I always revel in the signs of spring on my plate — the soft-shell crabs, the favas and morels, the ramps and fiddlehead ferns. But this season, I have been especially cheering the 'chokes — artichokes, which peak from March through May.
They’re suddenly everywhere I go, it seems. In Israel recently, at Dok in Tel Aviv, I came across a stunning plate of raw artichokes shaved paper-thin and topped with lime juice and salty crumbles of Tzvat cheese (think of a creamier feta) and laced with the delicate crunch of flowering chrysanthemum buds.
Much closer to home, in New York City, I had a decadent artichoke lasagna at Leonti, the new Upper West Side restaurant from Adam Leonti, where the longtime former Vetri chef is serving elegant renditions of Northern Italian cucina that will be familiar to Vetri fans (ciao, tortellini pie!) In this dish, a single choke is dramatically layered between green noodles and rich béchamel, with its stem end pointing skyward.
In Philly, meanwhile, I haven’t missed an artichoke beat. Wood-grilled chunks of baby artichokes came mounded atop a warm chickpea pancake called “farinata” (an Italian riff on the suddenly popular socca) at Fiore (757 S. Front St.), the new Italian spot in Queen Village that got a full review last weekend. It was among the highlights.
At Cry Baby Pasta (627 S. Third St.), the hand-turned baby artichokes were crisped on the grill and then tumbled with sweet balsamic, herbs, and shaved Parmesan. Across town at Res Ipsa (2218 Walnut St.), chef Michael Vincent Ferreri inventively turned artichokes into the base of a spring caponata — dicing the smokily charred hearts into sweet-and-sour agrodolce typically reserved for eggplant — then tucking them warm beneath a tuft of celery leaves and sweet peas woven into a dome with shaved rhubarb ribbons. There was a lot going on in this dish, from an herbal braise to the salsa verde and an oat milk vinaigrette zingy with the ash of garlic and shallots. But the finished result, also dotted with black olive caramel, was a masterful showcase for the warm artichokes hidden inside.
I’ve had lots of other fabulous artichoke dishes over the last year worth mentioning, including a lamb and artichoke pizza at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons (1355 N. Front St.), where the 'choke pizza currently features green garlic and spring onion crema; a beautiful red snapper with artichokes for a splurgey Friday lunch at Vetri Cucina (1312 Spruce St.); crispy fried artichokes at In Riva (4116 Ridge Ave.) in East Falls; and braised with duck leg-foie gras sausage at Helm Rittenhouse (1901 Chestnut St., second floor).