Don’t just think spring; taste it

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published February 18, 2015

 The gemelli al pomodoro at Birmingham’s Bella Piatti is a meatless pasta dish with a tomato sauce topped with fresh ricotta cheese.

The gemelli al pomodoro at Birmingham’s Bella Piatti is a meatless pasta dish with a tomato sauce topped with fresh ricotta cheese.

Heavy layers of clothes, heavy layers of snow and heavy layers of blankets.

It’s no wonder that when it comes to food, many diners are longing for something that’s anything but heavy.

As soon as temperatures begin to take a dive in September, restaurants start pulling out their repertoire of comfort food recipes chock full of spices, rich flavors and hearty ingredients designed to keep your tummy full and your body warm.

Now, nearly half a year has gone by, and many foodies are ready to switch their palate to some lighter fare. At least that’s the trend Elizabeth Cutraro, owner of Bella Piatti in downtown Birmingham, has noticed recently.

“Food is seasonal. Around the holidays (guests) will want the heavier osso buco (veal shank) or anything with pumpkin and roasted vegetables,” said Cutraro. “We’re coming into spring now, and people’s palates are changing.”

Instead of heavy entrées, Cutraro said customers are opting for dishes with lighter sauces that feature flavors like lemon, olive oil and garlic. The simple flavors are a refreshing change from what they’ve been eating all winter.

“We do a wonderful orata on the grill,” she said, describing the restaurant’s whole sea bream fish entrée that runs around one pound. “I would say customers are asking for more fish and maybe pastas with lighter sauces. We do a dish called paglia e fieno with a cream-base sauce and mushrooms, peas and egg noodles that’s very light.”

Fish will likely be a popular menu choice soon over at Luciano’s restaurant in Clinton Township. Manager, and daughter of founder Luciano Gianino, Lory Klinger said that with the upcoming Lenten season, fish will be a weekly menu staple, and that item naturally lends itself to lighter flavors.

“We’ll do a lot of fresh, wild-caught fish, and those will be sautéed, broiled,” she said.

On other days, Klinger said she’s noticed guests ordering more grilled items, like marinated chicken breasts or fresh salads, to change things up. The restaurant also offers a number of lighter pasta dishes, but one thing all of those items have in common is the produce.

“Luciano, my dad, picks up his own fresh vegetables at our local grocery stores. He likes to go in and pick out what’s best himself,” she said.

Right now, Luciano’s has lots of entrées featuring zucchini, which she said is looking good at local markets. Late-harvest items like carrots and cabbage have a fresh flavor, despite the fact that they were pulled from the ground last fall.

Pretty soon, asparagus could be on restaurant menus as well. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, asparagus is one of the earliest Michigan crops to come into season, beginning in April.

Really, anything can taste fresh when it’s made fresh, though. Chefs insist that you really can taste the difference.

“We have a Luciano’s salad, which is nice and on the lighter side. But we blend our own dressing to order,” said Klinger.