Spring, particularly in California, is much more dramatic than any other season because of the myriad of root vegetables that nature makes available to us. As we exit the season of braised dishes and heavier menus, we can shed that winter coat of extra pounds that we’ve been lugging around. As the days grow longer, more sunlight means more sprouting. Vibrant blooms abound throughout the region making this a spectacular time of year, both in terms of aesthetic beauty and flavorful ingredients.
As Americans, most of us have now been exposed to the ideas of “green living.”
Peas and asparagus will take center stage on the menu at The Ritz-Carlton in the coming months. As I write this, our asparagus season is about to begin. California is the leading producer of asparagus in the United States, contributing 58 percent of the nation’s total. As a perennial plant in the lily family, asparagus, the queen of produce, was long regarded as a rare spring delicacy by ancient Greeks and Egyptians. The edible shoots come from an underground stem, or crown, that requires harvesting by hand-a factor contributing to its somewhat costly price tag.
Guests can also look for springtime menus to be loaded with various types of peas. I like to serve a succulent rabbit, sourced from California’s own wine country, with side dishes of fava beans and sugar snap peas. English peas complement duck breast and lobster or serve as the base for an English pea risotto.
Artichokes are on my spring agenda as well. The green globe variety of the perennial thistle dominates the American market, with California claiming nearly 100 percent production for the nation’s enjoyment of its nutty flavor. Artichokes are an excellent accompaniment for an entrée like sea bass. Another idea for artichokes (and one that we use at the restaurant) is to create a mouthwatering artichoke ravioli.
Buying this kind of produce locally, or at least semi-locally, is an essential element in my own culinary code of conduct, and it is a trend that has taken over the nation with forceful staying power. As Americans, most of us have now been exposed to the ideas of “green living.” While it may be something new in many parts of the country, in our region, it is a lifestyle that we have long-cultivated. While there are many new organic farms sprouting up as fast as spring greens, there are just as many near San Francisco, particularly in wine country areas like Napa, who have been farming the land with careful consideration for decades.
I buy quite a bit of our produce from Middleton Farms, a small vendor in the wine country town of Healdsburg. It can be a bit pricey, but the return on investment in terms of taste and quality is invaluable. I am also a big proponent of sustainable agricultural practices and find the philosophies of Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio to be congruent with what Mother Nature intended. The family farm supplies us with quail, whole pigs, and other meats that you can see reflected on my menu such as the Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit.
In the spirit of supporting the community, I am suggesting pairing any of these ingredients with a wine from one of California’s boutique producers. Opus One and York Creek Vineyards, just north of Napa, and Lancaster Estate, also out of Healdsburg, are ones that we have found worthy enough to feature on our Small Bottles/Small Bites menu, which launched in February and includes half bottle selections chosen by our sommelier.
In addition to the abundance of premium produce, spring also signifies the return of our favorite farmers’ markets, including Napa Chef’s Market and Napa Downtown Farmers Market, scheduled to open in May. Make sure to plan a trip soon.
With so many excellent epicurean options in this region, it’s likely that you have already acquired the taste for fine cuisine. Whether in the restaurant or in this magazine, I’m thrilled to add to your culinary world.
The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
600 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108