Gourmet or Passé

Gourmet or Passé

Health care reform passed (sort of). The Gulf oil spill was capped (we hope). Someone named Snooki became a TV star (for now). None of these were things we would have predicted a year ago. While we didn’t see Christine O’Donnell, er, coming, we did accurately forecast that everyone was going to be dining from a food cart in 2010, and we weren’t talking about hot dogs and pretzels.

Take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the best, unexpected and strangest things we ate and drank this year. Then, gaze into our crystal ball and take a look at what we think (and what chefs tell us) will be served in 2011.

Tech Update 2.0: iPad wine lists. Chicago Cut Steakhouse (Chicago) has done away with its paper wine list. Instead, wines both by the bottle and the glass are presented on one of the restaurant’s 40 iPads,encased in a sleek leather and suede holder. Diners then look for the drink of their choice by region,type, vintage, name or price using custom-designed software. There are flyover maps for each winery and the choices can be emailed to you at home if you want to remember what you drank. Lola (Cleveland) is one of a number of other restaurants across the country using software from Smart Cellar to offer an iPad wine app to diners.

Fries that defy the norm. Chefs all over the country have decided the most glamorous menu item would be the one no one wants to get stuck serving…except these fries are decidedly not made from the humble potato. Über-hotspot Girl and the Goat (Chicago) serves ham frites. At Piccolo Sogno (Chicago) they’re called cecina fritta and they’re made with chickpea flour and served with rosemary and Parmesan cheese. And topping the list for most, well,inventive, Chef Giuseppe Tentori makes duck fries at BOKA (Chicago). But it may not be what you think—these fries are made with battered and fried duck testicles.

More from the pork files. Year after year (after year), we’ve thought at some point chefs would move on from “the other white meat” to another protein (and they may. See the “Eat This” sidebar.) Yet, it still reigns as the darling of the kitchen. The latest from the pork-lovers category: Bacon Popcorn. Salted Caramel (Chicago) has a specialty business (and potential addictive substance) with its Bacon Bourbon Caramel Corn, which is turning head seven in the south, a place already filled with plenty of Bourbon and bacon. Revolution Brewing Co. (Chicago) serves a bacon fat popcorn. At the famous Loveless Cafe (Nashville) Piggy Pop-corn (and I Don’t Share!), popped in bacon grease, was so popular that Piggy Pecans were introduced.

Jason Niederkorn, executive chef at Cafe del Rey (Marina del Rey, CA) found out about Mangalitsa pigs thanks to Twitter. There are only a small handful of farms raising the wooly pigs, but he’s stocking them in his SoCal kitchen because the fatty pork is so tasty. The meat, he says, looks like Kobe beef.

Way to prevent drinking and driving while going to wine tastings: Take the train. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad(Peninsula, OH, cvsr.com) takes you on a three-hour scenic tour through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s majestic steep valleys, completewith wine tasting or wine appreciation programs. Beer pairing treks, with beverages fromRouge Ales, are available, too.

A tea party that didn’t make headlines: Unlike that political movement that is dividing folks, pu-erh, a Chinese tea, is uniting fans who are drinking this large leaf in iced tea, breakfast and dessert teapots. Because the tea doesn’t need to be drunk right away, it has the appeal of being classified by vintage (including both year and region of production). David Burke’s Primehouse (Chicago) has three cave-aged pu-erhs on its menu. Vietnamese favorite The Slanted Door (San Francisco) has one, too.

What’s on tap? Wine. In Montreal and parts of Europe, grocery stores are installing you-fill-it kiosks where consumers can bring their own refillable containers and dispense the red or white of their choice for at-home enjoyment. Since more than a dozen U.S. states don’t permit wine sales in grocery stores, that might be a while coming stateside.

But Free Flow Wines and others are bringing the idea to restaurants. Cork-free, eco-friendly kegs have been sighted at OTD (San Francisco) and Irving Street Kitchen (Portland, OR). Riesling and Pinot Noir will be available in kegs from Tenzing (Chicago) for 2011.Say goodbye to half-used bottles and wines by the glass that are simply what someone is trying to use up before oxidation sets in.

Not for kids: Alcohol Popsicles. We’ve talked about the popsicle trend before. But Prairie Fire’s (Chicago) Sarah Stegner predicts the summer of 2011 will be the summer of the booze-cicle.This year she made apple caramel with rum, Bourbon fudge, and a summer squash pop with brown sugar and vodka. Mexican eatery Diablo Royale Este (New York) and Thai favorite Kittichai (New York) cooled off grown-up palates with them this summer, too.

Only for kids: Spaghetti tacos. Credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) iCarly. The Nickelodeon’ tween TV show mentioned spaghetti tacos as a gag, and now the all-carb fest (yes, that is spaghetti inside a hard taco shell) is showing up in home kitchens across the country.

Alternative to the open kitchen: Aged beef up front and out in the open. When The Old House, the restaurant in the El Dorado Hotel and Spa (Santa Fe, NM) was remodeled as a traditional steak-house, it moved its signature rib eye to a window up front, so customers could see it aging. Since then, there have been lines out the door, says Chef Anthony Smith. Michelle Dietzler of Dietzler Farms (Elkhorn, WI) has seen the same trend. Several of her chef clients are either asking for longer aging on the hanging carcass or for dry aging or wet aging the beef further in their kitchens, she says.

WE’RE JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Wine Enthusiast editors dish on the trends we’d like to see fade into oblivion: Untouchable eateries. To restaurants that never have a table available between the hours of 5:30 and 10:30 pm: If you want to be a private club with Keith or Graydon hand-picking the nightly guest list, then please be one. Bacon’s lost mojo. As per item above,even bacon could lose its earthy appeal if it continues to be over-exploited. Haute Tacos. We appreciate creative takes on familiar foods, but are foie gras tacos really necessary? Fake farm-to-table. We’re supportive of true farm-to-table restaurants,but this term is being thrown around by restaurants too flippantly. That potted pepper plant in front of your restaurant does not cut it, posers. “Mixologists.” It’s okay to be a bartender again. Really. “Hidden” speakeasies. And wide-eyed articles about the mystery of finding hidden speakeasies. Most of us found them three years ago anyway. Torture chamber chairs. The new lounge/restaurant trend in backless chairs, stools and generally any other seats that are grossly uncomfortable makes us think that you just want us to get the hell out, and fast. Acid freaks. This new crop of self-styled wine intellectuals leans toward enough acidity to peel off your tooth enamel and bore holes in your cheeks. Hibiscus, your time is up. New flavor, please.

Eat This, Not That in 2011. With apologies to David Zinczenko, we offer this list of wine and food trends that we predict will replace some 2010 mainstays:
Eat goat or rabbit at Chicago’s Girl and the Goat (pictured above) and Mamacita (San Francisco, mamacitasf.com), not pork. Eat homegrown huitlacoche (seen on a few farms in Chicago and NewYork), not imported. Drink at an izakaya, not a sushi joint. Drink private label wines like those of the Colonial Williamsburg Resort Collection (colonialwilliamsburg.com), not wine flights (we’d like a little room on thetable, please). Eat gourmet cannedgoodsat West Restaurant(Vancouver, BC, westrestaurant.com) and atZynodoa (Staunton, VA, zynodoa.com), notstore-bought. Eat snacks, like those at ComstockSaloon (San Francisco, comstocksaloon.com), not three squares. Eat game carpaccio with spiced mustard potato salad from Le TitiDe Paris, Arlington Heights, IL (letitideparis.com), not beef. Eat Colombian-style clay-cooked food made in pots like those by La Chamba sold atToque Blanche (Half Moon Bay,CA, mytoque.com), not meats from the grill. Drink Texas Tempranillo, not the California bottlings.

Three things we weren’t planning to do with our wines…
1. From the Okanagan region of British Columbia comes Sezmu Meats (West Kelowna, BC), where the cows are fed one liter of wine a day for the last 90 days of their lives. The cattle ranchers claim this makes the cows happier and the beef tastier.
2. In the mountains of North Georgia The Blue Bicycle (Dawsonville, GA) makes and serves red wine barbecue sauce.
3. Italy’s Distilleria Bottega makes Fragolino and wine ice creams. They’re not yet available stateside, but San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe offers Jesus Juice sorbet, made with cola and red wine while Bi-Rite Creamery, also in San Francisco, has prune Armagnac.

Foods that have gone to the dogs: The annual Oregon Truffle Festival includes a two-day dog-training seminar, teaching participants to train their dogs to sniff out the fungi in the wild. On the other side of the ocean the United Kingdom’s K99 van is an ice cream truck for dogs.

Southern Cuisine Goes North: Southern cooking continues to gain steam outside of the South. Whether it’s a backlash against the American cult of the diet, a foray into American culinary history or just because these dishes taste so damned good, we don’t care: Yankees are eating everything from pork rinds to pecan pie to old-fashioned BBQ and loving it. Tuck into pigs’ tails, flank steak or pork belly at Fette Sau (354 Metropolitan Ave., 718.963.3404) in Brooklyn—and wash it down with one of the eatery’s good North American Bourbon and whiskeys. At Chicago’s Kith and Kin (1119 W. Webster St.) buttermilk fried chicken thighs, braised collard greens and gravy hit the spot, especially when loaded down with a side of cheesy grits.

At Lulu’s at Homeport Marina (Gulf Shores, AL), the restaurant owned by Lulu Buffet (Jimmy’s little sister), concern about the safety of local Gulf seafood was a pressing matter this summer. To cope, management provided a daily diagram of where each seafood dish on the menu was sourced, and trained the staff to answer questions. While oysters have been in short supply, GM Johnny Fisher says the restaurant assuaged diners’ worries and managed inventory; he expects locally sourced seafood to be as popular as ever in 2011.

At Big Jones (Chicago), a coastal southern-themed eatery in the Windy City 800 miles away from the Gulf, executive chef and co-owner Paul Fehribach convinced two of the major Chicago fish mongers to stock Louisiana craw fish. Both previously only stocked Chinese craw fish. The switch enabled Big Jones to make their boudin ball appetizer, étouffées and soups more authentic. “It is a homegrown industry, it’s sustainable, and South Louisiana needs our support more than ever,” says Fehribach.

Published on December 9, 2010