The year’s top dining trends
Turmeric takes over
A time-tested cold remedy dispensed by Indian grandmothers has become the trendiest of all superfoods. Used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine to treat everything from burns to arthritis, turmeric this year made matcha so 2015. It showed up in cafés mixed with nut milks in golden lattes and in coldpressed juices, smoothies, and tonics. Though the ginger-like root might not live up to all its marketers’ claims, scientists agree that curcumin, the chemical that colors turmeric, is a potent anti-inflammatory.
The chains keep coming
American cultural imperialism spread fast food to the world, and now the world is giving back. Jollibee, known as the McDonald’s of the Philippines, has capitalized on a mini Filipino food boom, opening to major fanfare in several American cities. In suburban Chicago, rock concert–like crowds turned out, eager to sample Jollibee’s signature Chickenjoy fried chicken, sweet, Filipino-style spaghetti, and Palabok Fiesta noodles. New York saw an invasion of imported Japanese food chains: TsuruTonTan, Wagamama, and Ichiran. Across the country, Korean fried chicken chain Bonchon continued its push into KFC territory, opening in cities from Charlotte to Sacramento.
Wine, the natural way
They’re funky, they’re barnyard-y, and they’re turning the wine world on end. Natural wines gained significantly in popularity this year, befuddling and bewitching sommeliers and casual drinkers alike with their utterly unpredictable flavor profiles. Crafted by producers committed to bio dy namic and organic farming techniques and a prohibition on additives, they differ from conventional wines in that they don’t try to cover up imperfections. But how to drink them? “Let your instinct take over,” Isa belle Legeron, a wine educator who organized the touring Raw Wine fair, told The New York Times. “There’s a communication with them, because they are so full of life.”
Everything in a bowl
“In the world of eating, bowls are big”—and still growing, said Ellen Byron in The Wall Street Journal. Smoothie bowls for breakfast, poke for lunch, salmon and quinoa for dinner—it all seemed to taste better in 2016 when served in rounded ceramic. Trendy chains like Sweetgreen and established ones like Panera have gone mad for bowls, and they’re not just the vessel of choice for dining out. Fiesta, that purveyor of classic colorful tableware, reported that bowls, after a surge, account for a third of the brand’s total sales. Aesthetics may be the driving factor. As cookbook author Lukas Volger told the New York Post: “The bowl is very Instagram–friendly.”
Taste the rainbow
“Thanks to an onslaught of food coloring,” said Whitney Filloon in Eater.com, “formerly boring meals are [being] transformed into something that looks like a magical unicorn threw up on it, and Instagram is enchanted.” First, camerahappy foodies discovered Brooklyn bagel shop owner Scott Rossillo’s rainbow-dyed bagels. A hashtag was born, and suddenly, anything and everything edible had a neonswirled, psychedelic corollary. Technicolor lattes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and even sushi joined the rainbow coalition.
Chinese cuisine finally looks ready to break out of its budget-dinner ghetto. Cori Xiong and Heng Chen in Houston, Brandon Jew in San Francisco, and Zhu Rong in New York are among the chefs testing the market for high-end Chinese cooking that’s more authentic, more personal, and more befitting a great civilization. “Coming to America and seeing Chinese food so low on the hierarchy, it just didn’t make sense to me,” Eric Sze, of New York’s Tang noodle bar, told NPR. “Chinese food shouldn’t only be cheap anymore.”
If you want to try Sprig in San Francisco or David Chang’s Ando in New York, good luck finding them on Google Maps. Both are virtual restaurants— businesses that prepare and deliver meals and give big-name chefs a way to spin out new culinary concepts without the costs of high rent, fancy furnishings, and armies of servers. Chang is a rookie in this space, and he’s still learning: He tinkered with his cheesesteaks for four months to keep them from going soggy during transit, and reviewers say his other offerings don’t yet travel well. Despite the obstacles, Silicon Valley is throwing millions at deliver-only startups, and Chang and others won’t give up easily. “How the restaurant industry has operated going forward will not work,” said Chang. “The cost structure just doesn’t work. I don’t know what the answers will be, but I’m not going to stand idle.”
The return of posh
Maybe a cost-benefit analysis also explains why opulent dining rooms are making a comeback. After years of working under Edison bulbs and exposed rafters, restaurateurs seeking deep-pocketed patrons are again investing in specialoccasion finery. Atlas in Atlanta, the Saratoga in San Francisco, 71Above in Los Angeles, Antietam in Detroit, and Tom Colicchio’s Fowler and Wells in New York are bringing back the leather, velvet, and gilded touch of yesteryear. “God, it feels good,” said Bill Addison in Eater.com, “to sink into a plush, tufted banquette again.”