Edible blooms

As farmers’ markets start to flourish, chefs are taking the season’s hottest ingredient—flowers—from vase to plate.

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  • Photograph: Dominic Perri

    Pike with potato, sprat and wild herbs at Frej

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Jasmine flower scramble at Yunnan Kitchen

  • Photograph: Alex Strada

    Soft-boiled egg at Parish Hall

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Beef carpaccio with sunchoke spuma, sage grissini and sunflowers at Del Posto

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Smoked trout with cucumber, buttermilk and rye at the NoMad

Photograph: Dominic Perri

Pike with potato, sprat and wild herbs at Frej

Flowers, an eternal symbol of vernal awakening, have long graced American tables as an ornamental centerpiece. But this spring, blossom-accented dishes are sprouting up at trendsetting restaurants across New York. The full-bloom explosion is in lockstep with the rise of high-end foraging—the practice of gathering wild plants for hyperseasonal dishes—spotted at some of the city’s cutting-edge hot spots: Isa, Atera and Frej. These new places all bear the influence of two pioneers of nouveau foraging: the international superstars Andoni Luis Aduriz, of Spain’s Mugaritz, and René Redzepi, of Denmark’s Noma, both of whom recently published highly anticipated cookbooks that showcase stunning floral plates. But many chefs trace the savory use of posies—prized for their delicate fragrance, unique velvety texture and alluring beauty—back further, to groundbreaking French chef Michel Bras, as well as to the traditional cuisines of Europe, Asia and Latin America. Here we take a look at the latest in petal-to-stem cooking at eateries around town, from fine-dining gems to regional Chinese joints.


Frej

Pike with potato, sprat and wild herbs at Frej
At this white-hot pop-up in the back of Kinfolk Studios, young toques Fredrik Berselius and Richard Kuo rotate 15 varieties of flowers through their Scandinavian-influenced tasting menu. Berselius plucks the tender shoots at the foothills of Bear Mountain in upstate New York and utilizes them in an ever-changing spread of seasonal dishes, such as an amuse-bouche of pickled elderflower, beef liver and sunchoke puree, and a meat course of garlic mustard blossoms with scarlet rounds of tender beef and sweet blackened parsnip. When we visited last, flowers figured most prominently in the day’s fish dish of pike with poached egg yolks and razor-thin slices of potato—a harmonious marriage of forest, lake and field. A tangle of tiny blooms, along with wild fronds and leaflets, delivered a fresh, herbaceous contrast with the briny flavors of a cured, torched parcel of pike and a milk sauce infused with sprat (a Swedish anchovy). Each flower contributed a specific flavor: The wild broccoli and kale florets offered sweetness, violet provided floral notes, and wild turnip and radish blooms delivered spicy and peppery accents. 90 Wythe Ave at North 11th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (347-286-6241). Five-course tasting menu $45. Monday–Wednesday.

Yunnan Kitchen

Jasmine flower scramble at Yunnan Kitchen
This new Lower East Side Chinese restaurant showcases the lesser-seen cuisine of Yunnan—a southwestern province known for its delicate flavors—where flowers grow abundantly and show up in salads and simple wok-fried dishes. For this traditional homestyle plate, chef Travis Post gently stir-fries local chicken eggs, a few slices of bright tomato and a handful of white-and-green jasmine buds, imported from Yunnan. The complexly flavored nubs balance the richness of the soft egg curds with a hint of nuttiness, fragrant sweetness and the mouth-tingling astringency of young tea. 79 Clinton St between Delancey and Rivington Sts (212-253-2527). $7.

Parish Hall

Soft-boiled egg at Parish Hall
George Weld’s new locavore eatery, a spin-off of Williamsburg down-home favorite Egg, takes its cues from upstate New York, with much of the produce—including an array of colorful flowers—coming from his countryside estate Goatfell and nearby Old Field Farm. Inspired by the duck eggs he often finds hidden among field weeds, chef Evan Hanczor makes this rustic dish by nestling a breaded egg in a bed of greens and blossoms. He wraps a soft-boiled chicken egg in salty Newsom’s country ham and deep-fries it—a Southern-comfort spin on England’s sausage-encased Scotch egg. Then he anchors it on a plate with a swath of earthy sunchoke puree. The fresh purple and white flowers of spicy radish, bright orange  nasturtium blooms, mild tatsoi and broccoli florets, along with a mix of young greens, balance the rich and meaty flavors of the crispy orb. Hanczor also works in an extra dose of nasturtium flowers via the dressing—a zippy blend of buttermilk along with the pungent petals. 109A North 3rd St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-782-2602). $12.

Del Posto

Beef carpaccio with sunchoke spuma, sage grissini and sunflowers at Del Posto
In this ode to yellow-dappled sunflower fields, chef Mark Ladner works four different preparations of the radiant blossom into an arresting carpaccio antipasto. Tiny tender petals offer a bright yellow contrast to the rosy red blanket of dry-aged Piemontese rib eye. Crispy chips and braised slices of the sunflower heart lend nutty crunch and tenderness, and a sunchoke spuma—an Italian foam made with chicken stock and shallots via a whipped cream canister—add earthy fragrance. A crunchy bread stick slicked with beef fat and sprinkled with sage salt plays off the dish’s meaty and herbaceous notes. 85 Tenth Ave between 15th and 16th Sts (212-497-8090). $30.

NoMad

Smoked trout with cucumber, buttermilk and rye at the NoMad
Superstar toque Daniel Humm, who was just named Outstanding Chef at the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards, has been using flowers since he started manning the stoves as a young cook in Europe. These days, he continues to deploy them at Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, where flowers figure into his philosophy of exploring an ingredient from various angles (young and mature, cooked and raw). In this gorgeous appetizer, Humm showcases a cucumber both early and late in its life, with a tender yellow cucumber bloom attached to a cornichon-size baby cuke, and the fully grown vegetable sliced into a crisp pile of “tagliolini” strands. Humm also traces the life span of a trout in the dish with glossy pebbles of briny roe and smoked pink wedges of the rich fish. He finishes the plate with a tangy lemon-buttermilk froth and lacy crisps of rye bread—bringing to mind an upmarket deconstruction of English teatime sandwiches. 1170 Broadway at 28th St (347-472-5660). $18.


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Tim Wersan
Tim Wersan

Hey TONY, Where's the props to Windfall Farms and the other growers? I recognize our flowers in a number of these pics: Sunflower, Nasturtium, Claytonia (Miner's lettuce), Brassica (i.e., kale flowers). We don't know what wild broccoli is http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/the-first-broccoli/ and can tell you that most if not all of the flowers mentioned are on cultivated plants and not foraged. A number of these restaurants shop with us and others in Union Square: Atera, 11 Madison Park, the NoMad. Give some shout-outs to those Greenmarket farms who help inspire these florally enhanced viands. Thanks!