Can’t bear to read another 2011 food trends list? Not to worry. I take a slightly different approach.
Instead of predicting the future, I take a look at what just happened. Call it a year-in-review.
What ingredients and dishes did restaurants focus on this year? Are they really trends or food fads? That’s up to you to decide.
I’ve whittle the lengthy list down to 16. Last year’s Sweet 16 explored salted caramel, foie gras desserts and Staub serving vessels.
What’s on this year’s list? Read on to find out.
1. Mangalitsa — Bacon is for common folk (so mainstream it’s ridiculous, if still tasty and popular), but the fooderati were rooting for the wooly pig in 2010. Restaurants like The French Laundry (Yountville, CA) and Binkley’s (Cave Creek, AZ) turn this Hungarian, cold-weather loving pig into more than the sum of its parts. Chefs say the taste is sweeter, more succulent than other heritage breeds — in a word? Superior.
2. Shishito peppers — These Japanese peppers became the darling of bar menus because of their ease of preparation. The skins are thin, meaning the peppers can be pan-seared whole and garnished with just sea salt and a spritz of lemon for an easy appetizer. We’ve seen them on menus from Seattle to Texas, prepared with just olive oil and lemon to a finishing glaze of robust soy and ginger.
3. Radishes — The common radish made a comeback in 2010, with a little help from its heirloom friends: Breakfast, Icicle, Black Spanish and Easter Egg radishes. Grüner (Portland), one of GQ’s 2010 top 10 restaurants, plates one of the prettiest radish plates: thin slices fanned over an entire plate, topped with micro greens and drizzled with a caper vinaigrette. And we saw plenty of roasted radishes, too.
4. Brown butter — You can’t look at a menu from any fine dining restaurant without seeing brown butter. Usually, it’s paired with butternut squash and sage, either as a side dish or a pasta main course dish, or served over seafood. But browned butter made an appearance on the dessert menu this year, too, like New York’s Le Bernardin (brown butter ice cream) and Phoenix’s Coup des Tartes (brown butter pear tart).
5. Pretzels — Both as the old ball park standard and as soft bread, pretzels tipped the popularity scales this year, and not just in German or Alpine themed restaurants (although that’s certainly where they started). Retail bakers jumped on the pretzel bandwagon, too. I even had pretzel bread offered on an international flight this year.
6. Charcuterie — Restaurants making their own charcuterie started well before 2010, but several hit their stride this year, offering more than the standard pâté. As it takes more than a year to make some types of salumi and charcuterie, I think it’s safe to say we’ll see even more next year…as long as health departments don’t catch wind of it, that is. For that reason, I think I’ll not name any names.
7. Poutine — Quebec’s classic comfort dish — French fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy — crossed the the border this year much to the delight of anyone with taste buds. New York’s T-Poutine restaurant serves eight different versions, and half a dozen restaurants in Portland serve the “fries-as-a-meal” dish. Even Animal (the award-winning L.A. restaurant) serves an oxtail gravy and cheddar version.
8. House made pickled vegetables — Beyond traditional pickles, many restaurants applied vinegar and spices to practically every vegetable coming out of the ground. We saw pickled green beans, celery, asparagus, onions, cauliflower, carrots, and of course, the humble cucumber.
9. Hot dogs — We’ve lost count of the number of food trucks across the country specializing in the gussied up ballpark fare, but now restaurants are getting dog fever, too. In Phoenix, two fine dining restaurants have embraced the haute dog: Cork in Chandler and noca in Central Phoenix. Suffice it to say that we’ve not reached saturation of the hot dog yet (or, apparently, the burger).
10. Pudding — Many of the ingredients and dishes on this list are connected to the overall trend of comfort food and back-to-basics (s’mores, radishes, hot dogs, etc). Add pudding to the list of big fat hugs from neighborhood restaurants. FnB’s butterscotch pudding reached cult status this year, while others just reached us with pure silky love (chocolate and peanut butter from Modern Steak). Portland has Pudding on the Rice, an all-pudding dessert shop and Austin jiggles with the Gourmet Pudding food trailer. I bet a restaurant near you serves pudding, too.
11. Pie — Cupcake lovers got their frosting all in a tizzy this year when the trend masters said that “pie was the new cupcake.” Is it? Perhaps. How can you not love pie? Pastry chefs are putting the all-American staple back on the menu, some dressing it up, others dressing it down. Phoenix’s Beckett’s Table won a Phoenix New Times celebrity chef bake-off with its homey fig and pecan pie earlier this year. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we see pie shops open across the country in 2011, either.
12. S’mores — From already assembled to make-it-yourself-tableside, s’mores hit dessert menus in a big way this year, from Portland’s Ned Ludd to Frank & Albert’s at the Arizona Biltmore to Eve in Chicago.
13. Latin beverages — Horchata (rice milk and cinnamon), agua frescas (fruit-based drinks) and sangria (wine infused with fruit) have always populated Mexican and Latin themed restaurant menus, and now they’re crossing over to fusion restaurants, like Zengo’s in New York. Batidos (think milkshakes with a Latin twist) aren’t new to Latin countries, but they made a big splash this year, mostly on the East Coast, both with and without alcohol.
14. Smoothies — I’m sneaking this on the list because I think my 95 daily smoothies (announced via Twitter) made people think about the slushy beverage in a whole new light. I opened my pantry and got creative. My favorite smoothie might have been the Bing cherries with lavender and pink peppercorn. Or maybe it was my peanut butter and grape smoothie, that tasted just like a PB & J without the bread.
15. Late Night Dining — New York City is seeing a resurgence in late-night dining and by late night, we’re talking after midnight. In Phoenix, another “late-night” offering came of age, and by Phoenix standards, late night is after 10 p.m. I wrote a story for Edible Phoenix in February profiling two such restaurants, Petite Maison’s “staff meals” and FnB’s “Industry Meals.” Since then, three other restaurants have expanded their hours on certain nights. Now, Tuesday through Saturday, Phoenicians can saddle up to an independent, chef-driven restaurant for late night cheap eats: Tuesday – Crudo; Wednesday – noca; Thursday – Posh; Thursday through Saturday – Petite Maison; and Saturday – FnB.
16. Gastropubs — Meddlesome Moth opened in Dallas this year to great fanfare as a gastropub for hipsters (it ranked #2 in D Magazine’s top 10 new restaurants). New York may think gastropubs are nothing new (Spotted Pig, Rabbit in the Moon) but the rest of the country is playing catch up. What is a gastropub anyway? Is it a bar that serves above average food? Yes, that, but more, too. It must have a serious craft beer component. Scottsdale and Phoenix have two gastropubs slated to open after the first of the year (Citizen Public House, LGO Public House).
Other notables: Other things popped on the radar, too, like the rise in vegetarian dishes in non-vegetarian restaurants, and the gluten-free surge that’s resulted in restaurants designating GF on appropriate menu items. I noticed a rise in foraged foods, too. Ten years ago when I worked at The Boulders Resort, we had a forager on staff. His full time job was to find unique foodstuffs, both local and not. Today’s forager is looking for wild ingredients grown within a restaurant’s radius.
I could keep going but I’d rather hear from you. What other trends or fads did you see this year? And, if you’re into predicting the future, what do you think is in store for 2011?