Tomatoes are my end-all, be-all favorite fruit/vegetable of all time. I eat them every single day. When I was a kid sometimes all my mom could get me to eat was tomatoes (back when I was not the glutton that I am today). So when Knightsbridge Restaurant Group’s announced their annual Tomato Festival this year, I was determined to go, especially since I’ve missed it every other year. The festival runs from July 11th to August 13th, and each of Ashok Bajaj’s eight restaurants will embrace the arrival of summer and the return of the tomato by featuring either a special three course tomato-centric menu or a tomato dish of the day.
701 Restaurant, Ardeo + Bardeo, NoPa Kitchen + Bar, Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca and The Oval Room will be offering their tomato-centric three-course menus during both lunch and dinner, while The Bombay Club, Rasika, and Rasika and West End will offer their daily special tomato dish at lunch and dinner.
I went to several of Bajaj’s restaurants to sample the tomato dishes being featured, and I am happy to report they are all divine! I didn’t get to go to them all, but here are highlights from the ones I went to:
THE OVAL ROOM:
Oval Room’s John Melfi has put together a seriously epic menu where tomatoes are truly the star. The chilled tomato gazpacho features a gorgeous arrangement of watermelon, jalapeño, cilantro, and tiny olive oil croutons. The gazpacho comes on the side, and is slowly poured over the other ingredients. The color, texture, and fragrance of the dish is the ultimate seasonal experience. The heirloom tomato salad is made with mozzarella di bufala, balsamic caviar, basil sorbet, and smoked olive oil.
The dish is hearty and refreshing and perfect, the pinnacle of a summer salad. For entrées, I sampled the house-made linguine with roasted San Marzano tomatoes and fresh chilies, which showcases the beautifully made noodles and a bright, satisfying tomato sauce. I also had the immense pleasure of trying the tomato risotto, probably the best risotto I have ever had. The dish is cooked perfectly, with gorgeous, sweet heirloom tomatoes, and is finished with cinnamon basil, aged pecorino, and olio verde novella. It is creamy and nutty and fruity and just plain sublime. If you only have the opportunity to sample one dish from all the dishes offered during the Summer Tomato Festival, this is your dish.
For dessert, I had tomato ice cream which was probably the most unusual ice cream I have had to date. It was sweet but savory, and has that distinctive tomato flavor.
Highlights on this Tomato Festival menu include a refreshing watermelon and tomato gazpacho with fresno chili yogurt, lemon basil, and pickled watermelon. My personal favorite was a tomato, burrata and quinoa salad; the quinoa is nutty and delicious, with sweet roasted tomatoes, basil, and a generous portion of luscious burrata. Words of wisdom: burrata makes everything better. A close second was the tomato and ricotta gnudi topped with Carolina gold tomato conserva, basil puree, smoked pine nuts, and honey mushrooms. The gnudi are dense and hearty, and the smokiness from the nuts, sweetness from the tomatoes and earthiness from the mushroom give the dish a depth of flavor and texture that will stay with you throughout your meal.
For his Tomato Festival menu, Executive Chef Jake Addeo is serving up dishes like pappa al pomodoro, which is warm Tuscan tomato and bread soup with stracciatella and focaccia crostini. A panna cotta, served with lime curd, sweet wine poached tomato, grilled pineapple, and tomato water sorbet. Not to mention a torta di pomodoro, a tear drop tomato cake with compressed strawberries, granola, balsamic reduction, and lemon gelato.
701 Restaurant’s Executive Chef Benjamin Lambert’s tomato menu has highlights like an heirloom tomato tartare with green mole, masa cracker and mustard caviar and a fantastic tomato funnel cake with burrata, tomato sambal, confit Sun Gold tomatoes and ramp powder. As delicious as the funnel cake is, I loved the cauliflower shawarma with sesame hummus, heirloom tomato jam, Sun Gold tomatoes, and lavash. For dessert indulge in tomato-tamarind-honey ice cream with tomato honey and smoked pistachio streusel, and peach pavlova with confit Sun Gold tomatoes, meringue crisps, and raspberry.