Rooftop gardens elevate 'farm-to-table' dining
Today the term "farm-to-table" seems to be thrown haphazardly on more restaurants than not, calling into question the true meaning of it. When written on restaurant menus, it appears to be a vague tag of reassurance to the customer.
But the following restaurants and establishments are now exploring a new frontier of self-sufficiency, a method of carefully growing and sourcing their own food that they then use in many of their dishes.
This is the rooftop farm-to-table experience.
The LCL Bar & Kitchen
Located in the ground floor of the midtown Westin Grand Central hotel is the unassuming restaurant The LCL (212 East 42nd St., thelclnyc.com, 212-405-4399), which is open to the public and serves seasonal breakfast, lunch, dinner, craft beers, local spirits and an intriguing selection of cocktails.
But The LCL has a secret weapon: an impressive list of produce, from arugula to heirloom tomatoes to yellow squash, zucchini and mint, grown on top of the building in which they reside.
General Manager Zach Tirone says this low-yield, all-organic, small production of plants perfectly caters to guests' individual tastes. "If someone comes and says, 'I love mint,' we can design something especially for them," he said.
Rosemary's (18 Greenwich Ave., rosemarysnyc.com, 212-647-1818) serves hearty Italian fare with the help of its upstairs farm, where everything from peppers, radishes and arugula to basil and broccoli rabe grows. Helmed by Chef Wade Moises (of Lupa and Babbo) and Carlos Suarez (of Bobo), Rosemary's has been growing and using its own produce for a year now.
The lush greenery arrives using a block and tackle, or a pulley system, in a basket that is lowered from the garden directly into the kitchen. Customers can order small plates of veggies, seafood, signature focaccia and more, as well as pastas and main courses, most of which contain produce from the roof.
Suarez also gives students from the local Public School 41 tours and lessons on what's grown. "We're hoping to offer generosity, camaraderie and engagement -- a sense of community," said Suarez.
The Waldorf Astoria New York
David Garcelon, Director of Culinary at The Waldorf Astoria New York (301 Park Ave., waldorfnewyork.com, 800-925-3673) -- home to four restaurants with 140 chefs and seven cooks -- places great value on the variety of what grows in the hotel's rooftop garden.
Herbs and vegetables like sage, lemon verbena, black plum tomatoes, brown turkey fig and wax beans are grown in elevated beds on the roof of the famed hotel. "The freshness is one thing," said Garcelon at a media event on the roof. "But Vietnamese Cilantro? You can't buy things like that. We want to grow interesting stuff. Different varieties of tomatoes and stuff that's unusual."
Any chef in the building can go up to the roof and pick whatever he or she wants to use that day in dishes and specials. Customers can dine on their fascinating creations at any of the Waldorf's restaurants, including the Peacock Alley Restaurant, Bull and Bear Steakhouse and Oscar's Brasserie.
Brooklyn's Madiba (195 Dekalb Ave., Fort Greene, madibarestaurant.com, 718-855-9190) takes on the concept of a "shebeen," an informal dining hall in South African townships where people gather after work. It pays homage to Nelson Mandela, who grew vegetables on the roof of his prison building to give to the guards to take home and for weekly special meals for the inmates.
Zachary Picken, who installed the rooftop garden, sees it as a source of liberation and power. "Amandla," the name of the garden, means "power" in the Zulu language.
"Food is power," said Picken. "The more we can grow with organic methods and grow to provide to a community, the better." All the seeds are procured from Fedco Seeds, the Hudson Valley Seed Library and other local sources. A sampling of the produce, which has included sugar snap peas, fennel and basil, shows up in the Bushman's Vegetable Platter.
Bell Book & Candle
At BB&C (141 West 10th St., bbandcnyc.com, 212-414-2355), Chef John Mooney utilizes soil-less, solar-powered aeroponic technology on its rooftop farm, which is equivalent to two acres of land, and where the produce is grown vertically.
Everything is grown for the restaurant, including lettuces, bicolor squash, fennel, dill, parsley, poblano peppers and Japanese eggplant.
As operator of the largest rooftop soil farms in the world, Brooklyn Grange (Brooklyn Navy Yard, Building #3, brooklyngrangefarm.com) is a pioneer in the urban rooftop agricultural sphere. Conceived and spearheaded in 2010 by a passionate team of urban farmers and restaurant veterans, the Grange cultivates a long list of seasonal produce that currently includes eggplant, zucchini, okra and mixed salad greens.
It recently partnered with catering company Parker Red and Slow Food NYC to host a lamb-themed dinner, featuring dishes like poached lambs tongue salad with spicy greens and house cured lamb "bacon" lardons. Brooklyn Grange's produce is used in food prepared at Ted & Honey, a café also located at the Navy Yard, and also sells at three farmers markets.