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Spring menu highlights: WNY chefs offer season's freshest takes

Everyone likes a chance to start over. In spring, when new fresh vegetables finally pop from the earth, area chefs get itchy menu writing fingers.

They want to properly exploit the first fruits of the soil in ways that echo their creative style. Here’s what spring means to them.

Roost

1502 Niagara St., Buffalo

Martin Danilowicz: "Spring is the beginning and an end, as we say goodbye to those heavy dishes of Christmas past. It’s the beginning of sunshine, green and the mystery of what lies ahead, a sort of shedding of layers.

"I like to think of spring as light, bright and with a sense of discovery; and I play with that at Roost. Many of the items on this month’s menu have something unexpected that you don’t discover until you get deeper into it."

  • Potted hummus: "Served in a flower pot, covered with toasted quinoa and sunflower seeds. Turnips, carrots, assorted radishes and asparagus with their greens “grow” out of the hummus; served with warm pita and housemade za’atar." ($15)
  • Carrot soup: "Carrot soup made with the bright taste of orange and spiked with cumin for a great combination of sweet and savory." ($8)
  • Tuna on sorrel: "Seared tuna coated with za’atar and served over green curry and on a bed of fresh sorrel, and fresh shelled spring peas." ($15)

The potted hummus at Roost. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

. . .

The Black Sheep

367 Connecticut St., Buffalo

Roast asparagus at Black Sheep. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Steven Gedra: "When spring finally arrives, I find myself looking toward the Italian approach more often than not. I'm not quite sure if it's because they treat their veggies with a simple approach, highlighting the nuance of each ingredient with a deft hand, or if it's because during my come up, I worked for a bunch of chefs that had so many vowels in their names due to their Italian heritage, that they just implanted this philosophy in me.

"We have such great farms around Western New York, and so many more restaurants are demanding high quality ingredients, the variety of things available every year just keeps getting better. We are blessed, once the snow stops flying!"

  • Spring salad: "Best greens available, right now baby watercress, baby arugula, pea shoots, sunflower shoots, and fiddleheads. We dress it very lightly with a lemon citronette, of dehydrated lemon zest, lemon juice, champagne vinegar, and grapeseed oil. Finished with a Kindred Kreek duck egg poached in court bouillon and cracked black pepper. Without egg, it’s vegan ($11); with egg ($14)."
  • Roast asparagus: "Eight of these fat, sweet Oles Farm spears are almost a meal in itself. We roast them in a ripping hot cast iron pan with grapeseed oil and salt until they are golden outside, creamy inside. Finished with a slice of 3-year-old prosciutto, some of the last remaining T-Meadow product on planet Earth, and ramp hollandaise." ($12)
  • Nettle and potato soup: "First special from Tim Hodges, Black Sheep’s new sous chef, riffs on a Ferguson Henderson dish. Leeks, onions and potatoes are cooked in chicken stock, then nettles are added and blended in. It’s a vegetal, velvety cream, topped with snails that have been cooked in garlic and parsley butter until warm, and fresh lovage." ($14)

Nettle and potato soup at Black Sheep. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

. . .

Yoshi

33 Elm St., East Aurora

Spring beet salad at Yoshi. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Marabella)

Jennifer Marabella: "Spring is when everything comes to life. Even our food. Colors are more vibrant, and crisp, earthy textures burst on your tongue. Nothing is more satisfying than devouring something freshly picked from a nearby farm. The vinegary bite of the beets, crisp locally sourced greens, crunch of the fennel, sweetness of the orange and saltiness of the cashews, with the creaminess of the avocado, the perfect spring bite to me."

  • Spring beet salad: "I use both red and golden beets, pickled in red wine or apple cider vinegar, with spices like cinnamon, clove, star anise, coriander, and black peppercorns. Sunset Farms salad greens: arugula, beet, curly romaine, and chard, dressed with sesame-citrus vinaigrette. I add shaved fennel, orange segments, toasted cashews, and a swoosh of whipped avocado with fresh lemon." ($8)

. . .

Billy Club

228 Allen St., Buffalo

Nathan Beardsley: "After a long and depressing winter, we are reminded of the potential spring has to offer us. The potential for new growth, new ideas and beautiful food. As we look forward to summer, let’s not forget to take the time to enjoy spring's bounty."

  • Swordfish en papillote: "Oles asparagus, Thorpe’s Farm watermelon radish, Ground Works Market Garden French breakfast radish, poblano, jalapeño, and shallots tossed with white wine, rice vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Swordfish is seasoned with salt and topped with garlic butter and rosemary, all sitting on a bed of hickory smoked fingerling potatoes, chive blossoms charred lemon and radish tops. Folded up in parchment paper and baked until highly aromatic, opened on the way to customer." ($26)

Swordfish en papillote at Billy Club. (Photo courtesy Nathan Beardsley)

. . .

Dapper Goose

491 Amherst St., Buffalo

Jesse Ross

  • Clams and squid: "Spring green garlic, rye bread crumbs, pea shoots, clams steamed with green garlic puree, white wine, squid lightly grilled on flattop." ($14)
  • Asparagus and strawberry salad: "Fermented honey, creme fraiche,  mustard greens, sunflower seed brittle, cured egg yolk." ($13-$15)
  • Soft shell crabs: "Crispy salt and pepper crabs with ramp curry." ($9/$16)
  • Mushrooms: "Rusty Bucket chestnut, oyster and trumpet mushrooms, red pepper puree, hummus, hazelnuts, chili oil." ($16)
  • Confit duck: "With spinach, spring peas, miso butter, fried baby artichokes." ($25)

Asparagus and strawberry salad at Dapper Goose. (Photo courtesy Dapper Goose)

. . .

Prescott’s Provisions

40 E. Niagara St., Tonawanda

Vincent Thompson

  • Bigeye tuna: "With coconut cream, yuzu kosho, compressed watermelon, basil." ($15)
  • Steelhead trout tartare: "With creme fraiche, roe, cucumber, rye." ($14.)

Steelhead trout tartare at Prescott’s Provisions. (Photo courtesy Vincent Thompson)

. . .

This Little Pig

4401 Transit Road, Clarence

Flower power sundae at This Little Pig. (Photo courtesy This Little Pig)

Jeff Cooke: "The winter in Buffalo challenges the chefs who cook seasonally and things tend to get very dreary by the end of March. The coming of new green, colorful produce in the spring is highly anticipated and enormously inspiring."

  • Flower power sundae: "Housemade lavender and hibiscus ice cream swirls with blueberry jam over a rosemary shortbread cookie, and whipped cream, garnished with flowers." ($8)
  • Farmstead grill: "Always Something Farm veal medallion and asparagus, Kindred Kreek petite filet mignon, Bellview Farm lamb chop, grilled, with Root Down Farm garlic shoot butter and radish." ($36)

. . .

Black Iron Bystro

3648 South Park Ave., Blasdell

Alex Diaczenko

  • Garden and grains roasted carrot hummus: "With smoked carrots, farro, and spiced yogurt." ($14)
  • Pork belly and scallops: "With sweet pea puree, tomato jam, cripsy rice cracker, and charred tomato." ($26)

. . .

Dobutsu

500 Seneca St., Suite 119, Buffalo

James Roberts: "In spring, we begin to lighten sauces, use more herbs and aromatics, grill and char items instead of roasting and stewing, allowing ingredients to really speak for themselves a little, especially young ingredients like alliums and foraged items. We favor brighter dishes and compositions, almost naturally with fewer components."

  • Chili soft-shelled crab: "Soft shell Gulf crabs same-day shipped from Louisiana, seasoned with our favorite elements of funky, spicy, salty, umami bomb deliciousness. You deglaze the crab with a little Chinese wine, press it a little to let some of the crab fat and juice out into the pan, then reduce all that into a chile paste glaze that covers every inch of the crab, over a delicate fried rice. It’s a real showstopper." ($18-$21)

Chili soft-shelled crab at Dobutsu. (Photo courtesy Dobutsu)

. . .

Toutant

437 Ellicott St., Buffalo

Joseph Fenush, chef de cuisine: "Spring time flavors are so much easier to coax into deliciousness, accents and delicacy are the focus. They are products at their peak, you can really only steward those beautiful bright flavors, gently accompanying with umami instead of smacking you with it. It takes a deft touch.”

  • Buttermilk rhubarb creme brulee: "Buttermilk custard flavored with vanilla and green cardamom. Rhubarb poached lightly in a syrup of fennel and lemongrass, and housemade rhubarb bitters. Rhubarb molasses and meringue, some miso-pickled rhubarb to add salt and texture, finished with a caramelized preserved lemon gel, to balance the tart and sweet and brighten the dish." ($8)

Buttermilk rhubarb creme brulee at Toutant. (Andrew Galarneau/Buffalo News)

 . . .

Marble + Rye

112 Genesee St., Buffalo

Michael Dimmer: "Still a slightly slow 'pop' on the farms we work with due to so much rain, but come next week, we’ll have a glut of new regular menu seasonal items, as well as a hopefully long list of seasonal features."

  • Wood roasted Oles asparagus: "Green Goddess dressing, Parmigiano-Reggiano, soft Always Something Farm egg, garlic breadcrumb, black pepper, Plato Dale Farm herbs." ($13)
  • Charred Groundworks broccoli rabe: "Roasted Thorpe’s garlic cream, smoked almond, Senek Farm apple." ($13)
  • Plato Dale beef burger: "8-ounce patty, Cooper’s sharp American cheese, dressed Oles greens, Schwab Farm rhubarb BBQ, fried Yaeger Farm eeks." ($17)

. . .

Siena

4516 Main St, Snyder

Poached halibut at Siena. (Photo courtesy Chris Smaldone)

Chris Smaldone

  • Spring salad: "Prosciutto di Parma, shaved asparagus, radish, green strawberries, buttermilk ricotta, shallot vinaigrette." ($12)
  • White asparagus soup: "Peas, bacon, lump crab, salmon roe." ($11)
  • Wagyu beef tartare: "Pickled ramps, cured egg yolk, black garlic cracker." ($16)
  • Poached halibut: "Fregola sarda, mashed fava beans, Meyer lemon, lobster fumet." ($37)
  • Hearth roasted lamb rack: "Sunchokes, charred asparagus, morel mushroom brown butter." ($46)
  • Chicken al Mattone: "Green garbanzo beans, burrata, marcona almond, fennel pollen." ($26)

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