These days, the humble carrot is much more than just a quick source for Vitamin A. Ever since New York chef Daniel Humm decided to replace steak with carrots for an elaborate tartare dish at Eleven Madison Park last year, carrots have become the star of the show instead of just Bugs Bunny's favorite food. For a lesson in grilled carrot excellence, a visit to the year-old Vesta in downtown Redwood City will make you a believer.
Husband-and-wife owners Peter and Courtney Borrone (part of the Borrone restaurant family that also own Café Borrone and Station One on the Peninsula) got the idea for the carrots from a soup garnished with chermoula. The fragrant, herb- heavy Northern African condiment is usually used as a garnish for meat, but the Borrones realized they could use it on vegetables. Initially they used the garnish on asparagus, but the season ended, they switched to carrots, and a winning side dish ($8) was born.
After an initial off the grill cooking period (the Borrones didn't want to divulge this secret part of the recipe, but we'd guess it's steaming), the ten or so carrots are placed on a regular flat top grill. The two forms of cooking achieve perfect char marks like you'd hope for on a hot dog and a tender texture similar to a medium-rare filet mignon. You hardly need a knife to cut these carrots.
The olive oil-based chermoula is then added on top, made from lots of fresh cilantro, minced garlic, paprika, and a hefty dose of cumin that lingers on the taste buds. This alluring cast of spices and herbs is softened by the sweet, cooling lemon yogurt that serves as the dish's base.
The nightly crowds filling the sidewalk patio and airy main room don't come just for the carrots, of course - they're there for charred, puffy, Neopolitan pizzas turned out of the dining room's roaring pizza oven. The sausage and honey pizza with mascarpone cheese and serrano chilis has far exceeded the margherita as Vesta's most popular, and the seasonal peach, applewood bacon, and mascarpone pie proves that juicy, ripe fruit deserves a prominent place on pizzas.
Now if only Vesta could start making desserts. If the kitchen can work this magic with carrots, what would happen with chocolate?
Vesta, 2022 Broadway St., Redwood City; (650) 362-5053.