The tomato – much-loved but often relegated to bit parts like sauce or garnish – is finally about to take center stage.
Sacratomato Week kicks off Monday at 10 Sutter District restaurants, including Biba, Centro Cocina Mexicana, Red Rabbit and Ink, which will offer special tomato-themed beverages and foods.
Many of the restaurants’ summer menus already feature the tomato dishes they’ll be highlighting from July 21 to 27, but it’s worth making a special visit to celebrate tomatoes at their ripest, juiciest best. Tomato specials also will be making special appearances at Barwest, Blue Cue, Cafe Bernardo, Momo Lounge and Monkey Bar.
Organizers of Sacratomato Week held a preview event Thursday evening in midtown that offered attendees a chance to sample some of the upcoming dishes. Some tasting notes:
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• Ink’s fried green tomato in a pimento grilled cheese sandwich with bacon cuts through the greasy goodness to add flavor and freshness. The fried green tomato sliders from Red Rabbit went for the more-is-more approach, with the tomato vying for attention against mozzarella cheese, pesto aioli, buttery brioche bread and a thick coating of crunchy batter.
• The rest of Ink’s special Sacratomato Week menu is delicious as well. An heirloom tomato pita pizza with pesto and goat cheese is surprisingly light, and pairs nicely with a cocktail called the Tom Boy, in which muddled tomatoes enhance the summery vibe of citrus vodka with watermelon and cucumber. (Ink joins the Sacratomato Week cast Thursday, July 24).
• Red Rabbit’s heirloom tomato panzanella, part of its regular menu, is large and filling enough to be eaten as a main dish. It’s dense with chewy, grilled sourdough bread, a tasty partner to the beautiful tomatoes on display. The balsamic reduction brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes.
• Comparing the panzanella to the heirloom tomato salad at nearby Centro Cocina is a study in the tomato’s versatility. At the Mexican restaurant, orange, red and green tomatoes are garnished with a simple avocado dressing, queso fresco and cilantro. Considering that tomatoes are believed to have been first cultivated by the Aztecs in 700 A.D., this Latin American dish might be a good way to start your Sacratomato Week experience.
• As any good Italian restaurant should, Biba offers classically artful tomato dishes. A warm tomato soup might feel slightly out of season, but it’s worth tasting how good this cold-weather classic can be when prepared with heirloom tomatoes at the peak of summer perfection. More traditional than Red Rabbit’s panzanella, Biba’s features summery green beans, basil and oil-drenched cubes of bread.
Unfortunately, none of the restaurants decided to test the tomato’s range by casting it in dessert. Maybe next year, when, according to the Midtown Business Association (which manages the Sutter District), Sacratomato Week will close with a family-friendly festival.