10 Jaw-Dropping LA Spring-Vegetable Dishes

By Lesley Balla  |  April 21, 2014
Credit: Cliff's Edge

There was a time when vegetables were a side dish or a sidekick to a big slab of protein, but those days are over. Now the city's most cutting-edge chefs are transforming all things spring -  favas, asparagus, morels, rhubarb and foraged flowers - into sublime pieces of edible art that are stealing center stage from meat and fish. All of these dishes aren't vegetarian; some even use a slice of pork or a bit of fish as an accent flavor. Here are 10 boundary-pushing chefs showcasing their favorite spring produce in amazing ways right now.

  • Josiah Citrin's White Asparagus at Mélisse

    Citrin works wonders with his ingredients at the Santa Monica haute restaurant. Even the simplest dishes - roast chicken, for instance - go far beyond the typical. Every spring he looks forward most to white asparagus and morel mushrooms, which he transforms into something heavenly. “When I was 18 and moved to France, I had never seen or experienced white asparagus,” says Citrin. “I was blown away by how delicious they were. My chef mentor from Jura made a dish with white asparagus, morels and a Savagnin wine sauce. I thought it was the best thing I ever tasted and still make the exact dish on my menu every spring.”

  • David Nayfeld's Brassica at Fifty Seven

    During his tenure at the new Arts District restaurant, Nayfeld puts a heavy focus on the fruits and vegetables of the season, which leads him to change the menu regularly. Along with white strawberries, cardoons and peas, he plays with various brassica in this twist on a classic Caesar salad made with various root vegetables, artichokes, roasted garlic and lemon and Parmesan.

  • Jason Neroni's Chilled English-Pea Soup at Superba Snack Bar

    One of Neroni’s favorite spring ingredients is the humble English pea. Not only do peas scream spring, but they’re incredibly versatile. You can use them in pastas, purées, soups and more, and you can use the shoots and tendrils as well as the pea itself. This chilled pea soup just made its way onto the menu at the Venice restaurant. Pistachios, whipped buttermilk and bacon crumble make it a standout.

  • Miles Thompson's Asparagus at Allumette

    Turning heads in Echo Park is no easy feat, but the young chef and his cutting-edge cuisine are doing just that. You’ll always find the best of the season on his menus, but right now, Thompson is most excited about his colossal asparagus for its beautiful sweetness and almost custardlike texture when cooked. “We peel the base of the asparagus and gently poach it in milk with bay leaves,” he explains. The whole dish is like a mosaic with baby violeta, artichokes, a lapsong suchong panna cotta and barbecued onions.

  • Chris "CJ" Jacobson's Spring-Pea Salad at Girasol

    Jacobson has brought his contemporary spin on local cuisine to the Valley, where he creates beautiful plates with the best seasonal ingredients, many of which he forages for himself. Like many other chefs right now, he’s really inspired by peas. “I love peas in all of their vast incarnations,” he says. “They are one of the sweetest vegetables around. And with such a sweet and green flavor, they can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.” Right now you’ll find his sweet spring-pea salad with wild mint cream curd and green strawberry on the menu.

  • Vartan Abgaryan's Peas and Morels at Cliff’s Edge

    After more than a year at the Silver Lake gem, Abgaryan has shown his prowess with seasonal ingredients and is having a lot of fun along the way (check out his roast chicken nights on Mondays). Every spring you’ll definitely see things like ramps, favas and rhubarb on his menus, and this dish is a perfect example: super-unique blonde morel mushrooms, English peas, green garlic, smoky honey and Parmesan cream make magic together on the plate.

  • Michael Voltaggio's Market-Vegetable Crudité at Ink.

    Utilizing quality ingredients and refined techniques, Voltaggio and his crew, also overseen by chef de cuisine Cole Dickinson, create “modern Los Angeles cuisine.” Simple things like potatoes are transformed into edible lumps of coal - charred until black but tasting every bit of fluffy potato - olives into whipped air and kale into lollipops. A signature at the Melrose Avenue restaurant is market-vegetable crudité, which upon arrival to the table looks like a garden growing out of a glass bowl. The lineup changes daily depending on what the kitchen receives from local farms, but anything from individual lettuce and endive leaves, baby carrots, tender asparagus spears, broccoli and edible flowers are stuck in a cloud of aerated blue cheese, which serves as a dip. There’s a black-olive breadcrumb “soil” beneath for texture and “garden” essence.

  • Jeremy Fox's Asparagus with Mushroom Streusel at Rustic Canyon

    It’s no wonder that Fox’s menus at the Santa Monica spot are so vegetable-heavy: the chef was widely recognized for his creative vegetarian cuisine at places like Ubuntu and Manresa in Northern California. Here he keeps things pure and simple but adds just enough flourish to make something like fresh asparagus spears excitin,g like topping them with goat cheese, nettles and mushroom streusel.

  • Ari Taymor's Smoked Cod and Asparagus at Alma

    Culling accolades from across the country for his ultralocal, seasonal menus, Taymor takes inspiration from ingredients grown in the restaurant’s own garden as well as at local organic farms. Now only offering 10-course menus that change almost daily, you might find dishes like grilled pheasant with bitter orange and spring shallot, albacore with bright-green nasturtium sauce, or smoked cod with Meyer lemon, green garlic, cured egg and asparagus. The vegetables might not always be the star of the show, but the main act wouldn’t be the same without its supporting actors.

  • Jordan Kahn's Mushrooms with Balsam Fir at Red Medicine

    Kahn creates virtual landscapes with his ingredients, utilizing not only the freshest seasonal ingredients but also roots, stalks, wild grasses and herbs he forages himself. All are transformed into barely recognizable dishes, like this seemingly simple-looking salad with balsam fir and preserved mushrooms.