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:Parkdale:Grand Electric

Grand Electric is a place you wanna hate.  No reservations,  long lines, cash/debit only and no split bills not to mention an irrelevant website  makes planning a dinner with friends a bit cumbersome.  Nonetheless, once you’re in you become one of the cool kids, even if for a short time.  Loud old-school rap cuts the air amongst the touque-wearing animal heads as you stare at a  blackboard scratched with nouveau-Mexican fare and double take when you see tacos for only 3.5 each.  You get sucked into the gluttony and place order after order from the kitchen as you succumb to  the communal rave of taco nirvana. It’s nothing short of a tongue-tickling trance.

Must

The tacos are terrific.  Whether you opt for a safer arbol chicken (slightly spicy), basa fish (battered and flaky) or vegetarian taco (crunchy corn) or  a more adventurous choice such as beef cheek (tender and rich) or pig tail (crispy and flavorful), there is little disappointment.  Each choice is stuffed to the point where it is a hot mess; accompanied with variety of condiments, whether it be the abundant guacamole with the beef cheek or the salty cheese with the chicken. From a value perspective, they are head’s and (pig) tails above the competition considering other moxy establishments ask $10-12 for a pair of clearly inferior products.

Corn and Pork Belly al Pastor Tacos
Basa Fish, Beef Cheek and Chicken Arbol Tacos

The blackboard menu describes the pozole as dope. After the first bite, I couldn’t argue. Each spoonful offered  tender hominy and pork suspended in a fragrant broth which was addictive like liquid nicotine.  It was spiced perfectly, offering an edgy punch with every bite. In the end, it was heart-warming and addictive dish well worth of the dope proclamation.

Pork Pozole (Dope Soup)

The spicy squid redefines calamari which has unfortunately become a generic term for spongy rings of breaded squid served with some kind of generic dipping sauce.  Grand Electric offers a mountain of tender hoops sprinkled with peppers, green onions and a spicy red coating which eliminates the need  to be masked by seafood sauce or garlic aioli.  You’ll wanna share this one although be warned that  a few fork fights may ensue, even among good friends.

Spicy Squid (not calamari)

Maybe

Not surprisingly, desserts include anything that can be shoved into a mason jar. In this case, it was a key lime pie and a dulce de leche cake.  Served together, there were in total contrast; one was tart, smooth and cold and the other was sweet, crumbly and served piping hot.  In the end, they were both average for what they were but provided a very satisfying end to a terrific meal, although some may not enjoy the extreme sweetness and tartness of these finishing touches.

Key Lime and Dulce de Leche Dessert

Mundane

The hang-up is the utter pretension that characterizes many of the restaurants in Parkdale.  There’s a “my house is bigger than your house” or maybe “my hole-in-the wall is less inviting than yours” mentality which resonates throughout the neighbourhood like cracks in the sidewalk.  Case and point….I have a friend of mine who has been there at least a dozen times. She does the 60-90 minute wait like everybody else and brings new people almost every time.  On her last visit, she was cut off. So was her table of four. Why?  Too much bourbon?  No,  she was informed by the hostess that, after less than an hour of sitting, their “time was up” and they would not be served further.  They were given the bill without further discussion.  She attempted to call the owners on three occasions, has left messages and no calls have been returned.

Personally, I found the service pretty good once I went through the mandatory waiting period (even at 1045 at night). I did, however, feel a little inferior.  Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t sport a raven tattoo or know all the lyrics to 2 Live Crew.  Either that or I don’t have a fetish for social sodomy…afterall, I haven’t read 50 Shades and probably never will.  Hey, maybe the next restaurant in Parkdale (providing the ban is lifted)can offer moderate asphyxiation in between the appetizer and main course.

My Take

The food is amazing!  I do, however, heed a warning penned beautifully by Dr. Seuss over 20 years ago  in “Oh, the place you will go!”…..

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

The food is grand, the atmosphere is electric and this joint  may be topping the rest and is the best of the best according to many pundits, critics and self-proclaimed foodies.  The hang-up is self-righteous attitude that one receives in atttempt to get some good squid.   On the heels of an expansion, consideration should be given to modernizing the approach to improved service that will maintain and even enhance the electricity. In a world where people show less attitude starting revolutions against social injustice or going from rags to riches to make millions, Grand Electric should put things into perspective; they make tacos…..although they are pretty freaking good.

Grand Electric on Urbanspoon