Il Fiorista’s Menu Is Peak Seasonal Cooking — Flowers Included
Il Fiorista, Italian for “the florist,” stays true to its name. The restaurant, owned by Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti, incorporates flowers in nearly everything, including the dishes on the menu, often in unexpected, delicious ways. The restaurant also doubles as a floral design studio that sells its own bouquets, and even offers classes on the subject.
For executive chef Rae Kramer, who first started working at Il Fiorista as its opening sous chef in 2019, crafting the restaurant’s menu is a prime opportunity to showcase the best local and sustainable ingredients, much of them sourced from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket. Prior to working at Il Fiorista, Kramer worked in the kitchens of Il Buco Alimentari, Casa Mono, The Four Horsemen, and the short-lived, but beloved Hemlock.
While Kramer describes the food she cooks at Il Fiorista as “simple,” it’s also clear that there’s a lot of preparation, care, and thought behind every dish. At dinner, Il Fiorista also offers a four-course tasting menu for $85 per person. Here are five dishes essential to Il Fiorista, from the restaurant’s a la carte dinner menu, in Kramer’s own words.
1. Trout Tartare Toast
Flower: Mustard Green Flower
“This dish is on [our] bread, the day-old sourdough. It’s spelt bread right now. The trout is steelhead trout, which is an ingredient that I found at the Union Square Greenmarket, from New York Steelhead Hudson Valley Fisheries. That ingredient itself was something that I really sought out.
“When I first took this role as executive chef, I was trying to understand fishing and sustainable sourcing more. I started asking our purveyors questions, and I realized it’s complicated. You might think you’re using a fish that’s sustainable because it’s local, but you have to go through a lot of loopholes to find out if it’s actually coming from the oceans that are near you, if it’s being shipped in, or if it’s the right season for being fished.
“This steelhead trout comes from a beautiful facility, and the product is delicious. People automatically think [that trout is] going to be a smaller fish with lots of bones, but it’s not. It’s big, pink, and looks kind of like salmon; it’s fatty and delicious.
“I’m serving this as my take on ceviche. It has pickled mustard seeds in it and local Calabrian chiles, which are from one of my favorite vendors, called Myers Produce. It has fresh horseradish, which is also one of my favorite ingredients. Most importantly, the floral component is brassica flowers — whichever brassica flowers I can get at the market. Sometimes it’s bok choy, sometimes it’s kale. Right now, it’s mustard green flowers. Then it’s dressed with lime juice. It’s really easy eating. People can eat it as their first course, or they can eat it at the bar, and it’s delicious to enjoy outside. It’s a nice starter.”
2. Satsuma Mandarin + Dandelion Greens
Flower: Orange Blossom
“When I first made this salad, the seasons were changing, and I wanted to do something new. It has a fried piece of goat cheese on it. Fried things aren’t my first go-to whenever I’m creating a dish. But, the owner of the restaurant loves cheese, and I was creating this salad for his birthday so, of course, I put in a fried piece of goat cheese. Everybody loves it.
“It’s paired with dandelion greens. It’s a green that gets overlooked all the time. It’s hearty, it’s bitter, like chicory, but it’s well balanced. I mix this with a bit of little gem lettuce and lots of dill, which is one of my favorite herbs.
“My favorite part about this salad is the dressing. It’s this broken pistachio dressing that’s made with lots of lemon juice, orange blossom water, and spices: cumin, green cardamom, and lots of coriander.
“We’re an Italian restaurant, and we’re Italian-owned, but I am very much not Italian. I appreciate Italian food and I’ve cooked at places that are Italian with Italian cuisine, but it’s just not my forte. I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to be an Italian chef in that way. But Italy is in the Mediterranean and I’m very much inspired by Mediterranean food. I love fish, I love spices, and these spices are things that I love to cook with.
“It’s finished with mandarins. It’s a perfect summer salad. It’s bright, it has this fruit on it that people are always craving in the hot months, and it’s herbaceous.”
“This pappardelle I created with my previous sous chef Steven Coy. He’s from Kansas City, Kansas. He moved here via the Czech Republic, and he’s obsessed with Rome. In Rome, one of his favorite pasta dishes was a citrus pasta. It’s really bright, and can be eaten in the summertime.
“I wanted this [to be very] fresh. It’s made with my favorite flavor combination that I figured out when I started cooking here at Il Fiorista, and that’s lavender and black pepper. It’s finished with pecorino and lemon on top.
“The pasta itself is laminated with safflower, which is a flower that I use in this particular pasta because pappardelle has a lot of surface area. When I started working here and making pasta a lot, I couldn’t figure out why everybody’s pasta was this gorgeous yellow color. I buy eggs from Lancaster Farm and the eggs are orange, they’re gorgeous, and I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Then, I found out that a lot of places use synthetic coloring to get that yellow, which is not something that I was going to do. So, I started laminating the pasta in the safflower. It’s not saffron, but it does the same thing that saffron does; it turns things orange or yellow. It helps me to make this gorgeous pasta.”
4. Black Bass
Flower: Chamomile, Flowering Watercress
“Black bass is in season, and this is also sourced locally. I source this from a couple of vendors. [The one now] is Regalis and the other is Big Water. [Big Water] is a one-man operation and he’s the coolest fish vendor in town. If you’re on his list, then you’re really someone; that’s how I feel. He comes into the city only once a week, and you can only get the fish one way, with all the scales and everything; you have to gut it yourself. It’s fresh fish.
“I filet it, leave the skin on and sear it a la plancha, then I finish it over charcoal. I love that crispy skin and the grilled, barbecued flavor. This dish has one of my favorite ingredients, which is legumes. I really love beans. I also buy beans from a lot of purveyors. There’s a man in Union Square Greenmarket, and his farm is called Amoon Farm; I use his dry beans. He dries them himself and they’re beans that I had never heard of, and never seen before, and he always has something new every week. I also source beans from Myers Produce; I usually get cannellini beans from them.
“[The beans are] cooked very simply with a bruléed onion and lots of bay leaves. On the pickup, it’s super simple: grilled garlic scapes, which are in season for a small window of time, lots of parsley, and then finished with a little bit of coloratura, which is an Italian fish sauce. Whenever I plate this, I plate it with a dollop of chamomile aioli, which is something I use on a lot of my fish dishes. I finish it with flowering watercress, which is really spicy, and fresh chamomile flowers.
“The flowering watercress I’m only getting because I got it from this farmer in Union Square, called Grandpa Farm. I never would have gotten watercress from a produce company. I don’t like watercress that much, but [the farmer] convinced me otherwise. It’s really delicious while it’s flowering and it gets super spicy.”
5. Apricot Cake
“This just went on the menu! It’s gonna be great. Sometimes I get inspired because of things that are going on in my life. I’m probably saying too much, but I’ve been reading romance novels, and [in one of them] they’re in Sicily and they eat this breakfast, a brioche or cannoli with granita. It’s super sweet and not what I would usually have. I’ve never had that before since I’ve never been to Sicily, but I started asking people, asking my friends, thinking about desserts, and I came up with this.
“This is a super eggy cake that’s baked with apricots inside of it. The apricots are dressed in honey and rosewater, and then I made this pistachio crema. It’s a really thick mascarpone cream with lots of pistachios in it. I’m finishing it with honeydew granita.
“The difference between this and what they would have in Sicily, is that Sicilian granita looks creamy, but it’s ice. It’s made with nut milk, and it’s super creamy with no dairy in it. So I thought, how do I do that? I don’t want to make nut milk because usually nut milk separates if you don’t put a stabilizer in it and I don’t have a machine like they would in Sicily to make the granita. So, I made this crema, and ice. Mixed together it makes this creamy, delicious ice cream.”
[Resy: I love that this was inspired by a romance novel!]
“I knew I shouldn’t tell you that! I read so many terrible romance novels. I’m not telling you any of the titles. Sometimes I’ll come in from my weekend and people are like ‘what did you do?’ Honestly, I just read, like, three romance novels. It keeps me home and out of trouble.”
Il Fiorista is open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m. and Fridays to Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Ellie Plass is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.