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Restaurant Trends to Watch for in 2013

Kale Salad is so 2012.

Kale Salad is so 2012.

Do you remember when it was, exactly, that Sriracha became the go-to condiment in restaurants across the city?  Neither do we, but that’s precisely how food trends work.  They generally take root little by little, gradually seeping into public consciousness and onto our plates, until eventually, you’d be hard pressed to find a relevant restaurant without a Kale salad,  a requisite side of Roast Brussels Sprouts, or Housemade Charcuterie.  But those are so 2012, and we’ve got our eye on the horizon.  Here are the burgeoning trends we predict we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of in 2013…

Restaurant Trends to Watch For

Veggie-centric Entrees

Except for that brief stage we went through in high school, we’ve never actually been vegetarians.  And yet, even we find ourselves craving dark, leafy greens, sweet and starchy tubers, and good for you grains.  Especially in the right chefs’ hands.  We know, chefs have been finding inspiration in vegetables for a few years now, but 2013 is a new level entirely.

The Hearts of Palm Salad at Per Se.

The Hearts of Palm Salad at Per Se.

Aside from a few pastas, it used to be a rare exception to find entirely protein-free dishes when dining out, unless of course, you were at a designated vegan joint.  Now, it’s become the norm and nearly obligatory to offer up a few.  With a growing emphasis on local, farm-sourced food, more and more chefs are inspired to make ingredients like Swiss Chard and Rutabaga the star of a dish.  John Fraser has been offering Meatless Mondays at his Upper West Side restaurant Dovetail for some time now, creating impromptu, four-course tasting menus from the bounty of the Union Square Greenmarket.  But you can visit Dovetail any day of the week and still enjoy a delicious, meat-free meal.  Menu items listed under “Vegetables” are much more than just side dishes, like Wild Mushrooms with Cipollini Onions, Kohlrabi and Buttermilk, and Napa Cabbage with Pears, Winter Truffles, and Emmentaler Cheese Fondue.

Daniel Boulud’s sumptuous Daniel and Thomas Keller’s Per Se both offer entirely vegetarian tasting menus, treating ingredients like Jerusalem Artichokes, Parsnips, Fennel, and Mache as canvases for their undisputed culinary artistry and technique.  You won’t miss the meat when you sample Daniel’s Parsley Puree with Crosnes Fricassee and Hedgehog Mushrooms, or Per Se’s Mascarpone and Yukon Gold Potato Agnolloti with Young Leeks, French Breakfast Radishes and “Vichyssoise Truffée.”

Next time you go out for dinner, check out the entree section of the menu.  Chances are you’ll find an offering that has no protein at all.  You can easily make a meal out of veggies, like Eggplant with Calabrian Chili Honey Vinaigrette, Cappelletti with Charred Figs, Pears, and Dandelion Greens, and crispy Corn Fritters with Smoked Sheep’s Milk Ricotta and Roasted Okra at Mediterranean-minded Amali in midtown.  Brooklyn’s Parish Hall gets their stellar produce directly from their own bountiful farm in the Hudson Valley.  Their love for the land is on full display in a Parsnip and Apple Soup with Roasted Walnuts, Green Apple, and Maitake Mushroom, as well as in a hearty dish of Vegetables and Cayuga Flour Dumplings, made with
 Radish, Fennel, Kale, Carrot, and Cheese Broth.

The Return of Roast Chicken

Further evidence that red meat has fallen out of favor this year?  The proliferation of big-name restaurants proudly offering that classic American comfort food, Roast Chicken.  It’s typically presented family-style, like the Friday Night Roast Chicken at the modern Jewish American bistro, Kutsher’s Tribeca.  Served with Pletzel (an onion and seed covered flatbread) and Mushroom Stuffing, it’s a bird you can imagine “Bubby” herself pulling out of the oven.  The popular Chicken Under a Brick at Marc Forgione’s eponymous Tribeca eatery is equally homey, a Bell & Evans bird sprinkled with salt and lemon zest before being slapped on a blazing hot skillet, compressed under a brick, and finished with a sauce of capers, shallots, butter, and natural jus.

The Whole Roasted Chicken at NoMad.

The Whole Roasted Chicken at NoMad.

Then, there’s the fancier versions like the one served and devoured at Commerce.  Slathered in herb butter, stuffed with fresh croutons and foie gras, their whole Roast chicken arrives on a bed of Truffled Mashed Potatoes.  It’s not uncommon to see it gracing at least half of the tiny tables at this bustling, West Village eatery.  And the $79 Whole Roasted Chicken for Two has only added to the buzz surrounding Daniel Humm’s ultra swanky NoMad, tucked inside the NoMad Hotel.  A deliciously complicated bird, the dark meat is sautéed with mushrooms and shallots and served in a diminutive iron crock, while the white meat is basted with liquid foie gras, before being stuffed with more foie, brioche breadcrumbs, and shavings of black truffle.  Grandma’s roast chicken it ain’t.

In-House Baking Programs

When the recession hit a few years back, the free bread basket, once a restaurant mainstay, seemed to all but disappear.  Sure, servers might bring you some bread if you knew to ask for it, but warm rolls and ramekins of olive oil were no longer guaranteed starters to a meal.  And eventually, when bread started popping up again on menus throughout the city, it was with a price tag attached.

The Parker House Rolls at Peels.

The Parker House Rolls at Peels.

Now we would never advocate paying for stale loaves of Italian bread culled from the corner store, accompanied by half frozen pats of  butter.  That stuff, you can still generally get for free.  But restaurants like Peels, in the East Village, or Roberta’s in Williamsburg, are bringing in a little added revenue by baking their own breads in house daily.  (Some eateries are even churning their own butter! ) And fresh-from-the-oven bread makes the idea of paying for our breadbaskets a whole lot easier to stomach.  Take Peels’ Parker House Rolls with Vermont Butter ($5).  Served warm, these fluffy, buttery little knobs of baked dough are the pride of the house, perfect for pairing with other comforting, Americana fare like Shrimp and Grits, BBQ Pork, or Fried Chicken and Gravy.  And Roberta’s uses their wood-fired brick oven for more than just exemplary pizza pies.  You can order slices of their smoky, tender crumbed City White bread for $5, although we’ve been known to grab a couple of loaves to go after tiring of waiting hours for a table.

A Hot New Chili Sauce

While we don’t expect to see the Sriracha craze to fade into oblivion anytime soon, the fiery Thai chili sauce might just get some serious competition this year.  We’re zeroing in on Gochujang, a pungent Korean paste made with red chilies, salt, glutinous rice, and fermented soybeans.

The Spicy Whelk Salad at Danji.

The Spicy Whelk Salad at Danji.

It’s no surprise to see it all over the menu at modern Korean tapas spot, Danji (look for the Spicy Whelk Salad with buckwheat noodles, and Pork Belly Sliders),  or at the haute Korean restaurant, Jungsik (it’s used in a sauce for Seoul Duck with White Miso).  But Korea’s beloved paste is also turning up in unexpected places, like at Brooklyn’s intimate French eatery, Bistro Petit, where it flavors a Kimchi Bouillabaisse, and at Andrew Carmellini’s popular Soho restaurant, The Dutch, which uses Gochujang to lend sweet heat to a dish of Korean Fried Hangar Steak with Kimchee Rice.

There’s plenty of more exciting new trends we’re excited to savor in 2013.  But we’re just getting started.  After all, it’s still only January.

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