Modern takes on Thai cuisine and street-style Indian food will be the hot restaurant trends in 2012, a San Francisco-based hospitality consultant said Tuesday.
Andrew Freeman, principal of consulting and public relations firm Andrew Freeman & Co., predicted a shift toward the exotic in an annual trend-spotting webinar.
Some themes Freeman highlighted are continuing trends that have been gaining steam for the past few years, such as the ongoing interest in grilled cheese, healthful indulgences and the customization of French fries with dipping sauces or style of cut.
On the topic of ethnic food, Freeman called out Thai and Indian concepts, noting that ingredients from those countries are becoming more popular.
For example, Thai-style issan sausages are popping up on menus. Some restaurants in San Francisco are even offering ghost peppers, one of the hottest types of chili pepper available, which is favored in India, particularly in the northeastern region around Bangladesh.
“I believe Indian food is really going mainstream,” Freeman said.
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He also noted that Eastern European food is gaining popularity, with Moscow 57 scheduled to be opened in New York by Ellen Kaye, the daughter of one of the owners of the famed Russian Tea Room.
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Freeman offered the following predictions and observations of restaurant innovations:
• Wild ice creams and veggies for dessert: Savory flavors like bacon and lobster, as well as vegetables and unusual spices, are appearing in house-made ice creams.
At Murray Circle in Sausalito, Calif., for example, a pear dessert is served with licorice sabayon, pear confit, candied beets and sourdough ice cream. At Max and Mina’s in Queens, N.Y., ice cream is flavored with grass and horseradish.
In San Francisco, Atelier Crenn offers a Douglas fir ice cream pop, which is served over smoking dry ice with fresh Douglas fir nettles.
• Hand-pulled noodles: Celebrity chef Martin Yan plans to open a new concept in San Francisco in February 2012, where a noodle chef will twist and pull lumps of dough into strands of thin noodles using only his hands.
• Infusions and cocktails on tap: Chefs and bartenders have long added flavors to booze, but Freeman noted some unique offerings, such as vodka infused with the flavors of a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich, and beer infused with fruit.
Zwack, a liqueur made in Hungary with a blend of herbs and spices, is also appearing on bar lists, he said, as is Bärenjäger, a honey-flavored liqueur.
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Others are pouring jallab, a Middle Eastern drink made with date syrup mixed with water and flavored with rosewater.
Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., offers cask-aged Negronis on tap. The move allows for quicker service and barrel aging can add complexity to the beverage, Freeman said.
• New ingredients: Freeman predicts the Dutch dark treacle syrup known as stroop will soon catch on in the U.S. He points to the restaurant Vandaag in New York, where stroop syrup spikes a potato dish with bacon, apple and grilled chicory.
Other menu items Freeman says will gain popularity next year:
• “Snow ice,” a version of shaved ice cream imported from Taiwan
• Schnitzel sandwiches
• House-made flavored marshmallows
• Lamb belly
• Goose eggs
• The use of crispy skin, whether from pork, chicken or fish.