A small garden patch next to a popular restaurant may not provide enough bounty to fill the plates of every hungry guest, even in the height of the season. But fresh flourishes can add artistry -- as well as bursts of flavor -- to the presentation, which is one of the goals of Olav Peterson, chef and co-owner of Bittersweet
. After the bulk of spring and summer produce is gone, guests can still experience the spirit of the garden through Peterson's detail-oriented use of flowers, herbs and the last vegetables of the summer harvest.
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At about 600 square feet, Bittersweet's garden is bigger than the standard array of pots and planters that serve a mostly decorative purpose at other restaurants. But most of the growth and production happens earlier in the summer. Peterson explains that the squash plants have shut down for the year, even if blossoms still cling under the canopy of leaves, and that most of the tomatoes have already ripened. But the herbs, especially mint and chives, are still going strong, and edible flowers and leaves can add visual appeal to presentations that rely on produce from area farms.
Take nasturtiums, for example: The flowers and leaves are both edible, and the leaves are big enough to add drama and a peppery bite -- similar to radish. Peterson adds nasturtium leaves to a morcilla appetizer -- a type of Spanish blood sausage with enough flavor to stand up to the zingy nasturtium.
A pork chop gets a mound of shishito peppers and the last of the garden's cherry tomatoes, cooked together into a homey sauce bright with acidity. On other plates, tiny blue borage flowers are the only garden accoutrement -- adding a starry twinkle to offset deeper colors from a mushroom mascarpone puree.
Lacinato kale and Swiss chard still add form and color to the garden, but Peterson says he's mostly done harvesting them. A variety of peppers hide among the leaves, though, perhaps destined to be sliced paper thin on a seafood small plate, like the chef's take on a tuna roll served on a almost fondant-like layer of avocado.
The garden may not be spilling over with buckets of root vegetables or juicy ears of corn; Bittersweet's approach is a little more subtle at this time of year. And Peterson says he prefers to let the soil rest for a few months rather than pulling out every last nutrient and extending the harvest too long.
As long as the weather holds, a seat on the patio -- or at least near a window -- will put you within view of cascades of white roses and the subtle perfume of sun-warmed herbs. And if you're in the mood, a mint julep-inspired whiskey cocktail -- muddled with garden mint -- might be just the warming elixir for a cool fall evening.