Food & Drink

Chew On This!

I've just been reading a report by Baum & Whiteman Co., an international restaurant consulting firm, predicting the top 11 dining trends for the coming year (you can read the entire report at www.baumwhiteman.com). I thought it might be fun to share their list with you, along with my reaction. Bear in mind that these guys are based in New York, and we're -- well, we're not.

1. Speed trumps everything. Evidently, "millions of people" will be text-messaging their food orders from their cell phones while on their way to the restaurant. If you're dining in, waiters will watch you calculate their tip as they swipe your credit card tableside. Will the joys of the electronic revolution never cease?

2. Exploiting the niches. Restaurants with a focused, highly specialized offering are on the upswing. Seviche bars, cupcake shops, falafel joints, breakfast cereal specialists and chocolaterias are hot. And, according to Baum & Whiteman, "rice pudding shops just won't go away." Really? Rice pudding?

3. Gastro-bartenders. At one end of the spectrum, mixologists (as they're calling themselves nowadays) are teaming up with pastry chefs to make "cocktails" that you can eat. At the other, "healthy" cocktails made with organic fruit juices, vegetable purées and vitamin-laced sports drinks are all the rage. Hmm, wonder if those healthy drinks come with a "no hangover" guarantee?

4. Nutritional scoring. Look for a push to extend nutritional information from supermarket shelves to menus in restaurants. Do you really want to know how many fat grams are in that fettuccine Alfredo?

5. Innards and odd parts. "Is tongue the next lamb shank?" Or tails, shanks, bellies or cheeks? Let's hope, at least, that the "testicle festivals held in otherwise obscure hamlets" don't catch on.

6. Dessert restaurants opened by pastry chefs. And featuring show-off dishes such as foie gras with bitter chocolate, and smoked trout caviar with rosemary biscuit and corn-crème fraîche ice cream. Even the big city consultants concede, "this trend may go nowhere."

7. Wacky ice creams. I'll pass on the tuna tartare with wasabi ice cream and the cantaloupe sorbet with lavender-cured pork, thanks. But paletas, the Mexican popsicles that are locally represented by the excellent Locopops -- I'll definitely second that one.

8. Gastronomy for children. Think cooking classes for kids, menus that offer child-size portions of regular menu items and expensive "enhanced" waters packaged in bottles that can be reused as toys. The first two sound great, but I'm wondering what a kid is going to do with a year's accumulation of empty plastic bottles shaped like rockets?

9. Hamburgers go over the top. Daniel Boulud's famously extravagant burger with braised short ribs and foie gras has blazed the trail for a whole herd of imitators, inevitably leading to Wendy's Baconator burger and Hardee's Philly Cheesesteak Monster Thickburger. Ah, progress.

10. Small is still big, but for how long? "Tapas-style restaurants in a handful of cities have reverted to conventional menus as customers discover they're actually spending more and often getting less. Look for more menus trying to have it both ways -- with small- and large-size portions." Um, most of the small-plate restaurants in our area have already thought of that.

11. Ethical eating and getting the junk out of food. Local, organic, fair trade -- pretty much any food that can claim to be good for your body and/or the planet -- will be hotter than ever. At the same time, Molecular Gastronomy (the avant-garde cuisine that transforms foods into foams, fumes and such) is adding more and more chemicals to food. Oh, and "there's a potential backlash against bottled water." See item No. 8 above.

Does this list make you long for life in the fast lane? Or are you, like me, content with your not-so-trendy existence here in the Triangle? Share your thoughts on my blog, where I've set up an entry titled "Dining Trends for 2008." You'll find it at http://blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean/.

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