Not that we think the industry gathers en masse at the start of each year to determine the du jour dish is going to be hot chicken, but there’s no denying—a handful of food themes tend to dominate the restaurant world every 365 days or so. And these are the trends that shaped 2016, from wood-fired everything, to a campaign against waste.
Waste Not Want Not
Dan Barber set the stage with his WastED pop-up last year (featuring menus showcasing overlooked byproducts within the food system) and a bunch of Brooklyn restaurants took the bait, making it their mission to significantly reduce waste year-round. 21 Greenpoint offers a special set meal on Sundays, exhibiting inventive use of stockpiled scraps (though reducing their footprint is a regular pursuit: witness the signature Ugly Vegetable Snack—a tableau of rejected produce and veggie top pesto). And Sunday in Brooklyn isn’t trying to be cute with off-beat ingredients like celtuce brine and beer whey, merely taking nose-to-tail to the next level by using pickle juice to flavor martinis, and home brew residue to bind beef tartare (additional kudos to a savory morning pastry, packed with abandoned tidbits of ham). Sadly, the compost-happy Cynical Schnauzer proved short-lived, but we hope others take a cue from their concept, transforming leftovers accrued from their catering business into dishes worthy of a sit-down restaurant.
When They Go Low, We Get High
Believe it or not, the low ABV (alcohol by volume) trend isn’t some dastardly ruse, designed to deprive patrons of their bought and paid for buzz. Nuanced, botanical-forward liquors like vermouth, sherry and amaro are merely a new favorite of bartenders, allowing them to create more complex, multi-layered libations than vodka, whiskey or gin. The proliferation of aperol spritzes is also part of the appropriation of the European tradition of aperitivo; a leisurely, steady consumption of easy-drinking cocktails, that pair particularly well with food. So go on and get low at Sauvage (try the “Riding Tigers” with sparkling wine, peach pisco and armagnac), Olmsted (the “Red Grape” with cognac, angostura and port), Le Boudier (“Sans Culottes” with vermouth and campari) and August Laura, an Italian cocktail bar in Carroll Gardens, flush with amaretto sours, amari and a lambrusco/limoncello concoction called “You Always Remember Your First.”
Since restaurants can scarcely survive on dinner service alone nowadays, a number of new establishments have diversified—emerging as veritable nesting dolls of concepts within concepts. In addition to offering traditional, sit-down dining in their three-story location, Sunday in Brooklyn provides counter-order breakfast and lunch, a communal workspace, and a Gjusta-inspired marketplace—where visitors can stock up on house-smoked meat, house-brined pickles and house-cured fish. And when Gowanus’s A&E Supply Co. is operating at full capacity, it will be every bit as eclectic, featuring a seasonal restaurant (run by Top Chef alum Adam Harvey), as well as a butcher shop, cheese shop, coffee counter, and local brew-dispensing bar. Other spots have just sought to spread their wings creatively; witness the Japanese speakeasy carved from a corner of Walter’s (the semi-secret Karasu, where Kyoto-inspired small plates lurk behind an unmarked door), and Josephina, a taco pop-up in The Pines backyard, accessed through a side alley.
Burn, Baby, Burn
Thanks to recent allowances in NYC code, regulating the use of wood-burning ovens in enclosed spaces, more restaurants than ever are going up in smoke, swelling the ranks of established fire-starters like Franny’s, Speedy Romeo and Reynard. Cords of wood climb the walls at Lilia, ready to stoke the stoves for grilled clams, roasted trumpet mushrooms and fennel-crusted lamb leg steak, and a walk past the William Vale allows a surreptitious peep into the kitchens at Leuca, where a Naples-imported Acuto oven stands center stage. Most of the menu is imbued with smoke at Barano, from whole branzino to honeynut squash to pizza (the tomatoes take a pass through the ovens too, before being squeezed into sauce), and the same is true for the locally-sourced obsessed Gristmill, as well as ESH during its run as an Israeli BBQ spot. Wood is also to thank for the swirling rotisseries at Beasts & Bottles in Brooklyn Heights—bedecked with various varieties of heritage-breed chickens; including Indiana-raised cluckers via Crystal Valley farm, and free-range French Sassos from Lancaster County, PA.
Pizza Pizza (and Pasta)
Where there’s (wood) smoke, there’s generally pizza, which is why Brooklyn’s position as pie capital of the world was reinforced multiple times this year. Gristmill, Leuca and Barano (opened by Rubirosa’s longtime pizzaiolo) are all notable new dough-slingers, as are Ops (serving sourdough rounds in Bushwick), Lady’s (offering honey butter-chile pie near the Barclay’s Center), Brooklyn Pizza Crew (adding a new-school twist to the old-school slice in Crown Heights), Emmy Squared (an alluring Williamsburg ode to frico-crusted, Detroit-style pan pies) and even Screamers, Greenpoint’s saving grace for vegans (seitan pepperoni and almond parmesan, anyone?) With rustic Italian food at the forefront (pasta’s an equally big deal at most of the aforementioned places, along with Fort Greene’s LaRina Pastificio & Vino, a veritable temple of noodles), it’s easy to connect the dots still further on the popularity of aperitivi—Leuca, LaRina and Lady’s all boast impressive amaro programs.