Gourmet or Passé 2006

If the staff of Wine Enthusiast ran the world's kitchen, every movie theater would have a license to serve a glass of Pinot along with their popcorn, and cold, cavernous eateries the size of a football field would be a thing of the past. But alas, our powers are somewhat more limited. Instead of changing the way of the food world, our job is to take an annual look at the way things are...at least as we see them.

What was the best, the worst and the downright weirdest (dining in the dark, anyone?) when it came to food and drink in 2006? We detail it here. What were our favorite flavors, and the things that we saw go from uncommon to ubiquitous in the culinary realm? And, because we can't resist pushing the envelope, we've also included a few predictions for 2007. Dig in!



Technological advancement for foodies: Podcast.

  Last year it was blogs, this year, it's the podcast that has foodies racing to their computers, says Robert J. Borchardt Jr., publisher of Cuisine Populaire (www.cuisinepopulaire.com), a food and wine Web site with podcasting components. "Podcasts can deliver high-quality content quicker, and the average person can get inside a commercial kitchen, for example. You can't do that the same way with a blog." Some of our favorite free food podcasts (available on iTunes) are The Food Geek, Grape Radio and Candy Podcast.

Best reason to jettison South Beach and Atkins
for good: Gnocchi Fries.

The deep-fried gnocchi at Quattro Restaurant and Bar at Four Seasons Silicon Valley (2050 University Ave., East Palo Alto, CA; tel. 650.566.1200) are shaped liked French fries, tossed with shaved black truffles and served with pomodoro fresco and basil lemon pesto dipping sauces. Protein? What protein?


Gourmet? Or passé? We're not sure: Foie gras.  

 This was a tough year for the enlarged goose liver. In April the Chicago city council passed a ban on foie gras from all restaurants and retail stores in the Windy City. Restaurants all over the country started cooking up fake foie, as a way to
indulge without being cruel, while some chefs in Chicago were willing to pay the $500 fine rather than let their aldermen tell them what they can and cannot cook. One restaurant that—obviously—wants to remain nameless, still serves foie gras from the kitchen, but doesn't print the delicacy on the menu.

Best way to cover your butt if
Mother Nature is in a bad mood: 
Blessing of the Grapes.

There's only so much you can do to ensure a healthy harvest. But Tolosa Winery (4910 Edna Rd., San Luis Obispo, CA; tel. 805.782.0500) is one of several vineyards that are adopting a tradition from the Middle Ages. At an annual ceremony, a priest blesses the soil, the plants and the workers; later, the fruits of the labors are enjoyed by all.


Food that's not just for
state fairs anymore:
The lowly corndog.

lobster  This is no longer just a frank on a stick. Lobster tail corndog is on the menu at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa (5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler, AZ;
tel. 602.225.0100). Maine lobster corndogs are served up for $15 at Coach Insignia (Renais-sance Center, Detroit, MI; tel. 313.567.2622), while you can find shrimp corndogs for just $1.75, served with honey mustard, at Oakley's Bistro (1464 W. 86th St., Indianapolis, IN; tel. 317.824.1231). Lobster and truffle corndogs will set you back $8 at Carolina's (10 Exchange St., Charleston, SC; tel. 843.724.3800).





Lowbrow foods
getting the highbrow treatment: 

cotton candy  Talk about foods you never thought you'd eat at a restaurant with cloth napkins...try duck macaroni and cheese, topped with a splash of truffle oil, at Cherry Valley Lodge (2299 Cherry Valley Rd., Newark, OH; tel. 740.788.1200). Prime rib sliders (a take on local fast-food fave, White Castle Hamburgers) are served up with glee at Mitchell's Ocean Club (4002 Easton Station, Columbus, OH; tel. 614.416.2582). It'd be hard to resist duck confit and chorizo "Sloppy Joes," at Carolina's (see page 16). Or, go straight for the mountain of
cotton candy for dessert at Simon LA (8555 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA; tel. 310.358.3979).

Beats staying at home and making a sandwich: DIY pho. 

noodle bowl  Kampuchea Noodle Bar (78-84 Rivington St., New York, NY; tel. 212.529.3901), opened in Fall 2006 with its "Make Your Own Pho [pronounced "fuh"] Bowl Noodle Bar." Pick one each from the broth, noodle and topping columns and end up with a filling $11 bowl of soup with options like cuttlefish ball, grilled prawns and rice sticks, instead of the ordinary beef. For even more ways to make your own combinations, but have the end result come out chef-worthy, head to DIY paradise Craft
(43 E. 19th St., New York, NY; tel. 212.780.0880).

Alternative to Perrier for designated drivers and teetotalers:
Green Zebra's non-alcoholic drink menu.

Green Zebra (1460 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL; tel. 312.243.7100) spirits and beverage director Tim Lacey worked with chef Shawn McClain (a James Beard award winner) to create a tasting menu for virgin drinks such as honey mint limeade, root beer and iced hibiscus tea, and cucumber soda. These options allow those who choose not to imbibe to be a part of the restaurant's pairing process.  

Way in which pricey bars one-up each other: Signature bar snacks. 

peanuts  Forget the signature drinks with the long names, fancy ingredients and showy umbrellas. One-of-a-kind bar snacks (no corn nuts here) are now distinguishing one watering hole from another. Choose from Prospera Farm's spiced and buttered popcorn at Hot Chocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL; tel. 773.489.1747), Japanese pretzels cooked in chicken stock with chili oil at David Burke's Primehouse (616 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL; tel. 312.660.6000), Nougatine's (1 Central Park West, New York, NY, tel. 212.299.3900) rosemary popcorn with spiced almonds and green tea wasabi peanuts, or the malfatti pasta dough chips at Dani (333 Hudson St., New York, NY; tel. 212.633.9333).

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