It's in between tropical downpours in the Design District as I wade through the humidity to Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Summer's making its usual graceful entrance, and I'm curious about what happens to a restaurant with a menu that celebrates local foods, when the local growing season ends. What's fresh on the mind and inside the walk-in of Chef Michael Schwartz and crew in his shrine to vines?
Like delivered today, pulled-off-the-tree-today fresh?
Turns out, a whole bunch. Boxes of 'em.
Something special has arrived this week. On the heels of hometown mangoes, the first of the lychee crop has literally landed on the kitchen doorstep. Yes, it's exotic fruit time in South Florida, and the restaurant is all over it.
"We do the best we can, with what we have to work with, and it turns out there's a lot," says Schwartz. "First, we chase the stuff up north." He's referring to the Lake Worth area, where the growing season for local fall/spring produce, like colorful heirloom tomatoes and sweet bell peppers, is extended for just a bit longer in temperatures a notch cooler than in Homestead. For those ingredients, forager Meghan Tanner plots a course change of 180 degrees, while still keeping an eye down south for lettuce mix, micro greens and herbs from the folks at Paradise Farms. Then the tropicals come in, and the party really heats up.
Chef throws a tip our way: lychees do well in the freezer with their protective shells on -- an exception to the rule with most thick-skinned tropifruit, including mango. How cool that the f-word isn't dirty when it comes to lychees? Just remember to leave the peeling/pitting/prepping to immediately before eating.
To balance the fruit-heavy harvest, Schwartz also notes that it's a great time for wild, local fish like mutton snapper and black grouper, as well as product from small producers out-of-state. "The rest of the country is in full swing with everything that is finishing up down here, so we supplement where we have to. I'm getting beautiful asparagus from New Jersey and peaches from Georgia. We're making peach ice cream, putting them in salads and wrapping them in bacon on the grill." Yes, please.
As I nosh on my neatly-wrapped rice paper present (and dunk repeatedly into a light - not gloppy - limey sweet and sour sauce,) I'm thinking about where the goodies tucked inside come from. There's our sweet Florida rock shrimp, tender lump crab meat, paper thin mango slices, cilantro, mint, lettuce... I'm guessing the julienne carrots and rice noodles are the only ingredients that pulled a long haul to get onto my plate.
It's nice to know that nasty charcoal shelf rolling low in the western sky has a sweet, silver lining...
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