Food Trends 2011: Top 10 Predictions

End of the year, 11 hours and 53 minutes until ’11.

Menu set here, versatile and easily changed according to appetites: Goose foie gras, Cape oysters, tobiko, ikura, hiramasa, duck breast, and Waygu style strip.  Turnips, cho-cho, plantain, baby Yukons.  Plymouth gin, Vietnamese shochu, good red, Veuve C.  Pecan pie.  Etc.

My top ten predictions for The World of Food 2011:

1.  With the FDA armed, at last, as of 9/10 and recent, additional measures in Congress, expect to see more high-profile action against companies that say their products have health benefits.  In the U.K., the government has stopped the organic food industry from saying organic food is any healthier.  It’s not.  No evidence.  Expect the same on probiotics, omega-3, and other things of that nature.

2.  We’ll see more restaurants opening that serve inexpensive food that amounts to what’s served on the streets and in the pubs around the globe: Burgers will be this decade’s sushi.

3.  School lunches: The debate will get shrill.  Oprah will step in.  Kids will eat more vegetables at home and veg out on snacks at home.

4.  The top ingredients of 2011 will be: Plantain, okra, Thai basil, taro, and the array of spices from the subcontinent.

5.  The newest and hottest so called ethnic restaurants will be Mexican and Indian.  Mo’ better, that is.  Not that you’ll see me in these restaurants where muddied flavors prevail.

6.  Wishful thinking: Upscale, washoku driven, vegetarian restaurants on every corner!

7.  Home cooks will come to their senses and develop a list of ten recipes so good that they won’t waste their money and compromise their health eating out so often.  Ten dishes.  Ten.

8.  Celebrity cookbooks will appear in greater number.  In Life, Keith Richards’s memoir, he includes a recipe for, “Bangers and Mash.”  Expect to see Lady Gaga’s, “Pasta Puttanesca.”  Remember: You heard it here first.

9.  Food riots: With commodity prices up 26% since 9/10, the cost of staple foodstuffs–rice, bread, potatoes–will be so costly that people will take to the streets in the developing world.

10.  In terms of upscale dining, the top brands will continue their global conquest and dominate the elite’s thinking on food and service.  Paris is in France.  No, no, France is in Paris.

Thai In & Mikhail Khodorkovsky

I’ve been assigned to write a romantic piece for Thai airlines on 10 global spots worth visiting for V-Day.  Having crossed Fort L off the list, that leaves NYC, Calistoga, Siem Reap, Kanazawa, Bern, etc.

Romance is such a funny word.  No accident that Chet Baker sang about his “funny” valentine in that harsh, raspy voice of his.  Actually, first smooth and then, after his teeth were punched and pulled out, raspy.

More to the point: The New Year’s eve countdown.  Don’t ya just love it?  XMAS over, you think you’re free, but then we’ve got another holiday on the horizon.

Plenty of restaurants will give you a good show for your money, but unless you’re away from home, in a new city, why not stay home?

Here we’re talking oysters, hiramasa, ‘shrooms, and little, tiny baby lamb chops with Indian lentils.  Lots of talk, a fire blazing, you know the drill.

In Thailand, meanwhile, it’s love, love, love.

Six years for Mikhail Khodorkovsky?!  What terrible, sad news.  Put down that sandwich and protest!

The Wednesday Food Sections: Radius Review & The Food Riots of ’11

The Food sections today were odd: End of the year, I reckon, so we’re talking lacksadaisical at best.  Or: Feckless as we say ’round here.

Still, here’s our close, penetrating analysis:

The Boston Globe

The reviewer writes about Radius.  The reviewer gives Radius three out of four stars.  The reviewer writes, “Tuna tartare was so fresh you could taste the fish’s last quiver.”   Leaving aside the fact that tuna is flash frozen, has anyone here ever tasted a quiver?  What, I wonder, is the tastiest quiver you’ve ever enjoyed and why?  Prize of a tuna quiver for the best answer.

The reviewer continues and notes pleasure taken in, “Robuchon potatoes.”  By this we’re sure she means potatoes cooked in the style of Joël Robuchon: Tiny Yukon golds peeled and boiled in salted water, put through a sifter, and whipped with butter.  Why go to Radius to eat a knock-off?

The mystery is the three stars.  The reviewer, just before signing off, describes the gnocchi as, “leaden,” the monkfish as, “greasy,” and, the calamari as coming with, “burned garlic.”  With the least expensive entree, she notes, at $32, why is the restaurant given three stars?

The reviewer concludes by noting a phone interview with chef-owner Michael Schlow who waxes about a new Mexican restaurant he is opening this Spring.  The reviewer wonders, given Chef Schlow’s interest in rustic Italian and now Mexican food, would he do it again?  Would he open Radius as his first restaurant?

Well, of course, he would.  For one thing, it’s doing well.  Or: It would close.  Pickings are slim lunchtime in its location in the Financial District for those out to impress.  For another thing, no Armani Exchange without an upscale Armani store.  Meaning: It’s Schlow’s brand.  It gives credibility to his low-key establishments.

The New York Times

More or less a solid round-up of dishes and new restaurants.  Why the reviewer included Osteria Morini is a mystery given his diss in a recent review, but happy to see he included Maialino though no doubt it’ll be harder than ever to get a table.

The best food story in either paper was in neither Food section.

Page 2 in the NYT Business section: “Food prices face a perilous rise.”  From 6/10-11/10, wheat, corn, and rice commodity prices rose 26%.  While this means nothing to chowhounds, gourmands, and foodies, the impact is felt and will be harsher in communities and nations of poverty.   Why is this happening?  The article notes: “First, investors have bought exposure to commodities as an economic hedge.  Second, the price of foodstuffs has been bid up as low interest rates reduce the opportunity cost of hoarding them…”

The article wonders about riots and protests as people starve…maybe we can call in The Iron Chef!  He’d know what to do, I know he would.


Hi-Rise Bakery and Upstairs in the Square: Reviews

Storm warnings were on the money, spot on, exactly right.  So, buried under, we built fires and thought of game.

The very next morning, Bernese Mountain Dog in tow, we walked over to Hi-Rise for an uncharacteristic bite.  The place was nearly empty of customers.  Three people, two women and a man, in their fifties, chatted about the loss of a dog that had belonged to one of them.  A deuce behind us read papers like a pair of Trappists.  My quiche was delicious.  The scone eaten by my PIC (Partner in Crime) was equally good.  “We’re lucky to have a place like this in the neighborhood,” said my PIC.  Indeed, were it not for the plastic flatware and paper plates, Hi-Rise would be #1 in my book.  Still, it joins the ranks of Iggy’s and Flour proving once and for all that Boston is baked.

Later, mid-day, eager to enjoy the snow and bluster, we made our way to Harvard Square: Pretty much deserted.  Harvest closed, Casablanca closed, my PIC lacking interest in things Asian, we walked into Upstairs in the Square, the downstairs area, where a fire was blazing and Mary Catherine, a co-owner, was showing around a bride and groom to-be.  We were seated in the adjacent room, which is shaped like a railway car, and given water and menus.  The waiter returned to tell us of the day’s Prix Fixe: A brie and pear soup followed by a steak sandwich and dessert.  Brie and pear soup?  Whose idea was that?  Does that sound yukky or what?  Nine year old loose in the kitchen?  Anyhow, it was a rare cheeseburger for me and a salmon club for the PIC.  The burger came medium: Gray, meat tasting like choice, raw bacon on top.  The club was OK.  Just OK.  OK?  I said it was OK.  So that left us with service: Very nice.  Very, very nice.  Loved the eyeroll when he mentioned the soup.  And ambience: Peeling purple paint, good jazz, and a pleasant vibe.

All in all, I’d return to both restaurants, despite the qualms.

At Hi-Rise, the food trumps all.  At Upstairs in the Square, that vibe is, indeed, pleasant.

The Kitchen is Closed

I closed the kitchen early last night due to the storm.  As a result, people had to fend for themselves.  Pretty?  It wasn’t.

We’re talking wings remaining from the Pats blowout, lamb with parsley leftovers from XMAS on sesame seeded buns, and who knows what else?

Today, what with the white out, it’ll be hummus from scratch with the garbanzos having been kept overnight, turkey chili, and whatever else the squirrels can bring to the party.  Nuts, right?

Venturing out, I’m seeking Chinese food or, even better, Korean.   Top suggestion wins a box of Oookie-Wook’s, to quote the old man in his heyday.

Free Food!

Panic in the streets.  A storm is looming and, armed with shovels, we are at the doorway, near the alleys, ready to battle The White Demons, as they say ’round these parts.   A freezer of fish, ground turkey, and pork ribs…will it be enough?

It will not be enough.

So moments from now…just moments…I will venture to Russo’s to deal with the manic crowds who will be in the aisles as if the food is free.

It’s not free.  Nothing is free.  Everything has its price, whether it’s the Ukrainian pole dancer, the package of chicken thighs, or the basket of fruit.

We’ll stock up: Lemons, mushrooms, scallions, leeks, tangerines, cheese, chicken…

Scary times we live in, foreboding.  Gloom and doom!

I’ll need to get online later to order food to be shipped up: Zabar’s & Barney Greengrass.

Please Come Home For Christmas

Well, the kids didn’t get the tree, but there is a wreath and last night was The Feast of the Four Nippon Fishes, which actually turned into more of an izakaya kind of meal: su mai, shredded turnip cakes, broiled salmon collar,broiled hamachi, udon noodles in black bean sauce, fried tofu, and Japanese chicken.

At 7:45: A drive by croissant-ing at Iggy’s, where the line was forming.  Still in shopping mode, two customers ahead, at the counter, dithering was evident: “No, make that two raspberry croissant.  Wait, how are the brioche?  Should I get six bagels or a dozen?  What bread would you recommend with ham?”  I saw Al Yeganeh’s point immediately.  Bread with ham?  How about a knuckle sandwich?  Follow my lead: “Six plain croissant, three ham and cheese, three everything bagels, three poppy, and one ciabatte.”   The verdict on the food?  The plain croissant were too big and too chewy; ham and cheese delicious; bagels, best in city even if they are not really bagels since no boiling takes place.

If the kids wake up by noon, we’ll exchange presents and later: Roasted leg of Icelandic lamb.  Somewhere, on a heath,there is a three-legged lamb bleating.  Breaks the heart.

A Chowhound Christmas

Can you believe it’s less than 16 hours until Christmas?  I’m so excited, my toes are tingling.  Tingling, I say, tingling.

Having completed and sold my piece to Gastronomica on the microbiology of artisanal cheeses, I’m back to things Japanese.  Tonight, for example, it’s The Feast of the Four Nippon Fishes, thanks to the stunning collection found at New Deal. We’re talking sushi grade hamachi, toro, and hiramasa followed by a salmon collar the size of a Buick.

That’s the good news.

The weird news is Chowhound.  I was on the Boston and NYC sites plenty this week and here’s my action-packed report:

The NYC hounds were uniformly energized and informative.  Where to eat?  What’s a good wine budget?  Here’s a summary of my lunch at Le Bernadin.  Happy, well fed, smart.

The Boston hounds?  Not so much.  Specifically, the comments made by many revealed a gross misunderstanding of how restaurants work.  Have any of these people cooked in a restaurant?  Known a friend who did?  If so, it’s not evident.  They talk like a basketball fan who wants to know why Paul Pierce doesn’t play 48 minutes, a patient who wants his PCP to treat him when he’s in the hospital, a dog who doesn’t understand why his owner has to go to work.

Anyway, I suspect Santa will be bringing baskets of food to the good dogs and to the bad dogs?  We shall see, tonight, we shall see.

Tingling toes.

Christmas Comes But Once A Year

We’re down to the final 39 hours.

Internet shopping this year has been as spectacular as the Rockettes at Radio City.  Meaning: I was able to buy everything by surfing, filling in the blanks, and pushing send.

Dried fruits and nuts from Bella Viva Orchards!  www.bellaviva.com

Everything good to eat under the sun!  www.citarella.com or http://www.zabars.com

Good kitchen stuff!  www.broadwaypanhandler.com

OK, I did leave home: Burdick’s!  Galleria Umberto!

And the gym?  Closed for six days!  Time to fatten up.

Wednesday Food Sections: Strange, New Happenings

Only 63 hours until The Fat Man chuckles and lands on the rooftop with his reindeer, and the excitement here?  Visceral.

Still, responsibilities loom and this being Wednesday the Food sections catch my eye.

Today was flat out weird in one paper and positively uplifting in another.  Makes you think Healy might be wrong on the bipolar-drug company link.  But I digress…

The Boston Globe

Today’s review of Journeyman was by far among the silliest and least informative.  Ever.  Ever, ever, ever.   Early on, the reviewer writes that as she is known to the owners, having written about them before, she is, “Not an anonymous diner here.”  Is she kidding?  This is a major newspaper, folks.  How can a reviewer write a review of a restaurant knowing that the food and service she receives will surely not be even close to what others experience?  Nothing wrong with writing about the restaurant as a feature, but a review?  Was her editor out to lunch?  BTW: If you come up with as worse name for a restaurant, let me know.

That said, the reviewer goes on to say that the food is most like, “Japanese kaiseki,” food.  No, it isn’t.  Kaiseki food–why does she write Japanese?  Is that to differentiate the food from Finnish kaiseki?–is chiefly seasonal and chiefly vegetarian.  The menu at Journeyman?  The reviewer describes one pork dish after another.  Is pork in season?  You want kaiseki, go to Kajitsu in the East Village.  That’s kaiseki.

The kicker is when the reviewer tells of a long wait for food she attempts to deal with by ordering something to drink and says: “The server won’t let us order the bottle of txaoli,” because the server feels it would spoil the next course.  Cool.  So the server is paying for the meal?  Must be.  Because that’s got to be a first: No place, not The French Laundry, not Robuchon, no place would a server refuse a reasonable request.

Prices here?  Three courses = $39.  Five courses = $65  Seven courses = $85.

Cheaper to eat in NYC.  Which brings us to…

The New York Times

The reviewer writes a good review of a new place in Brooklyn: Anela.  Vegetarian driven, unpretentious, a solid neighborhood place about the food.  Not the chef!  App’s: $9-14.  Entrees: $13-25.

So, do the math.  Dinner for two here is exactly equal to the lowest end three-course in Somerville: $78.  And…$92 less than the seven course meal.

Jeez, Louise!  When will it be Christmas???