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Flowers Make the Plate

A dish topped with mustard flowers from Lazy Bear.

Remember micro-herbs? About two years ago miniscule strains of cilantro and basil were sprouting up on the most progressive menus around town. "Now the movement is towards more of a modern naturalism," says Ravi Kapur of Prospect. He's talking about flowers. Edible petals, blossoms, sprays and shoots are sprouting up everywhere.

They might look rare, but some of these blooms are about as easy to find around town as rosemary. David Barzelay of the Lazy Bear underground restaurant sees the current uptick as a result of our ever-tightening bond with local farmers coupled with chefs' growing desire to get out in the field and forage for themselves. Here's a handy guide to the most popular edible blooms of San Francsico and where to find them. 

Nasturtium: Michael Tusk of Quince associates these bright orange flowers with the current season, when spring meets summer. He uses them in his lobster fagotelli with Freewheelin' Farms favas because their light pepperiness is a nice contrast to the richness of lobster and the soft orange color echoes the color of shellfish.

Garlic chive blossoms: Bar Agricole chef Brandon Jew works this "awesome purple flower" into the fig-leaf pesto on his sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi. Jew says the flowers bring a more delicate, sweeter flavor than straight-up garlic and onions. And at tonight's Lazy Bear dinner party, Barzelay will toss garlic chive blossoms onto his chilled buttermilk custard with peas, pea shoots, pea shell consomme and fried shallot.

Mustard flowers: These sharply spiced flowers cut the richness of a hollandaise that Jew uses to top his latest grilled asparagus dish Bar Agricole—a compilation of green almonds, Parmesan and preserved Meyer lemon.

Oxalis (a.k.a. wood sorrel or sour flower): "These can be found on just about every street in San Francisco from early spring through summer," says Barzelay. He loves using their lemony tart flavor as an accent to both sweet and savory dishes.

Wild radish flowers: Find these at Prospect scattered over his corned beef tongue with steamed raw radish and fried oysters. Daniel Patterson is using radish flowers in the fourth course of his tasting menu at Coi: a dish made with local crayfish, spring vegetables and these sweet, lightly peppery blooms.

Flowering miner's lettuce: One of Kapur's most popular dishes at Prospect is a six-day cured foie gras served with candied, jalapeño-infused pineapple, rum gelee and a small cluster of dressed miner's lettuce. "The foraged greens bring a relief element, sort of like a palate cleanser," he says.