Tomatoes are the second most widely consumed vegetable in the U.S., after potatoes. Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit, but 122 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it (for tax reasons) a vegetable. Today, the tomato’s popularity is no doubt tied in with some of our favorite ethnic cuisines—such as Mexican and Italian—as well as condiments such as ketchup and salsa.
According to USDA statistics, Americans consumed 31.1 pounds of tomatoes per person in 2013, 59 percent of them in canned form. During fresh tomato season, restaurants around the country are finding ways to celebrate the versatility and flavor of this favorite.
Through the end of August, L’Auberge Provencale in White Post, VA, offers a Succulent Summer Tomato Tasting Menu ($135 per person) highlighting more than a dozen types of heirloom and heritage tomatoes from the garden. Examples of executive chef Zachary Ladwig’s tasting menu includes Amuse Tomato marshmallows; Pineapple Tomato tartare, Spanish octopus and espelette pepper vinaigrette; and Cherokee Purple Tomatoes gently warmed with veal sweetbreads, baguette and Banyuls vinegar.
At Café Spiaggia in Chicago, the Heirloom Tomatoes Salad ($14) incorporates housemaid lemon ricotta, purple and Genovese basil and chives. Heirloom Tomato Salad has also been starring as one of the “Flavors of Sonoma” wine-inspired summer seasonal dishes at Ocean Prime Beverly Hills. Chef Matt Briggs’ Heirloom Tomato Salad is served on a bed of arugula with Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, red onion and red wine vinaigrette. The salad was paired with Arrowood Chardonnay.
During the month of July, Washington DC-based Knightsbridge Restaurant Group celebrated vine-ripe tomatoes at five of its restaurants—701 Restaurant, Ardeo + Bardeo, Nopa Kitchen & Bar, Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca and The Oval Room—with tomato-centric three-course menus ($39 per person). For example, desserts included creative concoctions such as Summery Berry Panna Cotta with golden raspberry, lemongrass and yellow tomato coconut consommé at Ardeo + Bardeo; Warm Black Cherry Tomato and Plum Pain Perdu at Nopa Kitchen + Bar and Pomodori Verdi with fizzy green tomatoes, almond crumble, green tomato gelato and strawberry lemon sauce at Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca.
Tomatoes play well with other ingredients, too. In Cambridge, MA, Rialto’s Al Fresco Dinner Series this summer included the August 9 “Striper, Bluefish, Corn and Tomatoes” event. Priced at $96 including wine pairings with each course, the menu featured Smoked Bluefish Pate with grilled rye toast, tomato red onion mostarda, pickled chilis and herb salad; bluefish and corn fritters, tomatoes, dill and cucumber crème fraiche sauce; and grilled striper, corn puree, green goddess dressing and a grilled corn and tomato salad.