2012 Food, Restaurant and Bar Trends
Happy Holidays from The Minty!
I’m off next week and spending time with friends and family. Lots of new blog posts and events will be posted next year. In the meantime, please enjoy this article I originally wrote for an online magazine. It folded before it was published. I wrote this about 6 months ago and so things may have changed ever so slightly (like Ink is actually open now).
2012 Food, Restaurant and Bar Trends
After traveling around the country, there’s no other food city I want to be in other than Los Angeles. I grew up in Los Angeles and eat out almost every night. I’ve been in the food scene running a dining club and doing food crawls for the last decade. I’ve seen an even stronger interest in food in the last few years. People talk about New York and San Francisco as great food cities however L.A. is more diverse. Celebrity chefs have been going to Las Vegas for years to open their restaurants but more are coming to L.A. It’s a wild time to start a restaurant. The most anticipated restaurant opening had to been celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio’s ink.
While the idea of cooking with local ingredients isn’t a new concept (hi, Alice Waters), the public is starting to care about where their food comes from. We like “local” food. We get excited about farmers’ market driven menus. Other catch phrases such as “farm-to-table,” “sustainable,” “humanely-raised,” “locally sourced,” and “locavore” have been tossed around. These seemed to have surpassed the phrase “organic.” Yet, what do these mean? Restaurants tell us they want to be more thoughtful about where they’re buying food from. And if they can, they will make as much as they can in-house including house-made sauces. If there’s room, they grow herbs and vegetables on the premises. Often the farm names are included in menu descriptions. It is a badge of honor to say this piece of lamb came from a farm less than a hundred miles from the busy city of Los Angeles.
We’re going to continue to see more farm-to-table restaurants like The Lazy Ox Canteen and what I consider New American cuisine such as The Gorbals and Son of a Gun. Restaurants are serving more than bacon and pork belly and going for cuts like tongue, trotter and offal. It’s LA’s version of “head to tail.” We’ll also see comfort foods like fried chicken, deviled eggs and mac and cheese show up on more menus.
Gastropubs marry the concept of good brews with good pub food. The idea grew out of England and took root on Yankee soil with good old-fashioned American comfort food. I see Animal and restaurants of that caliber as the next generation of a gastropub. This year, I went to Spuntino, a restaurant in London, that reminded me of restaurants in Portland, Oregon. It turns out the owners had based their restaurant on New York gastropubs. This cultural exchange and second generation gastropub is exactly the sort of trend we will see more of in L.A. It’s already happening with the recent opening of Rosewood, touted as a chop house.
And then there are the cooks who start underground supper clubs. Some are home cooks and some went to culinary school like Craig Thorton of Wolvesmouth. They have access to stellar ingredients from local farmers’ markets and specialty shops like butchers McCall’s and Lindy and Grundy. Like restaurant chefs, home cooks are making things from scratch. People are not just cooking but gardening, canning and pickling– even home butchering. They are foraging for wild herbs, ramps, and flowers for salads. And urban “markets” are springing up where people can trade homemade goods and an abundance of produce.
Pop-ups are incredibly hip these days. Well-known chefs or those trying to be known are taking on pop-ups doing one-off themed nights or a series of dinners. And we can’t mention pop-ups without talking about Chef Ludo Lefebvre. Ludobites selling out reservations in mere minutes is incredible. Chef Laurent Quenioux cooking a 5-course meal at Starry Kitchen must be one of the most affordable tasting menus around. Other special events that aren’t necessarily pop-ups but fall in the realm include guest chef nights or prix-fixe meals to generate interest for restaurants.
Los Angeles has always been a mobile town. We don’t blink when we drive more than 15 minutes for good food. We will even drive for a food truck. By now, most know the story of the Kogi truck, a food truck serving Korean-Mexican fusion. Using social media and particularly Twitter, it grew from one truck to five and spawned a couple of brick and mortar restaurants for founder Roy Choi. A trend within a trend would be trucks like Heirloom Truck serving a menu they call “farm to truck.” Food trucks are now going strong in L.A. with about 200 trucks on the streets.
Fine dining has been on a decline in L.A. After the closing of some recent major players including Bastide, the people in L.A. are looking for something more. There are some hold-outs, of course such as Melisse and Providence (it’s French if they serve foie gras, right?). I hope they never close because I love them. Although we’ve seen so many Italian restaurants open in recent months, the buzz is definitely on casual, yet trendy New American eateries. Look out for communal tables! My favorite new Italian restaurant this year is Sotto.
Yet we have “high-end modern ethnic” restaurants like WP24, Red O and Red Medicine. The concept is great but hard to really accept when we have so many wonderful low-end, flavorful and delicious ethnic restaurants. But there is a place for high-end modern ethnic because these incorporate custom cocktail programs in addition to wine programs. It seems incomplete if a restaurant doesn’t offer craft cocktails, custom-made by an acclaimed mixologist.
I would love to see more places like Night + Market, a Thai street food restaurant attached to Talesai, its mother restaurant that serves more familiar Thai food. Night + Market serves interesting food, has a great wine and beer list, is in the heart of Hollywood and you can always order from the Talesai menu. Sang Yoon’s Lukshon and Picca from Ricardo Zarate are high end modern ethnic restaurants done right.
If people are interested in good food, they are usually interested in good drinks. Watch for bar star mixologists, craft cocktail bars and new wine bars. The L.A. food scene is enjoying a renaissance of classic cocktails and innovative drinks made from the same fresh produce and spices chefs are using. Bartenders are shopping alongside chefs at farmers’ markets, looking for unusual ingredients to utilize into their cocktails. Mixologist Matt Biancaniello from the Library Bar visits several farmers’ markets during the week and buys spices from the Spice Station in Silver Lake for his cocktails.
Wine bars are attracting a thirsty crowd who see wine tastings as not only opportunities to learn about wine but it’s also great entertainment. Inexpensive tastings on slower nights engage the local community. Craft beer is also on the rise. Like coffee snobs, oenophiles or cocktailians, beer enthusiasts are passionate about their liquid of choice.
It’s really a fantastic time to live in Los Angeles right now. Between farmers’ markets, supper clubs, pop-up restaurants, special events and food festivals, there are many ways to explore the food scene in L.A.
The Minty’s Favorite posts from 2011
Bars & Drinks:
69 Colebrooke Row in London
Experimental Cocktail Club in London
Jub Jub at Callooh Callay in London
Feng Mao– or the beginning of an emerging extreme foodie
Hop Woo– or the bull’s penis soup and rooster testicles post (cock and balls dinner)
Wraps & Rolls – my salvation for work lunches