Fresh herbs are fragile and demanding little creatures. So why do restauranteurs — who already work 80-hour weeks — bother growing their own when there are plenty of farmers’ markets around?
“It’s another sensory part of the experience,” says Ortolan co-owner Jeri Ryan of the 12-foot high herb wall in the restaurant’s dimly lit bar. Chef-owner Christophe Eme uses a rolling ladder to clip sprigs of rosemary or chocolate mint from the highest shelves; new pastry chef Ron Mendoza uses them in desserts such as cilantro granita or thyme ice cream.
How romantic. However, Ryan confesses it’s also a pain in the ass. Because the herb wall gets little sunlight or fresh air, she swaps out about 150 plants every two days, carting them home for rehab.
“It took us a good six months to work out a system where the herbs weren’t constantly dying on us,” she says. “It’s such a headache. It’s tempting to glass-in this whole wall and put in fake plants. (But) it is truly worth it. People sit and touch them, break off little pieces. This whole restaurant is a labor of love, and this is just one more element of that.”
Variety Weekend took a look at what was springing up around town.
WHAT: 500 square feet of organic lemongrass, garlic chives, lemon verbena and edible flowers as well as seasonal vegetables like Japanese eggplant and heirloom tomatoes. Tended to for 13 years by the same gardener, Leigh Talmo
WHERE: On a gentle hill behind the parking lot
WHY: Menu specials and 70% of the restaurant’s herbs
WHAT: Table-high planters and hanging pots with lavender, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and black sage; the property also has olive, Meyer lemon and blood orange trees
WHERE: Scattered throughout the back and side patios
WHY: Chef Brandon Boudet uses the lavender in gelato; shrubby, potent black sage goes in stuffed chicken legs with mascarpone
WHAT: An acre of garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil, cilantro, lavender and parsley as well as lemon and bay trees
WHERE: The hotel courtyard; an “herb garden suite” allows guests to glimpse kitchen staff clipping ingredients for the evening’s menu.
WHY: In addition to its practical purposes, the pristine and fragrant courtyard is used for special events.
Café at the Getty Villa
WHAT: Traditional Mediterranean fruits and herbs, ranging from the delicious (fig, cherries, fennel) to the obscure (calamint, wormwood)
WHERE: Outside the museum’s entrance
WHY: Beauty, not utility. The Getty wants guests to touch and learn about the herbs, but they’d rather have a tidy garden than use them in the all-organic kitchen.
Ortolan, 8338 W. Third St., W. Hollywood; (323) 653-3300
Parkway Grill, 510 S Arroyo Pkwy. Pasadena; (626) 795-1001
Dominick’s, 8715 Beverly Blvd., W. Hollywood; (310) 652-2335
Hotel Bel-Air, 701 Stone Canyon Rd.; (310) 472-5234
Café at the Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Pacific Palisades; (310) 440-7300