What to Eat

Advice From the Experts: The Best Tomatoes of 2009

Last week Oliveto sous chef Brian Murphy introduced us to the process of tasting tomatoes for the restaurant’s famed tomato dinners, which start next week on August 26. Yesterday, the team sat down to their crop, exploring this year’s varieties one slice at a time. Brian is back today with some notes and recommendations on what to look for at the market this year, what to avoid (on this point, Brian would like to note that his opinions are his and his alone), and what you can expect to see on Oliveto’s tables.

How many tomatoes did you taste this year?
We tasted 56 tomatoes. One fat slice of each. It took about 3 hours.

How did you recover afterward?
I ate a lot of bread and butter.

What are the highlights? What should people be looking for at the market?
I would look for pink brandywines. We had several of those which were delicious. Much more interesting than the standard brandywine. Beefsteak tomatoes have been really good. Catalan Farm has an incredible beefsteak tomato. Really intense red. Ripened on the vine. If you took your picture-perfect store tomato but raised it like a real farmer, you’d have this.

What should we stay away from this year?
Marble-striped is a tomato that looks like brandywine and you see it everywhere and I would say those were pretty disappointing all around. They were crunchy, sort of vegetal. They tasted like bell peppers. And I hated red zebra tomatoes. They’re small, red streaked with yellow tomatoes. They all had sort of biting acid, without much else.

So what tomatoes and suppliers will Oliveto be using?
For the heirloom platter: Riverdog Farm’s great white tomato (a butter-colored white tomato) had really nicely balanced acid and sugar and a kind of delicate floral flavor and a dense structure. Catalan Farms yellow brandywine ranked really high on acid, sugar, and that savory umami quality. But Lucero Organic Farms had the most winners in my opinion. Their tomatoes across the board were amazing, but they did have the worst tomato—one of the zebras… They had a pink brandywine that was amazingly sweet and also had this black truffle flavor that I’d never tasted before.

Tasting Tomatoes with Oliveto’s Experts [Grub Street SF]

Advice From the Experts: The Best Tomatoes of 2009