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Eats Shoots And Leaves

By Wendy Lemlin | Photography By Noushin Nourizadeh

In 2006, British editor Lynne Truss published a book entitled, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” This guide to all things grammatical illustrated the importance of punctuation in determining the meaning of a phrase or sentence. However, I always thought that “Eats Shoots & Leaves” would be a great title for a book about food, especially in the spring. With that in mind, we’re checking in with some favorite area chefs about their creations showcasing the tender shoots, leaves, and other springtime ingredients that make this season’s dining so alluring.

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Kelli Crosson, A.R. Valentien
After what she deems the “hearty heavy dishes of winter,” Chef de Cuisine Kelli Crosson says, “Spring beckons me to lighten up. Housemade Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, English Peas, Tendrils, and Green Garlic & Mint Pesto is my answer to spring’s call. I have loved green garlic for years—as soon as it becomes available, I snatch it up from the farmers market and use it as a base in many of my spring dishes. The soft subtleness of it compared to full grown garlic allows for all of the ingredients in this dish to speak. Peas have long been a springtime staple, and what I love about the addition of their tendrils to this sweet crab pasta is how they provide a leafy, green vegetal element that keeps the dish light and bright.”

 

Fabio Speziali, Osteria Romantica
Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously said, “In Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” so of course that young man—or woman—would want to dine at this Italian restaurant whose very name is romantic! And if he or she wanted to taste the flavor of spring, the Basil Pesto Fettuccini with Shrimp, Green Beans and Potatoes would be an excellent choice. Chef/owner Fabio Speziali points out, “The homemade pesto is at its most excellent in the spring. We make it the traditional way, with fresh basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts and Italian parmigiana cheese. The young springtime basil leaves are fresh and tender, so special tasting, with more concentrated flavors and bright green color.”

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Jason Knibb, Nine-Ten Restaurant & Bar
Executive Chef Jason Knibb’s Roasted Asparagus with Foraged Herb Salad, Nettle Puree, and Crème Fraiche Emulsion presents a garden of springtime delights, many of which can be found growing in our local canyons and hillsides. Nasturtium, wood sorrel, field cress, nettles—all are wild and plentiful for the picking this time of year. Combined with tender asparagus, the components pack a deliciously flavorful punch, especially for such a deceptively simple dish. “I just love this time of the year because it’s a new beginning,” Knibb enthuses. “We start to see a lot of vegetables and seafood at their most flavorful, and everything is so green, grassy and fresh. It gets me excited about the months to come.”

Bernard Guillas, The Marine Room
Garnished with the blossoms, shoots and leaves of spring, Chef Bernard’s Alaskan Halibut with Maltese Orange Gremolata celebrates the freshest flavors of the season. “Nothing tastes as pure and delicious as the snow white flesh of my favorite Alaskan halibut, plucked straight from its native waters in the height of spring,” Guillas enthuses. “The gremolata topping the fish combines locally harvested Maltese orange zest with almonds, parsley leaves and fleur de sel. Red watercress, confit heirloom tomatoes, English peas in their pod, hon shimeji mushrooms, pea shoots, white asparagus and other baby veggies sing out ‘Spring has sprung!’ Daubs of golden saffron-infused Vya Vermouth and Plugra butter, deep red beet puree and a burnt orange-hued spread of tomato, garlic and espelette pepper finish this dish with a vibrancy of color and taste.”

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Nathan Lingle, Kitchen 1540
For L’Auberge Del Mar Executive Chef Nathan Lingle, spring is the season for foraging. Hailing from the Northeast, he describes his Ramps and Spring Potato Bisque with Morels and Smoked Trout as “a true forager’s dish.”  Ramps are a type of wild onion found along the East Coast in early spring. They have a strong garlicky aroma and robust onion flavor and are much prized by those who know where to find them, as are the often elusive wild morel mushrooms. “This dish reminds me of spring when I was growing up in the Northeast,” Lingle reminisces. “Trout season opens in early April. As I fly fished up and down the stream beds, ramps and morels would seem to be everywhere, so naturally I thought of combining these ingredients in one dish. Adding to the seasonal flavor is green wood or wood pruned from the fruit trees after winter, used in smoking the trout.”

Mareyja Sisbarro, Brockton Villa
In Executive Chef Mareyja Sisbarro’s culinary ode to spring flavors, plump Seared Springtime Day Boat Scallops get the vernal treatment perched on a puree of English peas, garlic and crème fraiche, surrounded by pea shoots, frisée, heirloom tomatoes and corn. The dish is a celebration of color and texture. The reds and yellows of the tomatoes are offset by the various shades of green for visual appeal. “I love vibrantly colored food because you eat with all your senses, including your eyes,” Sisbarro explains. “Spring colors are so bright and attractive. The flavors are more concentrated, too, when the leaves are all new and tasting fresh, crisp and clean.”

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Nico Caniglia, Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé
In other parts of the country, wild mushroom season happens in fall, but for us here in Southern California, it’s late winter and early spring, after the winter rains. In his Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto, chef/owner Nico Caniglia adds umami-rich shitake, morel and white mushrooms to the flavorful rice dish with the enticing aroma of truffle oil. Spring greenery is provided by young asparagus stalks, and the depth of flavor is enhanced with authentic shaved Parmesan cheese. “As the weather becomes warmer and the days longer,” Caniglia muses, “our guests enjoy lingering out on our patio and enjoying the ocean views from the cliffs of Torrey Pines, especially at sunset. This dish is made for lingering and savoring.”

Paul Arias, The Fishery
“I love spring, because green is my favorite color,” jokes Executive Chef Paul Arias. “Seriously, though, everything makes me think of freshness and new beginnings. I find myself creating so many vegetable-driven dishes to complement all our great seafood that is available now. Local sea bass, king salmon, spot prawns—all are so good this time of year.” For a colorful spring dish, Arias showcases Basil Blossom Crusted Sea Bass with Fava Bean Ragout. The fresh fava beans are a springtime highlight and the delicate flavor of the basil flowers enhances the mild, flaky fish. Grilled spring onions, pea shoots and a delicately hued green garlic and ginger emulsion bring home the springtime flavor of the dish in Chef Paul’s favorite color.

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Shoots and leaves, blossoms and stalksflavor is springing up in gardens and growing wild. Go out and taste it!