Monday, January 30, 2012
The moment of reckoning finally arrived in sixth grade. The science fair. Every grammar student's (and parent's) worst nightmare. In the world which existed before wikipedia and google provided the solution to every problem, choosing a science fair project took hours of thumbing through encyclopedias and multiple trips to the public library to browse through periodicals for ideas to steal. And to raise the level of competition just a bit higher, the science fair was the only school project where it was both acceptable and expected for the parents to actively participate. Figuring out who had a doctor for a parent was simple - just look for the kid whose science project was entitled "A Thesis on the Causes of Chronic Pulmonary Problems in the Post-Industrial Era."
After 4 months of painstaking research, internal debate, and much procrastination, I finally decided on the subject of my science fair project approximately 36 hours before the deadline. "Natural Dyes" was the title. Basically, I made coloring agents out of different plants and wrote up a few blurbs about how the natural stuff was just as effective as synthetic paints. Remember what I said about parents assisting children with their projects? Yeah, well when I was in sixth grade, my Mom worked in sales for an upholstery cleaning company. A PhD was not required to understand that a coffee stain is, for all intensive purposes, a stain for life.
I never cared much for science class, and I did not win an award for my opus on the power of natural dyes. (I believe that the first place ribbon went to 1 of the 15 geniuses who discovered that baking soda + vinegar = volcano eruption). However, one factoid I will always remember from my science project is this: Beets will stain your fingers for about 8 days if you are not careful. But it never really occurred to me that those blood red root veggies might actually be worth eating.
My first experience with beets as food occurred on a trip to Piccadilly, an episode which caused me to suffer with PTSD for the better part of a decade. In the last few years though, I have come to appreciate beets as a delectable delicacy, and lately there has been no shortage of opportunities to indulge. I would guesstimate that close to a third of the ambitious restaurants around town serve a dish which matches sweet roasted beets with a salty cheese. There is the roasted beet bruschetta with goat cheese at Sylvain, the burrata and beet salad at Herbsaint, and the beet and ricotta ravioli at Meauxbar. The popularity of the combination is a testament to it's success, and all of the above are delicious and worth ordering.
One of my favorite uses of beets was at La Petite Grocery, where Chef Justin Devillier used chilled roasted beets and thinly sliced pickled onion as a foundation for cold crabmeat salad spiked with horseradish. Just a phenomenal dish, whose flavors touched upon sweet, sour, spicy, and richness. Unfortunately, that dish is not a part of the current menu at La Petite, but I see that you can still get your beet fix with a salad also featuring arugula, toasted pecans, local citrus, and cane vinegar.
It probably comes as no surprise that my current favorite beet dish in the city comes from the kitchen of Alon Shaya at Domenica. The winter vegetable pizza: roasted yellow beets and carrots scattered with a little goat cheese upon that ethereal crust which just keeps getting better every time I try it. Simple and sublime.
So where are you getting your beet fix?