Flowers aren’t just for gardens, centerpieces or your amateur perfume-making hobby. Victorians used violets and primroses in salads, ancient Romans made love potions with mustard flowers, and for years the French have used carnations to make chartreuse liqueur. D.C. chefs and mixologists have become petal pushers, too. “It’s nose to tail, but with plants,” says Cork Wine Bar’s executive chef, Rob Weland. “People are trying to use every part in every season.”
“We have one refrigerator filled with flowers and desserts that looks like a florist crossed with a candy shop,” says chef-owner Karen Barroso, who uses bright yellow squash blossoms to make her Tamale de Flor de Calabaza (squash blossom tamale, $12). She begins by mixing masa (corn dough) and epazote (a cilantro-like herb) with whatever she’s feeling inspired by — freshly shaved corn when it’s in season, spicy poblano peppers or queso fresco (crumbly and mild Mexican cheese). She heaps this mixture onto a banana leaf and tops it with a couple bright yellow squash blossoms flown in fresh from California. “The flowers add a mild squash flavor,” she says. “And a beautiful flash of color.”
Casa Oaxaca, 2106 18th St. NW; 202-387-2272. (Dupont Circle)
Cork Wine Bar
Rob Weland’s food is often eye-catching as well as tasty, and his winter radish salad (below and available year-round, $10) is no exception. He combines emerald-green escarole with a mélange of thin-sliced radishes and a few wedges of crisp heirloom apples. This is all tossed in sage vinaigrette, then crowned with a tangle of tangerine lace (a citrusy green that’s a relative to the marigold) and chive flowers. The light purple florets add a notable taste. “It’s that mellow, sweet onion flavor that let’s you know that spring is here,” says Weland.
Cork Wine Bar, 1720 14th St. NW; 202-265-2675. (U Street)
Waste not, want not. Restaurant manager Woods Morrison was looking for a way to get rid of some chamomile-citrus-berry cordial and hibiscus syrup leftover from cocktails taken off the menu when he came up with the Audrey 2 ($9), right. After shaking these two solutions with tequila and fresh lime juice, he strains the mixture into an ice-filled highball glass rimmed with salt, sugar and ginger. He decorates the cocktail with a syrup-soaked hibiscus bud, a deep red blossom that looks like a miniature version of Audrey, the flesh-eating plant in ”Little Shop of Horrors.“ (The roles are reversed here, as tipplers get to devour the flower.) “A lot of people give you a funny look,” says Morrison. “People aren’t used to eating their decorations on drinks.”
Jackson 20, 480 King St., Alexandria; 703-842-2790. (King Street)
“I can manipulate the textures and flavors of drinks in a way that normal mixologists can’t,” says Rogue 24’s chef-turned-bartender Bryan Tetorakis (who has dubbed himself “cheftender”). His Ancient Walls cocktail ($12) is based on a non-alcoholic lemon and rosewater punch called Sharab Loomi ma Ward, a favorite among Muslims during Ramadan. It’s a good showcase for his unique skill set. Tetorakis uses a molecular gastronomy trick he learned in the kitchen: He pressurizes hibiscus flowers and potato vodka in a device similar to a whipped cream dispenser to instantly infuse the liquor with the floral notes. The resulting mixture is shaken with freshly squeezed lemon juice, rosewater syrup, sweet vermouth and a touch of soda water, then poured over ice. For more floral flair, the light pink cocktail is crowned with an edible nasturtium bloom.
Rogue 24, 922 N St. NW (rear entrance); 202-408-9724. (Mt. Vernon Square)