Winter citrus makes its way north

February 23, 2011 9:52:30 AM PST
Even though Chicago's stuck in the middle of winter, restaurants are using fresh, seasonal fruit in main dishes and desserts.

Winter citrus from the south has made its way onto Chicago menu in some very creative ways. They are tart signs of the season: pink lemons, blood oranges, and even mandaquats, which are mandarin orange-kumquat hybrid.

The winter fruits are showing up at the casual, Mediterranean-leaning Avec in the West Loop. Dishes go both sweet and savory, such as grapefruit segments appearing with cauliflower and fennel, providing sharp contrast to wood-grilled sturgeon. The fruit also does wonders for pastry chefs, giving them new weapons in their arsenal.

"I think the acidity cuts both sugar and salt. So it's always a great palette cleanser, it's always great to finish a meal with. I love having any meal finished with something acidic, something that just refreshes you," Patrick Fahy, Avec, said

The tiny mandaquats are meticulously juiced and spun into a bright, refreshing sorbet, which is then topped off with a few mandarin orange slices. A rich, ricotta cheese-filled semolina cake wedge is dressed up with blood orange supremes - essentially skin, membrane and pith-free segments - plus a healthy dollop (or two) or whipped cream.

"We have a nice heavy semolina cake and just to cut through that sweetness and heavy feeling with a nice acidity; and in this case the blood oranges work great," Fahy said.

Fahy also designed a lemony finish that is both sweet and puckery. A Meyer lemon tart batter is generously poured over a bottom crust; once it's chilled, a sturdy meringue is piped over the top of the individually-cut squares; the tops are torched, ever-so-briefly, to create caramelization. Candied Meyer lemon peels are placed on top, then some tiny madelines are served alongside, showered in the slightest amount of powdered sugar.

"The lemon juice that we use is from the Meyer lemons and I like Meyer lemons more than regular lemons; they're really sweet and not as acidic as regular lemons. So it's still tart but really sweet as well," Fahy said.

615 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 258-8331