We food writers are a cranky bunch. Given today's blog cycle and demand for daily conversation, any small nuance of the dining world is fodder for essay-length dissection, usually of the negative variety. We don't like small plates. We don't like communal dining. We think wine prices are rising. We're sick of Mason jars. We think our dislike of tasting menus is worthy of multi-thousand word articles comparing chefs to murderous dictators.
The tone of the conversation is getting me down. It feels as though we're all just searching for the teeniest things to complain about, all the time. Maybe we ought to try harder to find things to be grateful for in this thrilling, ever-growing, amazing time to be in the food business.
With that in mind, we present: 5 Food Trends We're Thankful For, in an attempt to balance out the whining a little. These are the things from the food world that add to our love of the scene, rather than peevish things that annoy us. Enjoy.
5. Amazing vegetables have become ubiquitous.
Thanks to the farm-to-table tidal wave, veggies are better, fresher, and more varied than ever on all parts of a menu. The latest offshoot of that trend is the elevation of the “sides” portion of a menu. It wasn't that long ago that vegetable sides were usually only offered at steakhouses and fancy restaurants, and even then they were often confined to asparagus, mashed potatoes, and maybe broccoli. Now, almost every new restaurant, regardless of genre, has a long and thoughtful list of vegetable sides, and often the chefs have taken just as much care with them as they have with the meat dishes. Sunchokes, romanesco cauliflower, heirloom carrots and turnips are all commonplace, so much so that it feels almost obvious to point it out. This is something for which we should be insanely grateful.
4. Service is getting better:
When fine dining died (or at least took a major hit), good service went with it. So much of great service had been an offshoot of fine dining — true service professionals came up in an era when the test of a fantastic waiter was things like which side you served from and whether you knew how to fold napkins elaborately. When the casual revolution happened, it's as if many restaurants didn't know how to provide good service without those formal trappings, and we devolved into an era of “Hi, my name's Mark and I'll be taking care of you this evening. Have you dined with us before?” There's still far too much of that kind of scripted service, but recently I've noticed more and more places with relaxed waiters who know food and wine, can talk about it competently, are genuinely enthusiastic, and make sure you have everything you need without the crutch of a canned, fake-sounding script. A couple of examples of great, casual service I've had recently: Superba Snack Bar, where the waitress' enthusiasm for wine and food was infectious, and Cortez, where the welcome was very much like being fussed over by an adoring aunt.
3. Stinky fish are back in style:
Ten years ago, it was considered a gamble to put any fish on the menu outside of halibut, salmon, tuna or trout. In the meantime, more and more fish have become common on menus, and finally recently we're seeing sardines, mackerel, and other delicious oily fishy fish become commonplace. Good places to get your fishy fill? Bestia, for grilled sardines, Sotto for grilled mackerel.
2. Drinking is getting better across the board:
The cocktail revolution has had plenty of press (although, truly, if there's one single thing that's made upscale dining 200 times better in the last few years, that's it), but drinking is better on just about every front. Wine lists are getting more interesting, stranger, cooler, with more restaurants willing to take chances on young, unconventional winemakers and odd, obscure wines. Refreshing, low-alcohol ciders are showing up on more and more menus. Even on the non-alcoholic side things are looking up. One of my favorite trends is the house-made soda — Alma, Baco Mercat and others are making stunning, produce-driven non-alcoholic drinks.
1. The artificial distinction between “ethnic” food and mainstream dining is falling away:
It's hardly an original thought, but it is perhaps the best thing to happen over recent years: the purveyors of international foods beyond Europe are getting recognized on the same level as American, French and Italian chefs. This is thanks mainly to the food-obsessed children of immigrants, raised in America on the cuisine of their parents' homelands, now presenting it to their own homeland, either unadulterated or mixed up with America's influence. In L.A., we can be thankful for chefs like Roy Choi, and Night + Market's Kris Yenbamroong, who recently made it onto the James Beard shortlist for Rising Star chef. These chefs are paving the way for kids from L.A.'s international communities to step up and take the limelight. Imagine the possibilities — a restaurant community where the Middle East, Africa, and beyond are represented in the way Yenbamroong represents Northern Thailand, or Ricardo Zarate represents Peru.
If you have an idea for something we should be especially grateful for, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org. Because while I may well return to peevishness occasionally (see my recent whiny rant about live tweeting TV for an example), I'd like to make an effort to call out the good stuff as much as possible. This is a golden era of eating, and for that we are truly thankful.
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