies, nasturtiums and chamomile. Summer crops always include plenty of tomatoes, which are the base for the “to-die-for” smoked tomato coulee in the BLT bestseller. Go for the BLT, but definitely don’t leave without the Ginger Cake with Rooftop Honey (yes, there are bees on the roof too).
Flea Street Cafe, 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas, Menlo Park
Jesse Cool has been at the helm for 36 years but its new Chef Charlie Parker who does the foraging in their garden. Flea Street’s fundamental commitment to transparency has led to their sustained success. They take great care in sourcing everything—from meat, fish and poultry to fruit, vegetables and herbs. The Flea Street garden drives many of the signature programs at the restaurant, including The Taste of the Season, Amuse Bouche (one-bite hors d’oeuvres) and their innovative drink program (try the Lavender Lemon drop). Apples, lemons and limes are common in many gardens, but their eggplant, shish to peppers and sun chokes received rave reviews over the past few months. Speaking of raves, diners were treated to pea blossoms and pineapple sage blossoms in salads and desserts this past summer.
Ocean, 280 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay
The restaurant and catering facility—right across from Pillar Point Harbour and a great place for a wedding or corporate event—procures its artichokes, Brussels sprouts and fava beans from an adjacent farm owned by Ocean but managed by professionals. They use their garden produce to supplement other seasonal vegetables for restaurant favorites and the 90 or so events they cater each year. Chef Nick Bocchimuzzo is particularly proud of the romaine he gets from a local hydroponic farmer. Not only does it use 95% less water than traditionally grown lettuces, but it is pesticide free too.
Dry Creek Grill, 1580 Hamilton Ave., San Jose
If you’re sentimental, you might visit Dry Creek to see how owners Holly and John Smith have transformed the historic Moose Lodge Building, built in 1965. If you’re hungry, you are sure to be impressed with steaks from choice beef, mouthwatering burgers ground in-house daily, authentic pit-smoked barbecue and artisan-quality ingredients. The on-site herb garden with sage, mint, rosemary and thyme provides the freshest possible seasonings. Thirsty? Belly up to the curly redwood tree bar and try the West Side Joe cocktail with mint grown on-site.
True Food Kitchen, Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto
This casual, healthy spot, featuring an anti-inflammatory diet endorsed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is committed to health and well-being. Herbs grow on-site in stylish trough planters that look like they’d be available from Restoration Hardware. Thyme, sage, beets, parsley, cabbage and rosemary grow in Palo Alto, where chefs clip what they need daily. Try the Grapefruit Margarita, updated with homegrown sage.