Welcome to a whole new year in eating. What’s on the horizon? BiteClub dusts off the crystal ball and gazes forward toward food trends and tragedies for 2009.
- Cooking at home: Expect to see the crock pot reappear. Those of us too busy (or just to lazy) to cook are getting new incentive as the economy tightens. Related to a sweeping return to the dinner-table, expect to be invited to more potluck parties (who can afford to host anymore?); tomatoes and lettuce taking the place of flowers in the garden and more veggie-centric dishes (as meat prices rise).
- Comfort classics: Restaurateurs around the country are already changing up their menus to reflect more homey classics like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, fish & chips mashed potatoes and fried chicken. Local favorites: Zin Restaurant, Cafe Saint Rose, Humble Pie. Stay tuned for: Jackson’s in Santa Rosa. Related: Heritage eating, pub grub.
- Chinese Food: Trendy eaters all but gave up on sweet and sour chicken and fried rice in favor of the more exotic Thai and Vietnamese pantry over the last few years. Smart Chinese restaurant owners are catching on, however, altering their menus to reflect healthier choices, more authentic regional cuisine and good values. Local favorites: China Room, Fresh China.
- Heritage Eating: Communal tables or bistro dining on filling, economical foods that sustained many of our ancestors including hearty pasta dishes, offal and other non-usual bits of meat, German/Eastern European food, homestyle Mexican dishes. Local favorites: Restaurant Eloise, Diavola/Santi, Estate, Las Palmas, Cafe Europe. Related: Pub grub.
- A la carte, prix fixe, locals night: Many higher-end restaurants in Wine Country are enticing locals with a la carte or lower cost fixed price menus — a sort of welcome mat for folks who might not otherwise be looking to indulge. Local favorites: Della Fattoria, French Garden. Related: Haute lunch.
- Haute Lunch: Some restaurants serve similar (if not identical) dishes throughout the day, but may offer smaller (more reasonably priced) portions during the day. It’s also a great opportunity to try out a restaurant . Local favorites: Bistro 29, Restaurant Eloise, K&L Bistro.
- Service with a smile: You can’t run, you can’t hide. Hounded by increasing numbers of bloggers, Yelper’s, critics (both professional and otherwise) and a cash-strapped public, restaurants will hear the message loud and clear this year: Serve us well or else. We expect to see restaurants bending over backwards to attract and keep customers. Those that don’t will be in serious trouble. Tops for service: Cyrus, Farmhouse Inn.
- Pub Grub: Beer is the official drink of 2009. Taverns see a resurgence as economical entertainment destinations, especially when their kitchens serve more than just microwaved cheese sticks and pretzels. Local favorites: Barley and Hops (Occidental), Toad in the Hole, Hopmonk Tavern.
- Lamb: Lamb belly is the new bacon. Though it has a gamier flavor and apparently isn’t as crisp as its porcine cousin, savvy chefs are starting to pull off the pork goggles.
- Seafood: Fish and shellfish have become downright confusing. Concerns over mercury content, quality control at overseas shrimp and fish “farms” and ocean sustainability paired with rising prices have many confused over this supposedly healthy alternative to red meat. Stay tuned for: GG’s Seafood in downtown Santa Rosa.
- Pork: No, piggy goodness will never go away, but pork got a little too in awe of itself in 2008. Over-hyping of heritage breeds, special-order hams, do-it-yourself salumi, website odes to bacon and a little too much silliness (gummy bacon? really?) leads to introspection and a hype-down of the other white meat in 2009. Pig returns with a vengeance in ’10.
- Coffee: The health benefits of tea are making this warm sip the hipper choice. But can a nation of broke, laid-off, over-stressed people really run on chai? Don’t expect coffee to bow out anytime soon. Do expect to see shorter lines for $4 lattes and more folks asking for plain old coffee. Local favorites: Aroma Roasters, Flying Goat, Holy Roast.
What’s on the fence…
- Overpriced food: Is it organic? Is it local? Is it sustainable? Who cares if you can’t pay for it. All the ridiculous hand-wringing will get a much-needed dose of reality this year when people ask, “Is it in my budget?” Related: Fussy Menus.
- Fussy Menus: Eaters’ tolerance for name-dropping on overblown menus was already waning, but 2009 should be the year that chefs get over telling us about their food’s pedigree. Just make it taste good and let us decide if we want to have a personal relationship with your farmer.
- Fusion anything: Mixing and matching cuisines was fun in the 1990s. Related: “Ultra” anything. Yikes.
- Silly martinis: Yes,
they’re tasty but it’s time to trade up to a serious drink. Like a real martini. Or a Manhattan. Or a gin and tonic. Or rehab.