Summertime is, in some ways, about the fleeting. Even in the land of everything-in-season-all-the-time, the warmest months produce a few ephemeral ingredients that make stalking menus worthwhile. This season, one very missed fish is back, a baby allium hits center stage, and a soup spot cools down.
Salmon at Revival Bar + Kitchen
2102 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-549-9950, RevivalBarandKitchen.com
In the last decade, salmon have been sparse on Northern Californian menus. In the early Aughts, Karl Rove drove legislation to bifurcate water from the Sacramento Valley, securing more irrigation water for farmers but drying up a few rivers in the process. The salmon count plummeted and generations died, cut off from their spawning ground. The crisis prompted the government to halt commercial fishing and let the population replenish. As of this year, it has, and for the first time in the life of Revival Bar + Kitchen, it's on the menu. Happily for us, Amy Murray is treating it with all the reverence the fish deserves.
Murray, who celebrates her twentieth year as a chef this year, is cooking the food we all ought to be eating — healthy, seasonal, and bound up in deference to the land. She works with a cadre of small local farmers, wrangling flavors informed by years spent living in Japan, where ceremony and mealtime intersect, and time spent backpacking around the world discovering the importance of supporting foodsheds.
When salmon finally surfaced on the market a few weeks ago, Murray got a text from the guys at Two x Sea, a Sausalito-based outfit working to make the seafood marketplace transparent and sustainable, describing their catch as super fatty and rich. Murray bought a fish and cooked it for a family barbecue. The result was stunning.
Now, Revival's summer menu contains its take on salmon: a thick fillet, skin crisped on the grill, served over a beautiful hash of purple potatoes, romanesco, fava leaves, and leeks. Grapefruit juice whipped into egg yolk makes for a perfectly bright and rich counterpoint in flavor. Bringing it all together is a pinch of tarragon.
Green Garlic at Pizzaiolo
5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-652-4888, PizzaioloOakland.com
"There's more alchemy in the winter," said Charlie Hallowell (Pizzaiolo, Boot and Shoe Service, Penrose). What he means is this: The colder months are all about the marriage of disparate flavors — stews, ragouts, food wrought slowly. The summertime, on the other hand, is meant for ripping the earth's bounty straight from the ground, and biting in before the sunbaked soil on its skin has had time to cool. Summertime is about the integrity of freshness.
"It's this time when the earth is giving you all of this shit, and it says, 'Don't fuck with this. Don't fuck this up,'" said Hallowell.
Garlic is, of course, a mainstay through all of Hallowell's restaurants. But in the summertime, it's all about greens. The slender stalks of the immature allium are as likely to show up in the taglioni at Pizzaiolo as they are in the Manila clams at Penrose. Young garlic tastes greener, grassier, and less peppery than its cured counterpart. If you're lucky, you'll get to try some in one of Hallowell's sporadic treats — green garlic brodo, a double broth made from two rounds of stewing. The first is a standard broth brew composed of raw chicken, carrots, and celery. The second round is where the brodo's heart starts to pump; this time the chicken is browned and added to the stock with all of its sweet and caramelized bits, deglazed with wine. After a second boiling, the broth is strained and augmented with a boatload of green garlic (one-third of the soup's volume). Hallowell tops it with toast and a generous pour of very good olive oil. If you're even luckier, you may catch a night of straciatelle, a heartier version in which green garlic and Parmesan are whisked into an egg and dropped into the hot broth.
Chilled Noodles at Ramen Shop
5812 College Ave., Oakland, 510-788-6370, RamenShop.com
The ramen outpost in Rockridge might be known for its market-inspired iterations of the Japanese staple, but the spot has warm-weather hankerings covered, too. Just in time for summer, the Ramen Shop is rolling out a new chilled noodle salad, a version of something called hiyashi chuka. The salad itself is a portioned plate of slivered cucumber, egg, carrots or daikon, watercress (or other greens), and some Mendocino nori. The noodles, dressed in ponzu and soy sauce, serve as the bright and umami-rich base for fresh, crunchy toppings. On a menu of steaming soups and meats and fried rice, it may be the most summery thing to hit Ramen Shop. But only to Americans.
In many countries, hot weather means hot food. In fact, on most continents outside of this one, that's often the common school of thought: hot tea and hot soup diminish the effect of heat on the body, closing the temperature gap between a person's insides and the outside. Americans practice an inverse relationship with weather, but I encourage you to try this seemingly counterintuitive approach. Get the cold noodle salad, yes. But next time a blistering heat wave strikes, sit down with a bowl of hot ramen. You might be surprised how it feels. In the worst case, there's always the strawberry-clementine popsicle.