Chefs love spring. Can you blame them? The days grow longer and warmer, and menus are finally doffing their comforting winter finery for lighter and brighter fare. Root vegetables and hearty braises are giving way to lighter offerings featuring a range of tasty, tender greens. Here are some of the best fresh spring dishes, sprouting up on menus near you.
Peas and Carrots, Finch & Fork, Santa Barbara, California
Finch & Fork typifies the casual, produce-forward cuisine of Santa Barbara and so do chef Siao’s Peas and Carrots. It’s the classic vegetable pairing like you’ve never seen it before, with burrata, golden oranges, Marcona almonds and green goddess dressing. It’s a playful dish, but also drop-dead gorgeous. Make a reservation at Finch & Fork.
Kale Caesar Salad, The Kitchen Step, Jersey City, New Jersey
Executive chef Ryan DePersio says, “With its peak season approaching, you’re probably seeing mint pop up at your local farmer’s markets or in your grocery store. Mint’s hardy, cool, and sweet flavor profile makes it one of the most versatile of herbs and one that plays perfectly in both sweet and savory dishes.” Mint is the unexpected green in the Kale Caesar Salad. The combination of the kale’s slight bitterness with the buttery nuttiness of Gouda and the bright, clean coolness of mint transforms the more traditional heavy Caesar salad into something much more refreshing. Make a reservation at The Kitchen Step.
Saffron Chitarra Pasta, Navio, Half Moon Bay, California
Dungeness crab season finally opened the end of March in Northern California, and Navio at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay offers a dish by Chef Jason Pringle, Saffron Chitarra Pasta with fresh-caught Dungeness crab, confit fennel, and lemon. According to executive chef Xavier Salomon, “We are thrilled that we are able to serve fresh, local-caught Dungeness crabs again. Our guests love and appreciate them, and they are easily our number one selling item on the menu when they are in season.” Make a reservation at Navio.
Poulpe Grille, Gaspar Brasserie, San Francisco, California
One of the best dishes on the menu right now at this intimate French spot downtown is the octopus. The Poulpe Grille features charred-yet-tender octopus, and the bright green accents to the dish add clean levity. It’s served with spring peas, fresh dill, and green garlic. Make a reservation at Gaspar Brasserie.
Tomato and Burrata, HEXX Kitchen + Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
Executive chef Matthew Piekarski’s favorite springtime dish is Tomato and Burrata. Piekarski roasts Campari tomatoes to concentrate the flavors. The dish is served with creamy burrata, sourdough toast, olive oil, and a truffle honey reduction. “Every ingredient is light and simple,” says Piekarski. “But together, the flavors sing in perfect harmony — the perfect complement to a warm, spring day.” Make a reservation at HEXX Kitchen + Bar.
Spring Citrus and Olio Nuovo Salad, Shed, Healdsburg, California
Fine dining Chef Perry Hoffman has landed at the more casual Shed in Healdsburg where he enjoys sourcing ingredients from local gardens and uses lots of fresh herbs and greens. His love for foraged ingredients is so great; he’s even teased by his staff for his propensity for adding blossoms to almost every dish. His Spring Citrus and Olio Nuovo salad features Hass avocado, and the first of spring greens. Make a reservation at Shed.
Lamb Belly with Huckleberry and Cipollini, Oriole, Chicago, Illinois
Lamb belly paired with huckleberry and cipollini is the final savory course in the 15-course tasting menu at Oriole and features an ingredient that is a true harbinger of spring — ramps. This tender green is a member of the wild onion family. The lamb is brined for 24 hours and then cooked for three days confit-style, so the result is meltingly tender. Make a reservation at Oriole.
Spring Pea Salad, Schroeder’s, San Francisco, California
In San Francisco, Schroeder’s new executive chef, Chris Borges, has introduced a number of fresh dishes just in time for Maifest, the spring counterpart to Oktoberfest, including Spring Pea Salad. It’s like spring on a plate with English peas, snow peas, and tendrils as the main event and Meyer lemon, endive, and radishes plus a nice crunch in the way of puffed barley. Make a reservation at Schroeder’s.
Stir Fried Prime Beef Filet and Eggplant, WP24, Los Angeles, California
WP24 is Wolfgang Puck’s modern Asian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles. The restaurant offers Puck’s luxurious and fresh takes on Chinese food. His Stir Fried Prime Beef filet and eggplant with Thai basil, red chilies is a perfect example. The prime beef has a gentle kick of heat, and is plated over a bed of crispy spinach for a decidedly lighter rendition of a traditional stir-fry dish. Make a reservation at WP24.
Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Crostino, La Pecora Bianca, New York, New York
A casual restaurant in the historic St. James building in Manhattan, La Pecora Bianca means the white sheep in Italian, so it’s no surprise to find a Crostino topped with sheep’s milk ricotta. It also incorporates seasonal bluefoot mushrooms and ramps. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing from the Hudson Valley and surrounding areas. Make a reservation at La Pecora Bianca.
Roasted Halibut, Six Seven, Seattle, Washington
Some of the best seafood can be found in Seattle, and at Six Seven it comes with dramatic views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountain range. This spring the Roasted Halibut is served with a veritable spring wonderland of fiddleheads, morels, lemon, and fennel nage. Make a reservation at Six Seven.
Skillet Seared Sea Scallops, Quality Meats, Miami, Florida
This spring, executive chef Patrick Rebholz serves Skillet Seared Sea Scallops served over creamed corn topped with bacon vinaigrette and Western Carolina ramps. The dish pops with first-of-the-season sweet corn and mildly oniony ramps. Make a reservation at Quality Meats.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.