Thursday, January 13, 2011

Enduring Trends for Edible Delights in 2011

Photo courtesy of Paul Christopher Williams

It’s here! A new year that brings with it hope, inspiration, and stretchy pants; elastic waistbands may be a necessary comfort after all the heavy meals I’ve been indulging in over the holidays, but so too are the annual year-in-review lists that tend to get published as we transition into a new calendar. Come January and the full force of the winter winds, food critics from far and wide take a crack at rounding up the most formidable of last year’s top food trends and rolling off predictions for this year’s soon-to-be foodie fads. Some of my favorites have been the lists posted by the crews at Epicurious, Trend Central, and Josh Ozersky, a.k.a. Mr. Bacon, over at Time.

Photo Courtesy of Paul Christopher Williams

Each takes its own view of food trends past–and those to become a part of our culinary present–and each focuses on unique flavor profiles, products, services and dining discoveries. For the first time, I thought I’d join the ranks of the reviewers to take a stab at documenting what I take to be the most popular tastes and fashions in food from then ‘til now.

Last week I took a look back at the Best of Belle to reminisce about the top 20 posts I published in 2010. This week I’m looking ahead to make my predictions for the fads that will prove to be eleven of the most enduring trends for 2011. A lot of what I list here might seem like old news to the food-forward among us, but that’s a tribute to the staying power of some of the most pervasive developments in cooking, eating and dining to date. Other items on the list are likely to provide a fresh look at some of the edible delights that I predict will continue to unfold and enthuse in the year to come. From a burger shop serving over 300,000 different types of patties to drop-off lasagna joints, 2011 is sure to be a foodie adventure that appeases all different types of palates and wallets!

Photo Courtesy of Christine Tsai

1) Comfort-Chic Cuisine: With the recession still waning and a turn toward comforting recipes and décor to help usher in coziness in hard times, I think comfort-chic cuisine will continue to reign king in 2011. As it has for years now, comfort food remains popular because it takes us back to memories we cherish, meals we remember, and recipes for simpler times. But what’s “chic” about all these comfort menus is the pitch-perfect technique, high-quality ingredients, and shabby-chic dining rooms in which one can now find these tastes of home across all corners of the city. A new contender in the crowd is the lasagna and meatball drop-off service catering to busy Brooklyners with an appetite for comfort food at Brucie’s. All you have to do is swing by with your pan or bowl in the morning, stop by after work to pick it up, bring it home to reheat, and voila, dinner is served–think of them as the dry cleaner of dinner, especially on those nights you wouldn’t be caught dead in the kitchen, but still crave a home cooked meal. Equally well positioned to be on trend as early adapters to this movement, The Dinner Belle has featured comfort-chic cuisine like duck-fat fried fries and ooey-gooey mac ‘n’ cheese since launching in 2007, continuing to prove that New York tastes Better with Belle!

2) Digital Dining: Smart phones, food blogs, websites and e-zines, have introduced us to a new way of finding our favorite foods. With applications like Urbanspoon, just one shake and you’re on your way to finding a place to eat based on location, cuisine or price. Open Table not only uses GPS to find your next dining experience it also lets you know if there’s a table available! Newcomer to the GPS dining trail, Tasting Table promises to change your dining life with what it hopes will prove the most popular restaurant locator and dinging guide available. iPad has endless wine list applications, and Farm Fresh is my go-to app for finding out what’s in season at NYC farmers’ markets. New technology is making it easy for people to become conspicuous, and let’s hope, conscientious consumers. Forward thinking eateries are also getting in on the action by joining Facebook and tweeting to patrons around the globe. Another big hit, Groupon and Blackboard Eats are custom-curating the best grub hubs in town and emailing up to 50% discounts to their followers. I get offers from both sites daily, and I have the iPhone app and a long list of oft-redeemed culinary coupons to prove it.

Photo courtesy of Paul Christopher Williams

3) Go Green: The trend toward greener eating hasn’t died down one bit. In fact, it’s making even more of a splash as First Lady Michelle Obama continues her campaign against childhood obesity; Congress followed her lead to pass legislation supporting significant nutritional improvements to the national School Lunch Program; movements like Slow Food USA continue their push to recruit another million members in 2011, and even network television is getting in on the action, premiering Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, while Oprah hosted Michael Pollan on her show, helping to spread the real food gospel to the hordes of housewives who follow her every affirmation! People all over the world continue to have a growing interest in farmers’ markets and farm-to-table cuisine, learning what foods are freshest to eat when, where their food has come from, how it’s grown (or fed for that matter), and what they can do eat, cook, garden and dine in the most sustainable, delicious, healthiest ways possible. Simply put, my Go Green! mantra is: eat seasonal always, local whenever you can get it, and organic whenever you can afford it.

4) Moveable Feasts: Food trucks have been a hipster trend quickly gaining speed for awhile now and may well kick it into high gear in 2011. I’ve been known to throw back grub from a truck or two, and there seems to be a perpetual parade of new and better food trucks serving everything from fair-trade coffee, gourmet waffles and chili-rubbed tacos right on my West Village corner. What more can we expect from these four-wheeled wonders in 2011? High-end and well-loved restaurants like BLT and Café Cabana are taking their kitchens to the streets. With the economic downturn, more and more brick-and-mortar restaurateurs as lauded as Danny Meyer and Anita Lo, are outsourcing to sidewalk traffic to bring in extra dough. These trucks show no signs of slowing down, and even Zagat has a food truck webpage, making it even easier to locate and review your next movable feast.

Photo courtesy of Paul Christopher Williams

5) DIY Dinner: It’s no secret that I enjoy jamming, pickling and making preserves, but apparently, everyone else and their boyfriend does too. Not just for grandmas anymore, canning has become a considerably robust pastime and a burgeoning industry, with jarring kits and cookbooks sold in stores as sundry as Walmart and Anthropologie. Want fresh, local watermelons in the middle of winter—pickle ‘em! For those who desire to eat seasonally, canned or cured fruits, vegetables, sauces, cheese and even seafood, offer the ability to enjoy the foods you love all year round! And the trend isn’t stopping with edibles. Potables offer the next wave in DIY, with an entire cottage industry that has sprung around suds, sodas and other swiggable pours. Beer, wine, carbonated water, infused vodka, seasonal bitters and aged barrels of bourbon and rye are just some of the libations available for at-home brewing and imbibing. Any number wineries, micro-breweries and boutique liquor brands are popping up across NYC; proving, that these days, jars are for much more than just collecting pocket change.

6) Underground Supper Clubs: With their speakeasy-chic vibe, secret address, and the drama of a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event, these subversive dinner parties continue to populate the cityscape at hidden locals, for what’s truly an anti-restaurant, pro-foodie extravaganza. With the alluring idea of it all it’s no surprise that the underground supper club continues to pick up momentum. In New York, groups like Brooklyn Laundry and A Razor, A Shiny Knife have pioneered alternative dining to the degree that they’ve set a precedent for black market foodie finds so extreme that the city now boasts undercover lobster pounds, unpasturized milk stands and covert grilled cheese operations, which is to say nothing of all the private dining spaces, roaming dinner parties and chef’s tables that have been appearing round town to compete with the furtive, anti-establishment foodies. Globally, acclaimed chefs are dipping into this secret sect that includes open-minded eaters that are eager to spend a night socializing and eating skillfully prepared foods, among complete strangers, in illegal dining spaces, for hundreds of bucks a pop. Now that’s a trend I could get into, if only it were easier to get in with these clandestine culinistas.

Photo courtesy of Christine Tsai

7) My Money’s on Meat: Meatless Mondays may be on the rise, but there is no shortage of places popularizing meat in Manhattan. Vegetables have had their day, and all the green, sustainable eateries round town will continue to make them mainstays on their seasonal menus (as they should do!), but I think it’s meat that people crave when times get tough, prices go up, and a fine piece of protein feels like an affordable, nourishing (especially if it’s grass-fed and hormone free) luxury. Counter Burger, a new burger joint offering over 312,120+ different burger combinations, is not for the indecisive among us. Cured duck meat is making a comeback, and for what may be the first time, you can buy it in bulk at local farmers’ markets a la Hudson Valley Duck Farm. If you’re finding yourself in a red-meat coma, switch over to the porky side of swine. New York chefs are taking a queue from the street cart vendors and uplifting the hot dog to new gourmet heights. Sausage isn’t far behind with sausage-making classes being offered all over the city, bratwurst soaring as high as the Austrian Alps at Brats, Michelin-starred, French chef Daniel Boulud offering an extensive wiener menu at DBGB, and let’s not forget Bark’s bacon wrapped wiener. Ah, bacon! On my own blog I’ve touted bacon bourbon, bacon stew, even bacon cookies! I can’t imagine 2011 without the salty, cured, smoked stuff clogging our arteries and gracing our tables in full foodie fashion.

8) Reclaimed Wood: Along the same sustainable lines as all the farm-to-table trends toward greener eating, is the turn toward re-purposing reclaimed wood to decorate food emporiums aplenty. In this instance, the farm literally becomes the table, as barns sourced throughout the country, and especially in the Southern states, are torn down, reformatted, and sold in Manhattan showrooms for a pretty penny. The wood gets a second life as it’s recycled into its new identity as tables, chairs, flooring, bars, shelving or even picture frames! This trend has legs; it started years ago, but the city is getting woodsier and woodsier by the year. Restaurants are making bigger strides in staying eco-friendly and their décor decisions follow suit. The well-patinaed wood, filament light bulbs and mismatched, vintage silver and glassware are as common as an Ecuadorian in the kitchen these days. But with economy what it is and the comfort-chic vibe as pervasive as it’s become, farm-to-table is a style that is likely stick (and one I quite like). Decorating spaces with refurbished materials is like paying it forward the reclaimed way, and in this town, one of the best spots around to stake your claim on wooden wonders from lands as far as Roma and as close as Rhode Island, is my Buffalo buddy’s place, LV Wood Floors. Grab an espresso while you’re perusing the collection, and tell him Belle sent you!

9) Molto Italiano: Perhaps it’s timeless, because in my world, Italian never goes out of style. 2010 saw several big Italian launches in the city, with Mario Batali’s mammoth Eataly Italian imports emporium ranking chief among them. There you can shop, eat, learn, cook, sample, flirt and drink yourself silly all under one roof! But that’s only the beginning of the Italian renaissance we’ve seen blossom on our own shores over what’s felt like in eterno. The simple fact is that people just can’t say no to tomatoes, pasta and cheese! And who can blame them? Italian food is often the least expensive of the fine cuisines and the most delectable. Un-bogged down by fancy-schmancy sauces and over-worked entrées, Italian food is straight to the heart, straight from the land, and straight up(!) the best slow food anecdote to calm our jangled nerves from the fast paced lives we lead. My love affair with all things Italiano promises not to slow down well into 2011.

10) Small plates, Full Tummy: Tapas bars no longer belong solely to the terrain of the Spanish anymore, though there are some damn good ones for kicking back a sherry with a side of Serrano in this city! These days, restaurants and wine bars specializing in small plates come paired with every cuisine and culture under the sun. The lower price point per plate makes sense in a recession, and the grazing, tasting, sharing mentality is a sign of a foodie culture that has come to respect dining as an opportunity that’s about more than just nourishment or status or even taste…food has become an experience. And small plates make for the most varied, exciting experience imaginable; if I’m being honest, even a food palace like The French Laundry is essentially a small plates café. With so much to try and so many new fusion concepts to be unearthed, even Sunday night Football bars are coming up with innovative menus for small plate selections that let you endeavor to taste a little bit of everything, and by “everything” they mean all ten varieties of wings!

11) Top of the Pop: The popsicle has been around since 1905 (which seems startlingly recent to me, but I guess that’s accounted for via the birth of refrigeration), and it has come a long way, baby. Replacing the gelato and previous sorbet fads of decades past, popsicles are to our day as oysters were to early New Yorkers: cheap, delicious, ubiquitous and sexually evocative! Come summer, you can’t go five blocks, or five days without hearing some blogger or columnist critiquing the latest hot pop. What’s great about this little frozen treat is that anyone can make them and the long list of yummy flavors is as endless as you are creative; my personal contribution to the popsicle craze is of the cachaça-spiked avocado variety I experimented with last summer. But if making your own phallic fruit pop isn’t what gets your juices pumping, check out Popbar or People’s Pops to buy yourself a good time. Both source local, seasonal fruits in off-the-cuff combinations with inventive toppings that make for an unforgettable icy treat that promises to grow bigger, faster and harder to beat when it comes time to escape the summer heat.

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