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MenuMasters: Trend-setting dishes for autumn

Apples, chicken thighs and gussied up grilled cheese sandwiches are poised for success this fall

Contrary to popular complaints, pumpkin spice season isn’t the same every year, and not just because it now starts in mid-August. Restaurants across the country continue to innovate with variations on the theme using different fall flavors such as oatmeal cookie and cinnamon roll. This year the fall flavor of choice seems to be apple, as seen in the latest seasonal offer from the creator of the autumn spice trend, Starbucks.

This also seems to be the autumn of grilled cheese, as toasted sandwiches with melted dairy sprout up as seasonal limited-time offers.

Chicken wings continue to fly out of restaurant kitchens at increasing speed, driving up prices and motivating operators to find new parts of the bird to sell. Chicken thighs can be problematic because they are not produced in the consistent shapes and sizes that breasts and wings are, but Wingstop has seen enough success with its virtual concept Thighstop that it has brought the product onto its regular menu.

Fried chicken is by no means just an American favorite. Japanese karaage — a term for anything dusted in flour and fried, but it’s usually chicken — is a longstanding custom and one that we’re seeing more of in the United States. Jinya Ramen Bar now serves it as an accompaniment to one of its noodle soups.

Fall is also grape harvest season, a fact that Carrabba’s Italian Grill is capitalizing on by offering side-by-side pours of Californian and Italian wines, providing the opportunity for customer engagement, education and upselling.

Fine-dining chefs are becoming increasingly comfortable combining the flavors and techniques of multiple cuisines, and with a finesse that often was missing in the fusion cuisine of the turn of the century. A great example is the Kumiai oyster at Entre Sueños in Chicago.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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