We will always have bacon, barbecue and bread pudding. But sure as there are forever foods, there are trends.
Some even make it to forever status.
Food pundits tend to talk trends around the first of the year. All well and understandable. I like to take stock after a half a year has gone by to see what’s talk and what’s actually happening on the table.
For example, are you seeing many new cuts of meat on restaurant menus? Such as Vegas strip steak or a shoulder tender? Is a restaurant near you offering healthy kids’ meals? Seen any kamut or lupin headlining the nightly specials’ brigade?
Chatter about these trends was lively six months ago. But I’m not seeing follow through on New Jersey’s menus. Yet.
I am seeing, however, the national trend for charcuterie at some of the state’s top restaurants. For example, at Josh DeChellis’s new Juniper Hill in Clinton Township, there’s a terrific charcuterie platter that seemed to go out to every third table on the nights of my visits. DeChellis also is in the vanguard when it comes to rice bowls: His packs pork cheeks into the circle of comfort.
Octopus, another universal trend, also is everywhere in the Garden State—and not just at Iberian restaurants. Nowhere is it better than at Heirloom Kitchen, where chef David Viana cossets it in lobster froth and brightens it with paprika.
Ethnic is starting to take hold, however tentatively, in the world of spices. Harissa, curries of all stripes, piri-piri, shichimi togarashi and its brethren are the new pets of the most confident chefs, who apply them not only to dishes with proper pedigrees but their own creations. Some chefs become acquainted with these spices through street foods, which inspire many currently fashionable dishes: kebabs, dumplings and buns, bowls of ramen and other noodles, for instance.
You can tip-toe into this world at, say, Ramen Gami in Newark or Ani Ramen, in Montclair and Jersey City, all of which are smoking-hot spots with the on-trend crowd.
Speaking of smoke, there’s a milkshake made with cold-smoked bourbon at Graze in Little Silver, and an unforgettable smoked butter to smear on biscuits at the Buttered Biscuit Cafe in Bradley Beach. Smoke, it seems, isn’t just for barbecue any more.
What would I like to see gain traction?
* Serious salads. I know Dan Richer, chef-owner of Razza in Jersey City, is justly acclaimed nationally for his bread and butter and his pizza. But I also think his salads are beyond compare and worthy of medals and blue ribbons and all sorts of awards. Ever have one of his citrus salads in cold weather? His chickpea plate? The beet salad with almonds and blue cheese? The fig and pine nut salad? I rest my case. Viana at Heirloom Kitchen does his salad thing with crab, asparagus and peas, while Famous Kabab Cuisine in Westfield offers a chickpea-potato salad that’s soupy and sensational. More restaurants need to follow the leads of Richer and Viana and expand their salad scope.
* Exotic ice cream sundaes. Come on, have some fun! Make sauces of chocolates or fruits, artisan ice creams, compotes and spice mixtures to layer and top with flavored house-made whipped creams. Watch eyes light up when served. Delicious and delightful.
* Haute-couture spicing. Though ethnic-influenced spicing is happening in New Jersey, the reality is that only a handful of chefs are truly experimenting with the urfa and Aleppo peppers, as well as the sumac and gochugaru out there.
* Mid-afternoon meals. Once upon a time, I would get together with my dear pal Jim Peterson, the cookbook author, teacher and chef, in the front room of New York’s Gramercy Tavern at the time of day when some choose to nap—either at their desks or in more horizontally appropriate locales. Everything was served—food, wine—peacefully and perfectly. With many folks having flexible work schedules, or looking for alternatives to crowded lunch or dinner restaurant hours, it might be a good idea to open some of the finer dining spaces in our midst from 2 to 4 pm.
So what are the trends you are spotting thus far in 2017? And what would you like to see on menus in our state? Post a comment below or write to me at [email protected] Cheers!Click here to leave a comment