Chef's Obsessions: Root Vegetables

Kim Alter of Plum in Oakland digs fall's earthiest vegetables

You may not be ready for fall, but Kim Alter certainly is.

Corn and peppers are still crowding Bay Area menus, but Plum's new chef is getting worked up about root vegetables, apple cider, and cinnamon and cloves. "This is the most comforting time of year," she says. "It's the food I like to eat."

After two years at Haven, Alter just moved to Plum, Daniel Patterson's downtown Oakland restaurant, where she composes more intricate dishes and orchestrates a five-course tasting menu ($65). As she explains, "The fact that it's a smaller restaurant means I can focus more on the food."

In fact, the change seems to have unlocked a new burst of creativity, which she's channeling into the humblest of autumnal vegetables.

Kim Alter | Daikon "marrow" (Chef photo: Sara Davis)

Take the trompe l'oeil daikon "marrow" she serves with sturgeon and maitake mushrooms ($26): Alter cooks, cores and re-stuffs the long, fat radishes with a purée of bone marrow, stock and daikon, serving cross-slices that resemble broiled bones. She garnishes a sunflower seed "risotto" ($12) with buttery sunchoke purée, caramelized chokes and pomegranates.

And the newest iteration of her vegetarian main ($18) has become an ode to fall: She braises apples, celery root and rutabaga in apple juice and butter until they're tenderly meaty, then arranges them around red quinoa garnished with burnt-ginger jus.

It almost makes us eager for the holidays.