Restaurants, bars offer new ideas for strawberries

03/05/2008 12:00:00 AM
Tom Burfield

(March 5, 2:14 p.m.) For the second consecutive year, the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, plans to reach out to the foodservice industry to encourage widespread use of strawberries in restaurants, schools and just about anywhere people gather for a meal or snack.

Generally, it doesn’t take much arm-twisting to persuade chefs and foodservice operators to add a few strawberry offerings to their menus.

At Hook Restaurant, Washington, D.C., chef Joshua Whigham likes to pair strawberries with fish, and he says the pastry chef makes a tasty strawberry rhubarb pie and a buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry compote.

“We order eight to 10 flats a week, and that sometimes doesn’t hold us over,” Whigham said.

He’s noticed that the berries tend to have a tart and acidic taste when they first come on the scene each year, but as the season progresses, they become sweeter.

Strawberries can be as good to drink as they are to eat, said Jeff Hollinger, general manager at San Francisco’s Absinthe Brasserie and Bar and author of “The Art of the Bar.”

Hollinger, who dabbles in cocktail development at the restaurant, said strawberries take especially well to a number of different herbs, including rosemary, basil and thyme.

“When you have things that have an herbal component to them, strawberries latch onto that,” he said. “They mingle really nicely.”

But don’t look for strawberry drinks or anything containing strawberries at the restaurant year-round.

“The only time we ever do anything with strawberries is when we can get them in season,” Hollinger said.

At Myth restaurant in San Francisco, executive chef Sean O’Brien lets the berries shine in his strawberry soup that he serves with lemon verbena teacake.

He runs the strawberries through a juicer, adds a bit of vinegar to enhance the flavor and serves it as a straightforward soup with the teacake, he said.

“I want to highlight the flavor,” O’Brien said. “I don’t want to mask it.”

Strawberries are used in both hot and cold applications at Hook, Whigham said.

He uses the berries in a light sauté with caramelized onions and hazelnuts and a deglaze with vinegar, butter and parsley to make a sauce that is “vibrant and alive,” he said.

He grills wahoo fish to medium rare and serves it cut in half with a strawberry compote garnished with fresh lime zest and served with an arugula salad that is tossed with pine nuts and sweet onions.

“That screams spring,” he said.

Whigham said he loves to serve strawberries and limes together.

Another favorite at the restaurant is the panna cotta with a buttermilk base and a kind of pudding texture served with a strawberry compote and a sugar cookie garnish.


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