There’s been much ballyhoo in the last couple of years about “market to table” dining. Restaurants have become increasingly sensitive to the fact that diners care about where their food comes from. Farmers Markets are booming as never before, the demand driven both by food scares, and, I think, the need that we as people have to be able to control at least some aspect of our lives in increasingly troubling times. Comfort food indeed.
Ammo, the little restaurant on Highland Avenue, has always had at its heart a dedication to honest, simple food, prepared with high quality ingredients. It’s a principle that founder Amy Sweeney applied from day one in the tiny store-front, and it’s continued to be the engine of the rather elegant ship that Ammo has become. Taking that ethos to its zenith, Ammo this weekend debuted their seasonal ‘Farm to Table Sunday Dinner’. The inauguration featured, fittingly, the produce of Rutiz Family Farms, a staple in the food community for twenty years. You might know them for Jerry’s Berries, at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market. More on that later.
The first course up was a salad of baby lettuces, with fava beans, radishes and a buttermilk and chive vinaigrette. Really delicious, and looked like spring on a plate. I think radishes are the redheaded stepdaughters of the vegetable world. When they’re really fresh they bear about as much resemblance to their rubbery supermarket namesakes as John Yoo does to a lawyer. Crisp and refreshing with a hint of a horseradishy pepper, but without the eye watering. Ammo offers optional wine pairing and if you can afford it ($30), it’s worth sampling their elegant choices. On the table was a Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner Smaragd ‘Im Weingerbirge’ 2006; Wachau, Austria. It’s from what is reputedly the oldest vineyard inn Europe, originally planted in the 5th Century. Safe to say, they probably know their grapes. It was also apparently the first biodynamic winery in Europe. It was definitely a lovely wine. Just off dry, and with peachy fruit and lovely minerality to stop it from tiring. Really elegant.
Next course was the star for me. Pappardelle with English peas, fava beans, asparagus and squash blossoms. I don’t remember seeing any blossoms in there, so maybe a quick change was made in the kitchen. What I do recall is being blown away by the silky pappardelle against the firm nutty and sweet fava beans. It all seemed to have just been tossed in butter and black pepper and was all the better for it. The freshness and simplicity allowed every flavor and texture to ‘pop’. I could have eaten that for a week and never bored of it. The wine that Ammo paired with it was perfectly matched. It was a Pietracupa Greco di Tufo 2005; Montefredane, Italy. Aromatic without overwhelming the food, crisp and light. It would be perfect with some grilled trout, but did a great job here.
Grilled Niman Ranch Hanger Steak was nestled on a horseradish salsa verde, and came with snap peas, carrots and parsley. You know you’re on to a good thing when even the parsley gets people talking. Parsley is usually the Linda McCartney in the band. It was hard to figure out who was the star here. Everything was just that good. Sweet little carrots barely cooked, and snap peas that did just that. The steak was perfectly crusted and full of flavor. Perfectly paired with a Casaloste Chianti Classico ‘Don Vincenzo’ Riserva 2000. Italy.
Dessert was Strawberry Shortcake. Now, about those strawberries. In the unlikely event that you’re abducted by aliens, and asked, midway through their version of a waterboarding, “Tell us, what is a strawberry?”, don’t give them one of those mealy, Styrofoam horrors that you find at Ralphs. Lying makes them mad. Give them instead one of Jerry Rutiz’s ‘Galante’ strawberries. This is what I remember strawberries tasting like, in England. It reminded me of rain, and sun, and Wimbledon and ‘pick your own’ strawberry farms, where children wipe their mouths to remove the evidence before handing over their basket for weighing. ‘Galante’ is a European variety that is small, ships poorly and stores only briefly. It’s an ephemeral pleasure, as are most of the best in life. Jerry Rutiz grows them, and for this alone a new category of Nobel Prize should probably be inaugurated.
I’d recommend seeing what’s up next at Ammo. It’s heartening to see such great, un-fluffy food coming out of a kitchen. I might not need to move to Sonoma after all.