Chefs across the country love how rhubarb, the flamboyant member of the buckwheat family, adds drama and complexity to their plates each spring. Peak season for the magenta-hued, tart-to-the-tongue vegetable is now through June, and though traditionally great for sweets, this perennial is fit for much more than pies. It can make for a savvy meat marinade and, when pickled, add a parade of sassiness to everything from fish to foie gras. Here are seven treatments of the vibrant veggie currently gracing menus across the U.S.
Boston: Oysters at Coppa
Instead of serving a humdrum mignonette with their oysters, chefs and co-owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette brilliantly pair their bivalves with a rhubarb-infused white verjus sauce. A topping of pickled mustard seed and fresh herbs add an extra punch of acid and seasonality.
253 Shawmut Ave.; 617-391-0902
Philadelphia: Foie Gras Torchon at Talula’s Garden
Owner Aimee Olexy makes no secret out of her love of the versatile stalk. “Rhubarb brings a real sexiness to sweet and savory food. It is not obvious and does not lay it all out there like cherries or even celery. It hides a little, and I find that alluring.” Rhubarb coyly plays hide-and-seek in a “butter” alongside roasted strawberries, nut granola and moscato-pink peppercorn gelee in Olexy’s torchon of Hudson Valley foie gras.
210 W. Washington Square; 215-592-7787
NYC: Tuna Crudo at BLT Fish
Nothing wakes up a mellow fish better than a tickle of pickling. Here, slivers of vinegared rhubarb artfully mirror the shades of raw tuna, slicing through a placid avocado while playing nice with jalapeño vinaigrette. The result comes together for a spicy, perky, lively and luxurious combo.
21 W. 17th St.; 212-691-8888
Washington, DC: Sweetbreads at Birch & Barley
For those who think rhubarb’s tartness comes on too strong, they haven’t tried it with sweetbreads. The partnership here blends a meaty yin to a sour yang in chef Kyle Bailey’s pan-seared sweetbreads with poached rhubarb, hazelnut butter, frisee, elderflower and watercress.
1337 14th St. N.W., 202-567-2576
Chicago: Duck Breast at Spiaggia
When executive chef Sarah Grueneberg needed something that straddled the line between sweet and acid for a wood-roasted honey-lacquered duck breast, she turned to a rhubarb puree to provide the perfect bed - and the perfect seasonal counterpoint - for the dish.
980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750
San Francisco: Cheesecake Japonaise at State Bird Provisions
Lest we not forget rhubarb’s most popular place on the menu: dessert. And this sweet turns a traditional cherry cheesecake on its head, replacing the super sweet with the archly sharp. The resulting flavor profile proves why the restaurant recently snagged a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.
1529 Fillmore St.; 415-795-1272
Portland, OR: Brutti ma Buoni Cookies at Lincoln Restaurant
It is natural instinct to mix something so tart with sugar, and guess what? It works, especially in these cookies by chef-owner Jenn Louis. Though the name of these hazelnut and almond nibbles means “ugly but good” in Italian, these not only prove that looks are deceiving, but also highlight why the Pacific Northwest is the U.S.’ prime spot to indulge in rhubarb: the area actually enjoys a second harvest of the veggie between June and July.
3808 N. Williams Ave.; 503-288-6200