What's wrong with balsamic vinegar?
For that matter, what's wrong with sundried tomatoes, truffle oil, pomegranates, and chipotles? Nothing. All of these items are in my pantry (at home and at AndyFood); they're staples. They're also as ubiquitous as white men on a golf course.
But when I go to a restaurant I look forward to eating something that I can't make by simply raiding my refrigerator or stopping at Trader Joe's on the way home. These ingredients get top billing on menus because they have name recognition; but as loveable as they are, they read like the credits from an episode of The Love Boat. I hope to see less of such ingredients on restaurant menus in 2012.
I have at least five kinds of balsamic vinegar at home, ranging from five to 50 years old. I like it, I really like it. But, in a cast of ingredients that contribute to a really good meal balsamic vinegar is a character actor and not the star. Ditto sundried tomatoes, truffle oil, and kale.
And if I'm going to ingest 500 calories in five minutes it's not going to be on mushy tirami-so-so. Whipped cream and cake steeped in some sort of liquor is easy to make and not nearly as interesting as some of the salty-sweet desserts that have come to the fore in the past couple of years. Thankfully, a generation of people weaned on Buster Bars is finally making grown-up deserts with salt plus ice cream, chocolate, and/or caramel.
Pomegranate seeds bejewel salads and deserts. They add flavor, crunch, and antioxidants. But pomegranate martinis and margaritas became old school when pom-flavored alcohol became an easy find and fresh juice was no longer necessary. Give me an inventive bartender who's got a cubby full of house-made fruit pickles, radishes, and figs steeping in cognac.
Give me Barrio Café, where pomegranate seeds have been in the guacamole since Silvana opened ten years ago but where it's never been called pomegranate guac. Give me a Mexican restaurant where chipotles are just an ingredient, and not a sales pitch.
I look forward to a 2012 where menus are invitations and meals are parties. It takes great talent to throw a good party. I want to see old friends (like balsamic vinegar), but I look forward to making new acquaintances. I look forward to less same-old same-old and more variety. Make me a pizza that will be my new BFF.
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What trends are you hoping will hit in 2012? Leave your comments below.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.