Fare..Eat..Ales Predictions of 2013 Food Trends.

Each year sees a shift in the direction of the restaurant industry.  I’m going to take a chance and speculate on what food trends will start or continue  in the Toronto dining scene  in 2013. Feel free to agree, disagree or suggest your own trends by commenting here, voting in the poll or tweeting #2013tofoodtrends.

1. Ramen Rage

Arguably the biggest craze in 2012, noodle houses will continue to appear like Starbucks and Subways in the coming months.  Given the versatility of this noodle dish, I suspect new variations will emerge and will not be limited to ramen restaurants  alone.  I expect the big chains and even the small fusion eateries and food trucks to join the ramen rage in some way, shape or form.

2. Offal Offerings

Black hoof has gained international exposure for its offal menu with thumbs up from celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain during his lay over visit and  Richard Blais’  endorsement on his list of favorite restaurants on Urbanspoon.  Adaptations of  the nose to tail concept have been adapted by many eateries, even including  a beginner’s lesson in offal  at Skin and Bones in Leslieville. This concept will continue to flourish given the surge in responsible eating as well as those seeking the adventure of multiple organ consumption.

3. In a Jar

I’m not referring to the traditional strawberry jam, pickled cucumber and mango chutney here.  In efforts to use more local ingredients throughout the year, preserving is gaining popularity.  Local and seasonal cranberries, tomatoes, peppers and tree fruit can be used year round when processed into sweet or savory condiments to compliment meats and even cocktails.  Savory and briny condiments are definitely in.  One of the best dishes I had in 2012 was a pickle tray at Sidedoor in Ottawa and it only makes sense that these creative, unique and in many cases  relatively inexpensive foods are housemade to complement  menus and blackboards in 2013.

4. Eat Street

Despite strict downtown by-laws and less than favourable year round weather, Toronto is catching up with other large metropolitan centres regarding  the presence of food trucks offering anything from smoked meats to tacos to cupcakes. More and more private businesses and fundraisers are seeing the potential in these nomadic sculleries as an awareness raising tactic. In addition,  the low overhead, creative license and geographical flexibility are appealing to restauranteurs, ensuring that the fleet of food trucks will continue to grow.

5. Carrying the Torch

The chef’s blowtorch is a cooking method which has typically been reserved for creme brulee and more recently sushi.  The ease of use and aesthetic properties of charred food could expand the use of this handy tool to other areas of food preparation.  Vegetables, cervices, meringues, terrines and even fois gras could be meliorated with a quick singe  of the blue flame.

6. Mexican Mania

Tacos were the rave of 2012 with the success of Grand Electric and  La Carnita taco-heavy menu. Burrito Boyz, Mucho Burrito and Burrito Bandidos are lunchtime and late night hotspots.  Baja fish tacos adorn almost every chain restaurant’s lunch and dinner menu.  Modernized twists on tasty tostadas, multifarious moles and piquant pozole will expand beyond the traditional taquerias, making Mexican fare one of the hot ethnic cuisines across the board in 2013.

7. Soul Train

Soul food has just gotten started.  The success of Barque, Stockyards and new additions such as AAA combined with the Hogtown and Urban Smoke food trucks have put pulled pork and brisket on the must eat food map.  Look for  southern food to dominate  in 2013 with the expansion of  southern-influenced mainstays such as shrimp and grits, collard/mustard greens, gumbos and maybe even a crayfish or two.

8.  Snack Time

Tastebud teasers  including  spiced nuts and other savory snacks have been a complimentary mainstay of bars and taverns for years.  It seems this concept has crossed into the dining room, with a snack menu available offering munchable morsels, such as warm olives at Patria and Campagnolo, even before the appetizers arrive.   In particular, popcorn is gaining popularity, providing a blank slate for various flavors including  truffle at Origin and chipotle-caramel at Cava,

9. Comfort Zone

It appears chefs have dusted off  their old copies of  “They Joy of Cooking” and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  A return to comfort food is an emerging trend. In 2012,  coq au vin was a staple at Richmond Station and Trevor Kitchen. Chicken Pot Pies were  being baked up traditionally  at C5 and with fois gras gravy at Reds Wine Tavern.  Fried chicken is half the menu at Paulette’s and is available for two at County General.  Old school bourguignon and gamy stews are emerging elsewhere.  Expect a cornucopia of European inspired comfort food in 2013, complete with the use of fresh meats and seafood, rich sauces and homemade, flaky pastries.

10. Icy Indulgence

Frozen desserts have become a common default dessert item for many big name chefs, especically those with a aversion to baking.  Working on the notion that frozen sugar and milk fat make anything taste better,  unique flavours have been incorporated into ice creams, sorbets and gelatos alike.  Whether it be savory flavours such as thyme or balsamic vinegar, sweetness through the use of commercial sodas or fruit nectars or incorporation of tart flavours like yuzu, a good ice cream maker and imagination is all that’s needed for this trend to blow wide open.

What do you think?  Answer the poll and add your comments.  Multiple answers are acceptable!

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Review: Toronto: Queen West: The County General

Hidden on the corner of Queen West and Shaw, this place is easy to miss if you blink, sneeze or text. Once you find it, the decor could be described as a chic saloon and is reminiscent of a number of other emerging urban eateries.

It may take a minute to get recognized, but when your existence is noted, you have the option of a table, the bar or the outside area which gives you a front row view of the sidewalk sporting a cast of interesting wandering characters with CAMH (the large mental hospital) serving as a fitting backdrop.

After being seated and listening to one of the waitresses flirt with the guy sitting a few seats down, I felt like either a third wheel or an extra in a match.com ad. When MY waitress finally arrived, I asked for her cocktail recommendation. She suggested the “County Picnic” which was humourously a mix-up between the “Sunday Picnic” and the “County Drive In”. I opted for the latter which a smooth bourbon based drink with a bit of cream soda that got better with each sip.

County Drive In

Must

Gone is the standard potato salad….replaced here with the Warm Potato Salad Supreme, a visually appealing offering of tender potatoes laced with flavours of mustard, saltiness and a creamy base better than mayonnaise. Even better is the fact that I can order a perfectly cooked a la carte fried egg to blanket it (or with any dish for that matter). I would highly recommend it.

Warm Potato Salad Supreme

Maybe

The fried calamari tacos were a bit Jeckyl and Hyde. Although nicely presented, the grilled radicchio was a bit too brown and soggy on the edges. I took those pieces off. On the other hand, the remaining components of the taco blended well together and the calamari was cooked well. I was warned about the heat of the accompanying scotch bonnet sauce that was offered but I’m glad I took the plunge as it offered a different spice and flavor typical of the normal cayenne based hot sauces served with these dishes. The price point is a bit high as well ($15 for two tacos). Other places are serving similar tacos for $3.50-$5.00 a piece.

Fried Calamari Tacos with Scotch Bonnet Sauce

The dessert choices were minimal but the chocolate mousse was very acceptable and nicely presented. The fresh, sweetened strawberries were a great contrast in flavour and texture and a nice twist on the traditional dessert.

Chocolate Mousse with Strawberries

Mundane

If you have good food, be proud of it. Don’t let the need to maintain the laissez-faire Queen West attitude impair the patron’s dining experience. It’s ok to smile, recommend your favorite choices and pronounce it scotch bonnet, not scotch bonn-A.

My Take

Good food, not so good service. This place has a chance, especially if they continue their attention to detail regarding the food. A seasonal and changing menu would keep me coming back out of curiosity. However, if I wanted to pay for the cold shoulder, I’d hit up a Jane and Finch McDonald’s and order a 7 dollar combo instead of dropping 60 bucks here.

The County General on Urbanspoon