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Farming Goes Underground

food1

In the British capital, a pair of forward-looking growers have tunnel vision / Jeff Wells

LONDON – When London diners dig into their salads this year, they could be enjoying greens grown in the heart of the city. Those tender sprigs of arugula or watercress might not have come from a garden or a greenhouse but from a futuristic farm 100 feet underground.

Operating out of an abandoned World War II–era bomb shelter beneath Clapham Road, the aptly named Growing Underground produces 12 varieties of hydroponic micro greens. Bathed in the pink glow of grow lights and fed a stream of nutrient-rich water, the greens are harvested within as little as 28 days, and they travel from tunnel to kitchen to plate in a few hours.

“Restaurants will get product on the day it’s harvested, which means they’ll be getting something that’s really fresh and flavorful,” says Steven Dring, who started the enterprise with co-founder Richard Ballard.

With demand for local food sky-high, these farms are a model for the future, able to grow produce using a fraction of the space and time outdoor farms require. “There’s no topsoil to manage, no agricultural runoff,” says Dring. “We don’t have any pests, and we aren’t affected by adverse weather.”

So confident is Dring that he’ll succeed, he’s already picked out a few other underground sites for expansion. “There’s a lot of space under London,” he says. After that, the sky’s the limit.

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food2Nouveau New Mexican

A Southwestern city returns to the culinary vanguard with a renewed focus on local ingredients / Elaine Glusac (image by Doug Merriam)

SANTA FE – At 6 p.m. on a Friday in a strip mall on the southern fringe of Santa Fe, a line already snakes from the year-old Dr. Field Goods. Inside, the raucous ZZ Top blaring from the sound system hasn’t deterred the faithful—from college boys to earplugged retirees—from digging into pulled pork and green chile sandwiches and patatas bravas that taste like crispy green chile cheese fries.

Not since the mid-’90s, when this Southwest desert capital was exporting blue corn chips and adobe decor to restaurants across the country, has Santa Fe been such a gastro-darling. Of course, the region has been a hotbed of innovative cuisine for centuries. As early as the 1600s, well before “fusion” became a buzzword in the restaurant industry, New Mexicans were experimenting with culinary mashups, mixing influences from Spanish colonial, Native pueblo and Mexican mestizo cultures. But in the last two decades, the former gastronomic capital has been overshadowed by artisanal upstarts from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. Now, a tide of new restaurants and a wonky culinary conference have collectively redefined the city’s foodie appeal and recaptured the magic of one of America’s most prized culinary traditions.

In the past few years, newcomers have elevated New Mexican food with international influences and distinctly local, if somewhat unexpected, ingredients. Chef Joel Coleman at the Fire & Hops gastropub looked to Canada for his poutine with green chile and bacon. Joseph Wrede at Joseph’s Table pairs seasonal salmon with wintery corn pudding and sweet potato tamales. And Santa Fe Spirits’ Wheeler’s Gin contains 30 local botanicals, including the magenta flower of an area cactus. Owner Colin Keegan says it “smells like Santa Fe after a rainstorm.”

This renaissance comes in part from “source-consciousness,” says Rob DeWalt, a Santa Fe food writer. “It’s taking Southwest flavors, the tricultural thing, and putting a fusion spin on it.”

Enter Fuze SW, a new fall food conference that includes scholarly debates and panel discussions on such broad-ranging topics as gender in Southwest cooking, contemporary Native American cuisine, and indigenous biotechnology. But it’s not too highfalutin to tackle subjects like the origins of the lowly Frito pie, the appeal of fried dough (from Navajo fry bread forward) or that age-old question: What exactly distinguishes New-Mex cuisine from Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Az-Mex or, well, Mex-Mex?

Above all, perhaps, is that Santa Fe has rediscovered what it has been good at for centuries. “No one’s bragging about lava cake anymore,” says DeWalt of the generic dessert that was once shorthand for restaurant trendiness. “They’re bragging about the cheese made down the street.”

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food3

Now That’s Smooth

Olive oil moves from the kitchen to the bar / Sara Morrow (image by Tom Okins)

MINNEAPOLIS – Oil and water don’t mix. But what about, say, oil and gin? A few years back, mixologist Pip Hanson began creating olive oil–washed gins by mixing and freezing the ingredients, and then straining out the fat for a smooth infused spirit. Suddenly, he had what he calls a eureka moment. “I realized that if a drink contained an egg white, the olive oil could be mixed in directly and emulsified by shaking,” says Hanson, beverage director at The Bachelor Farmer restaurant and Marvel Bar speakeasy in Minneapolis.

His discovery inspired the Oliveto, which pairs gin and Spain’s citrus-and-vanilla Licor 43 with peppery olive oil, lemon juice, simple syrup and an egg white. “The ingredients look pretty odd on paper, and usually people have no idea what to expect,” he admits, adding that oil lends a rich, silky mouthfeel. “Most say it tastes like a liquid lemon meringue pie—though someone once told me, ‘It’s like drinking a cloud.’”

Hanson is not the only bartender looking to olive oil for taste. At NewYork’s Molyvos, the Chios Remedy isinspired by the healthful living on itsnamesake Greek isle. It’s made with rosemary olive oil, lemon juice, an egg white, Cointreau and Mastiha, a Chios-made spirit. And at San Francisco’s Trick Dog, the hazy Alligator Alley includes olive oil–infused gin, vermouth, quinquina and Chartreuse, served with the perfect garnish: a green olive.

The Oliveto yields 1 drink

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. dry gin
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ oz. rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
  • ¼ oz. Licor 43
  • ½ oz. full-bodied extra-virgin olive oil (like organic Spanish Perales)
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 ice cubes

In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Licor 43, olive oil and egg white. Shake well to emulsify. Add the three ice cubes and shake until most of the ice has melted. Strain into a stemless wine glass and serve.

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Greece Is the Word

Some surprising new Greek wines are starting to show up on New York City’s hottest menus / Geraldine Campbell (image by Jeff Quinn)

NEW YORK – The top-selling white wine by the glass at French chef Daniel Boulud’s New York restaurants Bar Boulud and Boulud South isn’t, oddly enough, from France. According to wine director Michael Madrigale, it’s assyrtiko, an under-the-radar gem from Greece. The varietal from Santorini is crisp, citrusy, flinty and slightly briny—just the kind of terroir you might expect from a sun-drenched island in the Aegean Sea.

Greek wines have long had a bad reputation. For starters, there’s the fact that the names of the indigenous grapes look like series of letters strung unintelligibly together: agiorgitiko, moschofilero and malagousia are just a few. And if you’ve ever tried retsina, the traditional pine resin–infused Greek wine that often tastes like Pine Sol smells, chances are it left a bad taste in your mouth.

“For years, the quality of the wine we received in the States was pretty low,” notes David Giuliano, beverage director at New York’s new seafood hotspot The Clam.

But, he adds, that doesn’t mean the Greeks aren’t producing quality wines—they’ve just been keeping the good stuff for themselves. Until a few years ago, 90 percent of Greece’s wine was sold in-country. “Greece has a lot to offer in the way of terroir,” Giuliano explains. “For such a relatively small country, there is a huge range of growing regions, from the mountainous regions on the mainland to the islands and just about everything in between.”

A new crop of young Greek vintners who have brought French techniques back home, plus a rising interest in unique varietals among stateside oenophiles, have now made it possible to find interesting, unique pours without getting on a plane. Even better, most of these wines go for less than $25 a bottle.

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food4

My Big Fat Greek Wine List

If you like Sauvignon Blanc

try Assyrtiko [a seer’ tee ko]

tasting notes “The wine can taste like the sea, citrus, green kelp, salinity and beach stones,” says Giuliano. “I’m always amazed at how much texture and lushness this high-acid white brings along with it.”

what to buy 2013 Domaine Sigalas Santorini, $18

If you like Chablis

try Robola [ro bo’ la]

tasting notes A native grape of Cephalonia, it has “cleansing lemon acidity, gentle floral notes and a plush body,” says Giuliano. “Some citrus and apricot mingle with honeyed almond and slight vegetal notes.”

what to buy 2012 Gentilini Robola Cephalonia, $17

If you like Nebbiolo

try Xinomavro [ksee no’ ma vro]

tasting notes “This grape from Macedonia is basically nebbiolo in disguise,” says Madrigale. “It has all the violet, tar and tart red fruit notes that you get in a Barolo, as well as the dry, chalky tannins.”

what to buy 2010 Kir-Yianni Ramnista, $20–$25

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