Restaurant Futures

Mouth-watering trends to look forward to this year.

What’s 2018 going to bring to restaurant menus? What ingredients will be on-trend and what techniques will be considered cutting edge? What dishes will be hot?

Since 1990, I’ve been eating out for a living. On average, during the course of the past 28 years, I’ve dined out at about 200 different restaurants annually. They run the gamut from neighborhood joints to a United Nations of ethnic eateries to fine-dining spots. I’m a farm/farmers’ market junkie, so I see a lot of raw ingredients out there, too. My idea of a good time is to visit, say, the Juanito’s uber-bodega in Red Bank (the hand-packed queso crema is to-die-for; thank you, Carolina, the Expert Shopper, for the tip), or Mitsuwa in Edgewater to snag some off-the-beaten-seas fishes and harder-to-find Asian produce. I’m currently a Chris Cannon groupie, believing his Friday evening Blind Wine Dinners at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen in Morristown are the best avenues for my ever-continuing personal wine education.

So that’s a bit about my background. Take my prognostications as part informed eater/part wishful dreamer.

1) Homesteading. “For me, it’s less about the new and clever and more about the simple and soulful,” an accomplished, acclaimed chef recently wrote to me. “Homemade butter, sourdough starter and heirloom seeds ready to get started.” This chef speaks for many. Look for the results of “homesteading” on 2018 bills of fare.

2) Chilies and fruits. The tandem of heat and sweet has been explored by the nation’s best chefs. Our own Maricel Presilla, of Cucharamama and Zafra in Hoboken, is the hands-down leader of this match-made-in-heaven partnership. Count on confident chefs in the Garden State to charge forward with her.

3) The all-local cocktail. Jersey’s distilleries will see their spirits mixed with hand-crafted, locally grown accents that take “craft” to a new level. Danny Childs, mixologist at The Farm and Fisherman Tavern & Market in Cherry Hill, is the one to watch—and the one to follow—in this movement.

4) Warm-climate fare. Let’s face it; we in New Jersey are rooted in European cuisines and dependent on Chinese-sushi-pad Thai-burritos for quick-pickup, take-out suppers. We’re less acquainted with foods of the islands, places where classics can warm souls and sate flavor cravings. Think Haitian. Trinidadian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican. Our cities, with ethnic enclaves, offer a wealth of inspiration that can inform our home-cooked dinners—and, I bet, inspire our restaurant chefs. And: Let the “other” Asian islands reign: The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia.

5) Vegetable “charcuterie.” Fermented, canned, pickled: Expect vegetable “share” platters to appear as opening-round options alongside homemade breads and butters. Yes, homemade butter. Dan Richer of Razza in Jersey City started it, and others will not be able to resist following. And they shouldn’t even try.

6) A world of herbs. New Jersey is home to the best—the BEST—herb farm in the country, Well-Sweep Herb Farm in Port Murray, Warren County. Thousands of herbs are cultivated and sold there. These exotic, uncommon and even rare herbs are waiting to upgrade plates in our state.

7) Vegetable, vegetable, vegetable. Entrees with vegetables as the star, and animal products as the condiment.

8) Peasant fare. My favorite style of cooking? No question: that of the peasant wife. Homey one-pots, from-the-kitchen-garden dishes. Food that’s economical and delicious. It’s the kind of food served as “family meals” to the staffs of restaurants, and it’s catching on in haute-cuisine, big-city places. Look for it to come to menus of restaurants with smart, savvy chefs who understand how to feed the soul.

9) Middle Eastern flavors. Consider it the Ottolenghi effect. The “Plenty” books, “Jerusalem,” and everything Yotem Ottolenghi writes about in his newspaper and magazine columns inspires instant devotion. Local chefs are hip to his influence, too. Israeli could be the new Italian.

10) Chicken. Yes, chicken. Chefs are going to explore the big bird like never before. Bone in, folks. Bone in!

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