Predictions for what we’ll be eating (and what we won’t) are rolling out, as industry ball-gazers see what’s hot and what’s not.
This week, one of the biggest trend-watchers, Baum + Whiteman, released their forecast for restaurant trends 2016, and they rang pretty true to what we’re seeing around the Bay Area. Here’s a wrap-up of some of the most relevant new trends and “disruptors”, and where you can find them locally.
1. Healthification of fast food: Fast and fast-casual restaurants are ramping up the good stuff and starting to eliminate the bad stuff on their menus. Local vegetarian fast-food concept, Amy’s Drive Thru is at the forefront of the movement. Chains like Chipotle, Panera, Subway and even McDonalds are finding ways to clean up their menus, ridding everything from GMO’s to artificial flavorings.
2. Newish Jewish: Chefs are embracing heritage cuisines like grandma’s matzoh ball soup and homemade bagels. Find bagels, Bialy’s and regional specialties like Shakshuka at Goodman’s Jewish Deli (West End Sunday Market, various Friday nights at St. Florians in Windsor). Bird and the Bottle does a take on matzoh ball soup with ramen broth and smoked chicken.
3. Veggies Rule: Plant-based dishes are gaining traction as consumers seek out healthier options when eating out. With the luxe produce in our region, its not hard to create impressive meat-free dishes that still taste delicious. Seed on the go, Seed to Leaf in downtown Santa Rosa.
4. Poke is the new Sushi: Hawaiian-style poke is having its moment. Typically a mix of ahi tuna, sesame oil, chilis, sesame seeds and soy sauce, its Hawaiian-style tuna tartare. We love it at Santa Rosa Seafood, along with an Asian-style tuna tartare at John Ash and Co., Belly Left Coast Kitchen and can’t wait to try rock cod poke at the recently-opened Ninebark in Napa.
5. Globalized Ramen: I’ve caught the ramen bug. Though Sonoma County has had various versions at sushi restaurants for years (and lo, how we miss the perfect ramen at the-before-its-time Shimo in Healdsburg), this Japanese noodle soup is getting easier to find. Ramen Gaijin is the place for obsessively authentic ramen, but we also love the pork ramen at Shige Sushi.
6. Seaweed is the new Kale: Move over kale, because seaweed is finding its way into everything. With huge health benefits, sustainability and a briny flavor that more Americans are learning to love, one of our favorite ways to eat it? Snacks. We’re obsessed with the local and Seaweed Bakin’ from The Great and Wonderful Sea of Change Trading Co. from Windsor. The small company hand-harvests locally in the late spring, as well as sourcing from other sustainable sources.
7. Tipping Is Out, Living Wages are In: There’s been lots of news lately about restaurants ending tipping and adding gratuity of 18% (or more) to the checks in order to provide living wages for their employees. There’s been lots of backlash from restaurant-goers in the past, but the tide seems to be turning as consumers become more educated. Pullman Kitchen bravely tried it when it opened (and dropped it after a lot of flack), but now Peter Lowell’s is giving it a shot. We think you’ll see more of this trend as consumers get wise to the real costs of restaurants.
8. Dinner to your door: Although chic food and restaurant delivery services like UberEats, Postmates and AmazonPrime Now are focused on larger urban areas, Sonoma County isn’t stranded. Yelp’s Eat24hours.com, FoodToYou.com, and PetalumaFoodTaxi.com will deliver from a list of restaurant partners to deliver everything from cookies to barbecue.
Want something more personalized? Chef-driven meal delivery services like Ruthy’s Real Meals are finding a niche, offering vegetarian, vegan and omnivorous entrees. If you’re willing to pick-up, we’re fans of Three Leaves Foods’ seasonally-inspired menus. We’re also hearing great stuff about meal-in-a-box delivery services like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Mark Bittman’s Purple Carrot and Plated.com. What once seemed a luxury has become a fast way to hang on to the tradition of a family meal.
Here are a few more buzz words you’ll be seeing: Falafel appearing as vegetables in serious restaurants. Kombucha going mainstream. Burnt vegetables. “Shack” in restaurant names. Everything bagel seasoning mix. Root-to-stalk cooking. Adding seaweed to popcorn. More automation and kiosks in fastfood, fast-casual restaurants … speeding service, saving labor. 3-D food printers. General Tso flavorings. Alcoholic beverages in quick-service restaurants. Paella. Fast feeders complicating their lives by adding build-your-own options. Values, not value … consumers scrutinizing restaurants’ policies on health-wellness, sustainability, additives, GMO, animal welfare, Nashville Hot Chicken. Fallout in frozen yogurt chains … juice bars may be next. Food halls galore — maybe too many. War on food waste. What happened to bone broth? Philippine cuisine.