The seasonal stalk is transcending its humble pie beginnings.
Thu May 21 2009
Soft-shell crab with rhubarb slaw at Park Avenue Spring
1 Park Avenue Spring (100 E 63rd St between Park and Lexington Aves, 212-644-1900) tosses slivers of crunchy raw rhubarb with jicama, micro-cilantro and radishes for a vibrant slaw that serves as a refreshing counterpoint to luxurious, crispy soft-shell crabs with creamy grilled-ramp aioli (appetizer $18, entre $34).
2 In a visually arresting preparation, Mas (farmhouse) (39 Downing St between Bedford and Varick Sts, 212-255-1790) pairs an airy white-chocolate panna cotta ($12) with pistachios (crushed brittle and puree) and rhubarb prepared two ways: poached then thinly sliced, and whipped into tart sorbet.
3 The vodka-fueled Rhubarb Sophie ($14), on the house cocktail menu at Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal St at Minetta Ln, 212-475-3850), relies on rhubarb bitters—macerated stalks, herbs and spices commonly used to flavor mixed drinks—for an herbal kick. Muddled cucumbers, fresh lime juice and an agave nectar sweetener lends it a dewy, puckerworthy tang that's perfect for the spring.
4 Chef Harold Dieterle has deftly crafted a pickled rhubarb puree to offset crispy Colorado lamb belly ($13) at Perilla (9 Jones St between Bleecker and W 4th Sts, 212-929-6868). The piquant, sunset-pink concoction cuts through the unctuous lamb and boosts the clean flavors of the accompanying barberry tabouleh.
Eat some now
Stalk market Like ramps and asparagus, rhubarb—one of the first edible plants of the warm season—has long been a harbinger of spring. But the enthusiasm for it is often only symbolic: When's the last time you bought some? Nicknamed the pieplant (we don't have to tell you why) and perennially paired with strawberries, this versatile crop has a right to its own place in the sun. Its bitter and tart qualities make it a natural foil to sweetness, but can also be enhanced with pickling or used to add depth to a savory dish. Choose a bunch that's firm and glossy—the color can range from red to a deep green—and use the stalk only, as the leaves are toxic. Though their tartness rivals that of a lemon, the flesh is delicious when muddled raw in the bottom of a mojito-esque rum-based cocktail or thinly shaved into a salad. The ever-versatile veggie is also a natural laxative, and was used almost solely as a medicinal remedy until the 18th century—so don't scarf down too much in your exuberant enjoyment. Rhubarb is in peak form through July and can be bought from many vendors, including Samascott Orchards ($2.50 per pound) on Fridays and Maxwell's Farm ($3.50 per pound) on Mondays, at the Union Square Greenmarket. So make your appreciation official and buy some already.—Justine Sterling
Rhubarb Sophie from the Minetta Tavern
* 2 cucumber slices, plus 1 for garnish
*2 oz 42Below vodka
* 1 oz agave nectar
* 1 oz lime juice
* 2 dashes rhubarb bitters (Fee Brothers is one brand)
First muddle the cucumber in a shaker glass, then add the remaining ingredients along with ice.
Shake vigorously for about 10 seconds and strain into an ice-filled glass.
Garnish with a slice of cucumber.