When I see caprese salad, asparagus with hollandaise or cucumber salad on a winter menu, I mentally categorize the dining establishment as one of those whose walk-in coolers are filled to the brim with plastic containers of pre-made distributor-sourced foodstuffs. Side dishes speak volumes about how a restaurant sources its food and what makes a chef tick. Coleslaw year round? That guy spends his free time watching Dancing with the Stars. He drives an SUV and only gets emotional during professional sporting events. The chef who dabbles in broccoli rabe, kale and the beloved tuber lives a different sort of life. He (or she) probably dabbled in the arts — french horn? pottery? poetry? — before deciding to make a living hovering over his (or her) knives and cutting board, turning brussels sprouts and smoked meats from single notes to entire symphonies.
While there’s a difference between seasonal and local on a menu, my respect goes out to those who attempt one or both.
I’m not the most astute at observing (or writing about) trends, but I’ve noticed that the potato, in hash form, has received much attention on my favorite menus this winter. Has it always been there, and I’m just starting to notice? I can’t say. But it’s the perfect venue for cool weather veggies and my treasured winter meats, and is often the reason I choose a dish. Like snowflakes, each is unique. Let’s take a look.
1. Short Rib Hash at Buttermilk Channel, Brooklyn
With a 2:1 beef-to-potato ratio in its hash, Buttermilk Channel — one of my favorite stops in Brooklyn — definitely knows how to make a potato seem glamorous. Served alongside lightly dressed greens, the dish is well balanced: heavy meets light, green meets beige and brown. The beef is seasoned with cinnamon and topped with a salted egg. And the soft texture of the potatoes is embellished with crispy bits of beef, scraped from the bottom of the pan, reminiscent of childhood dinners of pot roast. And if one can ever be excited about carrots, this is the time.