Cooking with local ingredients has become the trend of choice these days in New York (doesn't it seem like every other restaurant opening is making "farm-to-table" food?). But some chefs don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that local is always better.
"If the quality and authenticity is essential for the dish, then yes, it's very important to import the ingredient," says Ralph Scamardella, chef and owner of TAO Downtown, which regularly sources exotic seafood from waters around the globe.
And thanks to modern technology and transportation, you can get "product from its habitat to your kitchen within 24 hours," he adds.
Imports and non-local items can range from the simple to the extravagant. Here's a look at a few on menus around the city:
At the recently opened Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, Chef Eric Ripert offers a truffle pasta with grated yak cheese. The Tibetan import "is considered a rare delicacy with great health benefits," according to the menu. Aside from its flavor factor, Ripert hopes to help the Tibetan monks who make the cheese get a wider audience. The restuarant is waiting on more cheese to get through customs, at which point they'll start serving it for $10 an ounce. $22; 151 W. 51st St., 212-554-1143, aldosohmwinebar.comKangaroo meat
Public Chef Brad Farmerie is known for his global fare inspired by Australian and New Zealand cuisine, and he considers it the restaurant's mission to excite and challenge customers by introducing them to new flavors and ingredients. This includes hard-to-find ingredients, like avocado oil and manuka honey from New Zealand, as well as kangaroo meat from Australia, found in his Kangaroo Carpaccio. $14; 210 Elizabeth St., 212-343-7011, public-nyc.comSpiny lobster
TAO Downtown is always changing its live fish menu, depending on where the freshest, tastiest seafood is. Last month it was Alaskan king crab, later this month it will likely be Florida stone crab. But right now, visitors can order spiny lobster from Southern California, served as a raw sashimi with several dipping sauces, including black pepper crab sauce. "Right now California is strong, but in one more month, spiny lobster season is over," says Executive Chef Yoshi Kojima. "We always have to look everywhere for what's in season." $75; 92 Ninth Ave., 212-888-2724, taodowntown.comArbol chiles, tamarind and more
It's difficult to capture the experience of eating, say, a massaman curry from Thailand, without utilizing the best ingredients from afar, says Xixa Chef Jason Marcus. His Thai esquites, comprised of sweet corn, tom yum broth, red curry aioli and cotija, are inspired by two food experiences: eating classic Mexican street food in Mexico City and sipping tom yum soup in Thailand. To recreate and fuse the two together, he uses key limes, Arbol chiles and cotija cheese imported from Mexico, and tamarind, fish sauce and green and red curry pastes imported from Thailand. $6; 241 S. Fourth St., Williamsburg, 718-388-8860, xixany.comWhite truffles
And of course, we're now in the midst of white truffle season. The aromatic delicacy is only grown in Italy for a short period of time, adding to its allure.
"There's nothing in the world that's like white truffles," says Abram Bissell, executive chef at the Modern (9 W. 53rd St., 212-333-1220, themodernnyc.com). "They're intoxicating."
At the Modern's Bar Room, the prized fungi are served over tagliatelle or risotto ($38), while in the Dining Room, the prix-fix menu ($98-$128) includes seared sweet potato gnocchi covered in white truffles for an additional $38.
Casa Lever (390 Park Ave., 212-888-2700, casalever.com) has an entire truffle menu, which includes filet mignon tartare ($90), poached eggs with asparagus ($90), homemade tagliatelle with Sardinian pecorino cheese and cracked black pepper ($120), milk risotto with aged Carnaroli rice ($120), grilled Dover sole ($160) and even vanilla gelato ($80). Each course is served with fresh white truffles, the rare item at the restaurant that isn't sourced locally.
"For some ingredients there simply is no local source, and the white truffle is definitely one of those ingredients," Chef Alessandro Caporale says. "As anyone who has tasted one knows, there is really nothing else like it."