Doritos Loco TacoRestaurant dining (or, more generally, paying for food someone else cooked) always provides a fascinating glimpse into what's hot on the culinary landscape. Here's what popped up on our radar this year in 2012:
- Forget Wine, Pass the Beer: Wine bars cooled off and gastropubs were the place to spend a relaxed night out with friends in 2012. No longer relegated to being the star attraction at bars and dives, craft beers are getting their turn on the big stage with casual eateries focusing on cooking fantastic food to go with fantastic beer. From Marc Vetri's Alla Spina (Italian for "on tap") in Philadelphia to Southern Pacific Brewing in San Francisco and Turner's Yard in Pembroke, MA., diners have discovered the sophisticated complexities of beer and how delicious it can be with high quality food.
Post-Modern Asian Fusion: Does the term, "Asian Fusion" conjure up images of almost every single trendy eatery you frequented in the late 90s? Well, forget what you think "Asian Fusion" means. In 2012, we saw the term morph into another beast entirely and though few would think to use this dated term anymore (at least not positively), it is what we saw a lot of on the restaurant scene in 2012. From Japadog (hot dogs topped with Japanese dishes like yakisoba and tonkatsu) opening its first US location in NYC in January to Mission Chinese Food bringing its unique takes on greasy Chinese American food (kung pao pastrami, anyone?) from the West Coast to the East Coast, not to mention the expansion of Red Farm in NYC (pastrami egg rolls), this ain't yo' mama's Asian Fusion.
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- Exciting Meal Out ≠ Restaurant: Although eating food someone else cooked outside of a restaurant isn't a new concept (hello, dirty water dog), looking forward to it is. Sure, food trucks seem like old news, but they continue to grow in popularity. There are even TV shows about the food truck scene now. And the outside-the-restaurant trend doesn't stop at food trucks. Forget about shriveled hot dogs spinning on heated rollers at the game. Why not try one topped with artisanal blue cheese and spicy celery slaw or a barbecue brisket banh mi at the new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets? And New Yorkers eagerly await the rebuilding of the 2012 summer boardwalk hit that was Rockaway Beach Eats, where I often skipped laying out on the sand just to hang out at the Caracas Rockaway picnic tables with my friends, a frozen sangria in one hand and a delicious beef arepa (Venezualan sandwich) in the other. This haven of gourmet eats by the sea also offered such delights as fresh fish po'boys and Blue Bottle iced coffee, among others.
- Other Pig Parts: Not content with off-cuts like pork belly anymore (sooooo 2010), chefs are now moving on to other delectable parts of the pig, such as ears, cheeks/jowls, tails, and the skin aka chicharron/cracklins/pork rinds. Consider this an extension of the nose-to-tail-cooking philosophy, which gained mainstream traction in 2009, but has splintered off into more specific movements.
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- Bourbon Cocktails...or Any Cocktail: In 2012, we saw the proliferation of well-crafted cocktails beyond major cities like NY and Chicago. Particularly, drinks featuring bourbon, whiskey, infused gins, and mezcal were all the rage in 2012. Ingredients like bitters, elderflower liqueur, and egg whites are popping up in even the most humble drinking establishments across the country and the concept of a balanced, well crafted drink is slowly supplanting the idea that all cocktails are sugary sweet concoctions to be enjoyed only on girls' nights out.
- More meat!: Touting in-house butchery and "heritage" meat still reigns supreme on restaurant menus. This is becoming so popular in fact that some chefs and restaurant-owners are spinning off to open more casual, specifically butchery- or charcuterie-focused shops (see: Publican Quality Meats in Chicago and Chris Cosentino's PIGG in the Umamicatessen in LA).
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- Fast Food Gone Wild: Striving to outdo themselves, fast food chains really went for it this year with such gems as Dunkin' Donuts Sausage Pancake Bites (they're exactly what they sound like), Taco Bell's wildly popular Doritos Loco Taco (endorsed by NY Times former restaurant critic William Grimes), and Burger King's audacious Bacon Sundae. Oh yeah, did I mention the Pizza Hut Cheesy Bites Pizza that features a pizza with a crust of cheese-stuffed dough balls? Take that, Lipitor!
Did you make any new dining discoveries in 2012? What was your favorite restaurant trend? Let me know in the comments!
-by Sherry RujikarnMore from Good Housekeeping: