Food writers (and the food obsessed) tend to get exasperated with food trends more quickly than the general public. After logging hours tasting, salivating over, and deconstructing the happenings in the culinary world, it's only logical that this segment of the population (and its brethren) would be the first to tire of whatever gastronomic whims are presently enjoying a "moment." Are we being cantankerous spoil sports or is it right to poo-poo any concept that seems to grip the nation in its burger-bar/cupcake/bourbon-bar clutches? There is one trend that I beg anyone to tire of: fresh herbs in everything.
During a media dinner last month at Tanzy, guests were treated to cocktails in the restaurant's recently completed herb garden (see photos and read about it here). As master sommelier/mixologist Adam Seger whipped up cocktail after cocktail using freshly-plucked herbs from the garden (constructed by local sustainable man-about-town Farmer Jay) it was like a bullet-point list of everything there is to love about aromatic plants. Rosemary, mint, and sage amplified a beautiful mojitonico, while the basil-infused vodka was so smooth it went down like an herbal elixir. Herbs made appearances in dishes throughout the night, with an inclusion in the housemade rosemary and olive oil gelato ranking at the top of my list.
Fresh herbs have a indelible characteristic that makes their inclusion in everything from cocktails to desserts, universally appealing. Devoid of fat, hydrogenated oil, salt, sugar, processed crap -- fresh herbs are all about subtle, clean taste.The trend (which goes far beyond muddled mint in mojitos) is becoming increasingly mainstream as restauranteurs catch on to the fact that herbs are easy and inexpensive to cultivate, they don't require a ton of room to grow, and their organic flavors elevate even the most simple dishes from ho-hum to something to talk about. As Seger pointed out, "herbs love to be picked," and they flourish when they're used, making them the ultimate renewable resource.
Kapow! Noodle Bar, just around the corner from Tanzy, has included fresh herbs -- some of which come from the restaurant's plot in the nearby Boca Raton Community Garden -- in many of its signature cocktails since opening last fall. A few blocks away, the newly opened Rebel House does the same (though without an on-premises herb garden) and craft cocktail forerunner Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach is no stranger to going straight to the source for maximum flavor. Of course, for many traditionalists, the concept is nothing new.
Take Ristorante Sapori, for instance. Chef-owner Marco Pindo keeps a decent-sized herb garden in assorted pots and planters on the restaurant's outdoor patio, and handfuls of the flavorful buds and leaves find their way in dishes on a routine basis. For purists who rely on "fresh" to supply the flavor, there's nothing remotely trendy or new about this concept.
Have you noticed more fresh herbs making their way onto the plate or into the glass at your favorite bar or restaurant? Any other summer food and drink trends (smoked fruits, salted desserts) drawing a reaction from your palate?
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