Make way for the artichoke. The once underutilized flowering bud is rising to prominence in contemporary gourmet cooking, arriving unexpectedly atop Mexican cheese plates, with fried eggs in pasta, and subbing for meat in savory vegan offerings. It's even making its way into cocktails in the form of Cynar—an increasingly popular Italian bitter liqueur. As artichokes are now in season, here are San Francisco's most creative artichoke applications.
A surefire way to make anything taste awesome? Fry it, of course. Locanda (557 Valencia, 415-863-6800) knows this, and nails it with its Jewish-Style Artichoke, a mound of chip-like 'chokes salted and brightened by lemon juice and fresh mint. Although Locanda claims it's inspired by Rome's sizable Semitic enclave, you needn't keep kosher to crave these crisps. The $8 app, markedly suited to American palates, plays as a healthier-feeling basket of fries.
As versatile as it is hearty, the artichoke exudes rich flavors with ease when grilled properly. The Alembic (1725 Haight St., 415-666-0822) offers a case study in the form of its grilled artichokes: succulent and slightly smoky, the perfect counterpoint to a creamy bed of burrata seated underneath. It's far from your typical bar bite.
In a similar vein, the Cedar Plank Roasted Artichoke Flatbread is an excellent addition to the menu at ThirstyBear (661 Howard, 415-974-0905). Don't let the inventive suds on tap at SOMA's original organic brewpub blind you to the kitchen's prowess. This artichoke offering amplifies the veggie's protein punch with umami-heavy portabella mushrooms marinated in olive oil, thyme, and shallots. The combination is then baked on top of house-made flatbread, a vegetarian delight fit for meat eaters.
Since the majority of artichokes imported to the U.S. come by way of Peru, it's hardly a surprise that Mi Lindo Peru (3226 Mission St., 415-642-4897) makes great use of its native crop. The homey Bernal Heights outpost is responsible for the city's tastiest artichoke dip. Its Cangrejo Con Alcachofas mixes abundant portions of oven-baked artichoke hearts with crab chunks, caramelized onions, and melted Parmesan. It's filling starter, served with whole grain crackers, and built to share.
If all this talk about food is making you thirsty, you'll be glad to know that artichokes have got you covered there, too. Cynar cocktails are popping up all over town. The bar at Cockscomb (564 Fourth St., 415-974-0700) was built to highlight gin, yet its Cynar-based Bullitt — named for the Steve McQueen film, not the bourbon — has become its best-selling mixed drink. The $14 concoction balances the spice of a small batch rye with the delicate and slightly sweet artichoke liqueur, marrying it all under the citrus bouquet of grapefruit bitters.