Tag Archives: food trends

Restaurants to Watch: Burger & Lobster and Tramonti Pizzeria

29 Jul

tamontiHere they are: Two New York dining spots heralding three of America’s most-revered things to eat: Burgers, lobster, pizza. As someone aching for simpler food these days, I find the casual, straightforward, ingredient-driven approach to the British-born Burger & Lobster, and the decidedly southern Italian Tramonti, refreshingly satisfying. Many thanks to food trends guru Michael Whiteman — a most affable dining companion and critic.

Burger & Lobster

London’s fabulously successful Burger & Lobster chain has just opened its second New York location, this time adjacent to Times Square. As you might surmise from its name, this restaurant venture is built are just two types of food: live lobsters of varying size, lobster rolls, and a roster of inventive hamburgers … with varying combinations of the two.

The basic deal is for $20 you can get a one-pound Canadian lobster, or a 10-oz hamburger with bacon, cheese and onions, or a lobster roll, all with excellent skinny fries and salad. At the other extreme, you might select a 14.5-pound lobster from one of numerous tanks right at the restaurant’s entrance; it is large enough to walk on a leash, costs $377, and comes with unlimited fries and salad. Their top-of-the-line $33 London Burger is topped with freshly-steamed lobster meat and truffle mayonnaise. Lobsters are expertly steamed or grilled and served with drawn butter or a most-addictive lemon-chive sauce. (You’ll want to dunk your fries in it, too.)

More modestly, we ordered a 1.5 pound lobster ($28), their standard burger, and a corn-meal crusted lobster roll with spicy remoulade, and can proclaim them all to be well worth the money. And since lobster rolls in this city’s self-service food halls cost around $20, the roll here is a deal. This is especially true for large families on-the-splurge who fill up their tables for not a lot of money, or for people seeking a pre-theater dinner that is gentler on the wallet than most other places.

People who just can’t decide may order a grand combination called The Tower – any two burgers, any two lobster rolls, two whole one pound lobsters, any three sauces, unlimited fries, unlimited salad and any four specialty cocktails or a bottle of Cava – presented on a two tiered tray. Desserts are served in trendy jars – fabulous chocolate mousse or strawberry “cheesecake,” and the wine list falls into the category of pretty good. There are great beers on draft.

The 160-seat restaurant is located mid-block on 43rd Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway next to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and you enter via a theatrical arcade of lobster traps. In addition to a cluster of these restaurants in London, there are Burger & Lobster franchises in Dubai, Bangkok, Kuwait, Stockholm and Jeddah, and we’ll probably have more in the US as well. It is, after all, a refreshingly satisfying place to go. Say hi to the brilliant Vladimir, the operating partner who is spearheading the U.S. expansion of B&L and other concepts, or to the terrific executive chef, Danny Lee, who has cooked in some of the best fish restaurants in town. (132 West 43 St., 917-565-9044)

Tramonti Ristorante Pizzeria

You’ve probably never heard about ‘ndunderi. Or re fiascone tomatoes. Or past’ e patane. Or melanzane al cioccolato. Except for the melanzane al cioccolato — a chocolate eggplant dessert that I wrote about several years ago — all these dishes are new to me, too.

They have two things in common: they’re ancient foods from the Amalfi area of Italy; and you can find them at the East Village pizzeria called Tramonti. New York is full of Italian restaurants calling themselves “authentic,” but the recently- opened Tramonti is the real thing.

First, I must tell you about the pizza. The dough incorporates millet, barley, rye and whole wheat — all traditional to the ancient mountain town of Tramonti from which this restaurant derives its name. It starts with a pinch of yeast and is left to rise for 48 hours, which accounts for its deep flavor and lightness of texture. This restaurant’s classic pizza marinara, topped with intense re fiascone tomatoes (see below), oregano, tiny slivers of garlic and olive oil was a revelation. Tramonti’s calzone was another stunner filled with some of that same tomato pulp, smoked provola, fresh mozzarella imported from Tramonti (of course) and hot soppressata (from a small producer in New Jersey); it tasted “Italian” in a manner that few restaurants here can muster.

The place is run by Chef Vittorio (Giovanni Vittorio Tagliafierro) and the food I’m describing was his everyday fare in Tramonti. His mother, grandmother and great-grandmother made ‘ndunderi from a recipe left behind by the Romans who established the town. They are large dumplings made of ricotta and flour, served in an intense sauce of those tomatoes and braised beef, topped with his amazingly creamy mozzarella. UNESCO says ‘ndunderi is one of the earliest forms of pasta.

Past’e patane consists of broken spaghetti cooked al dente with small bits of Idaho potatoes and then quickly sauteed with garlic, basil and olive oil. The potato’s starch subtly coats the pasta and adds body to the sauce it is served in. You may have it with a dollop of tomato sauce but it isn’t really necessary.

Re Fiascone reportedly were the original tomatoes on pizza margherita. Cultivated in the 1900s around Tramonti, they went into decline and only recently have been replanted in the area, the successful result of a crowd-funding effort. They are pulpy and intense, and Chef Vittorio exclusively imports vast quantities — no sugar, salt, herbs, or even olive oil are added.

And now for the chocolate eggplant dessert, found in many of the towns abutting Tramonti: I went hunting for it in 2011 near Ravello and finally found two versions in a small town on the coast, neither of which compare to what’s offered here. Theirs look like pancakes. Chef Vittorio’s consists of thin layers of fried eggplant that are sugared and spiced, separated by layers of ricotta, and then enrobed in bittersweet chocolate — as if it were a decadent square of lasagna. Melanzane al cioccolato originated in the Franciscan Convent de Polvica in Tramonti, spread to other religious orders and thence to local housewives. It often is spiked with concerto — an heady ancient liqueur originally made by local nuns but now concocted in various domestic versions. You might find some in Tramonti’s rendition of this dish.

Chef Vittorio, who has worked in New York’s most upscale pizzeria (including Mezzaluna) is a hearty raconteur and it doesn’t take much encouragement to launch him into the food history of his childhood, all of which rounds out a most delicious evening. (130 Saint Marks Place, 212-260-1441)

Restaurants Without Seats? Big Trends In 2017

4 Jan

Food trends are fascinating; we are obsessed with what we eat. But more importantly, these trends tell larger stories about who we are. Looked at yearly, they depict the shifting sands of consumer behavior.

For example, I’ve just learned that ordering food delivered from restaurants surges, improbably, on … Valentine’s Day! It’s not because of the death of romanticism in America or because restaurants are heavily booked. Just the opposite: Lured by the ease of Internet ordering and speedy delivery by Uber or Amazon, people increasingly are “eating out” at home and abandoning restaurant dining rooms.

So a big trend for 2017 will be companies opening experimental kitchen-only restaurants whose sole purpose is to send prepared meals to your home. They are called “phantom restaurants” (also known as ghost restaurants) because no one ever visits them. They’re located in low-rent locations but staffed by real chefs and cooks. Even Olive Garden, just last week, said that it was considering building kitchens in warehouse districts that could deliver to a major city, an idea earlier floated by the fast-growing Panera Bread company.

I’ve attached an article on this very subject by Financial Times’s restaurant critic Nicholas Lander as reprinted in last week’s blog by Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s premier wine experts (and someone I’ve adored for decades). Expansion of delivery-only kitchens is reshaping the restaurant business — and perhaps also our waistlines. Or it may simply satisfy an innate desire to nest.

Every year I write about food trends as gleaned from the best in the business, and there are many exciting ones on the horizon. Is seaweed the next kale? Are wildly creative sandwiches reshaping how we think about breakfast? Will congee be the next new thing? (I am crazy about it; any time of the day.) There’s all this and lots more in the 2017 food and beverage forecast from Baum+Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants, which you can read about here. Most intriguing in this report is an analysis of why vegetables are becoming the new “comfort food,” and whether that means we’re saying goodbye to mac-and-cheese.

What are some other trends on the horizon? Well, gentrification of the $4 “chopped cheese” for one. A sandwich, made famous in the bodegas of Harlem and the South Bronx, went viral this year, causing a stampede to the upper reaches of the city. This mélange of ground beef, American cheese and condiments, all piled on a hero bucks the trend of highly contrived, super-creative, attention-getting food served elsewhere at more like $4 a bite.

Another trend? Chef magicians turning food-waste into delectable things to eat. I am one of them and among the first to fry carrot tops to use as a garnish, and definitely the first to boil the peelings of fresh asparagus to resemble fettuccine. I also make “compost soup,” and transform leftover bits of iceberg lettuce into a wondrous vegetable by simply sautéing with olive oil and lemony sumac. I pulverize old gnarly carrots into “nibs” and toss them with couscous. So good. And essential to creating a sustainable planet.

Other trends? Chefs who use menu language in new ways and intentionally break from traditional forms. I now teach a class at the New School for Social Research (in New York City) called “The Language of Food,” which looks at menus as a form of literature. And chefs, like poets, use the fewest possible words to express desire and hunger, getting to the essence of a dish quickly, like good haiku. More? Specialty drinks with LED lights inside the ice cubes has a certain poetry of its own, as does “candy floss” (the British word for cotton candy) used in brand new ways.

More? It’s time to click on Whiteman’s forecast for 2017 – sporting the 13 hottest food & beverage trends in restaurant & hotel dining, not to mention 23 prescient buzzwords. According to Nick Lander’s in December’s Financial Times, “Michael Whiteman is a striking example of a lifetime well spent in the American hospitality business.” As the guy who (with his partner Joe Baum) created the world’s first food courts and five of New York’s three-star restaurants, including the legendary Windows on the World and the Rainbow Room, he knows a thing or two about what’s happening.

Techno-Gastronomy in the Big Apple

17 Mar

logoImagine lots of food for thought by inspired thinkers who inspire others to probe both the virtual and the tangible corners of the edible realm. This is the food + technology conference taking place in New York City on April 3 through April 5th, and I can’t wait to go.

More auspiciously called The 2014 Roger Smith Conference on Food/ From Flint Knives to Cloned Meat, the line-up includes more than 100 presenters, 31 panels, workshops and receptions but, most importantly, the event promises an extensive three-day flirtation with culinary luminaries and like-minded scholars – more than 250 of them. From Modernist Cuisine to The Brave New World of 3-D Printing, there is something here to satisfy anyone’s taste for knowledge and thirst for the unknown.

Last year, the conference, held at the Roger Smith Hotel, was devoted to the erudition of cookbooks and featured a tantalizing array of speakers – from Mollie Katzen to Amanda Hesser. This year, Andrew Smith, the conference founder and driving force (along with organizers Roger Horowitz, Cathy Kaufman, and Anne Mendelson), imbues today’s food vortex with “ambiguity.” The sympathetic tag to the event’s flinty name is, after all, “Our ambiguous love, hate, and fear of food technologies.” I’m there.

The conference’s leaders describe food technology as “any imaginable means of using and manipulating food, from cracking nuts with a rock to molecular gastronomy. The very act of deciding what is or isn’t food is intrinsically bound with up technology.” Wylie Dufresne, a leader of the movement to integrate science with food preparation and presentation will be there. So, too, will be experts in milling, flour and bread baking techniques, sensory profiling, wine and terroir, and biotechnology. Other compelling subjects include “The Eight Minute Egg” and “The Technology of Cake.” A lecture on coffee would go nicely right here.

And there are workshops in social media for food writers, on the history of chocolate, and the truth about olive oil, led by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, the author of The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook.

Andrew Smith, a prolific writer and assistant professor of food studies at The New School, is particularly excited this year to have panelists coming from all over the United States and from six countries to participate. His latest book is New York City: A Food Encyclopedia (AltaMira, 2014); and his 3-volume Food and Drink in American History: A “Full Course” Encyclopedia was released by ABC-CLIO in November 2013. This is a man who can clearly handle a lot of information and knows a heck of a lot about New York City. If you already live in New York, this conference is a must. If you live out of town, it is an excellent reason to visit. For more information, to register, or book a room at the Roger Smith Hotel, go to foodconferences@gmail.com or http://thefoodconference.com/workshops.php.

And why does this conference matter? We are a nation obsessed with food and technology. The flow of one has always influenced the outcome of the other. Now we need to find out how they go together on one plate.

Spring Review

13 Mar

springreviewIt’s time for a Spring Review since beginning my blog in 2010. I’ve written more than 300 entries and wanted to share the best with you. Because of instantaneous access to one another via the Internet, the “world’s table” is now on public view. It is my goal, then, as a journalist, chef, author, restaurant consultant and food trends junkie, to help set the table with decades of perspective. When Vladimir Nabokov got around to writing his memoir, he called it “Speak, Memory.”  When writing my blog, I issue a similar command to myself:  “Taste, Memory!” I seek ways to connect the reader emotionally to his or her own gastronomic wavelength.

Just as Anna Quindlen writes about her keen observations about life – tying together politics, family, and one’s inner experience, often with whimsy — I have written my voice into daily, and weekly, connections to food, dining, cooking, history, biography and memoir. Each entry is a deliberate serving of the past, present and future – whether connecting the uprising in Egypt to my respect for Naguib Mafouz and my fondness for Egyptian cooking (with a contemporary photo of a young man preparing an ancient dish of ful mudammas); or experiencing the soul of Philadelphia-chef Marc Vetri through his singular approach to food and cooking and told his story by deeming him a “culinary bodhisattva.” A posting about “white carrots” informs the misinformed (which at times can be most of us), with an observation backed up with a bit of history, some speculation, and a few recipes to make the point. Included is a mesmerizing photo of carrots.

I believe that a younger generation of “food passionistas” – a term I coined for the group of dedicated, enthusiastic, and obsessively curious types about the world of food, chefs, and cooking – are in need of less hype, and more information, in an accessible  way. Inspired by the daily experiences of life in my kitchen, life in other people’s kitchens, learning at the hands of some of the industry’s most influential tastemakers, the purpose of my blog is not to attract advertisers or lure masses of readers; rather, it is an intimate, highly personal, often funny view of the world of food. Every blog posting puts my readers in-the-know about something timely. As a bonus, there’s always a “goody bag” in which one finds original recipes, ways to use new ingredients, food and wine pairing ideas, tips for entertaining, news about the coolest chefs and hottest restaurants. Or something more personal – a taste experience (ever try bitter chocolate, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sweet red grapes?); a mind stimulant (what about making marmalade from carrots?), or a new technique (like my deconstructed “wined-and-brined turkey,” or making cream cheese via “drip irrigation”).

Cooking is not merely about measurement and temperature, and the culinary world is not merely about gastronomy or nutrition. Food has deep historic and emotional resonances, and profound historical connections — think about “feast” or “famine” or “bread riots.”

Food is familial and simultaneously social: We break bread together and then divide the world into pig-eaters or pig-shunners.

When one writes well about food, all these factors come into play, consciously or not. One should know that The Gleaners in Millet’s famous painting reach backward historically to biblical injunctions not to harvest to the corners of the field, but to leave food for the poor. One should know that without the discovery of the Americas, there would be no tomatoes in Naples, no paprika in Budapest, no chocolate in Zurich. One should know something about why certain foods connect to certain religious festivals – why, for example, we serve lamb at Easter and also at Passover, and why both “feasts” relate to activities around the table.

What my mother cooked for the her family is different from what my readers’ mothers did then or do today, but they all set standards for how we view not just what’s on our plate, but how we will relate to a larger world – one in which even the present seems to vaporize in an instant.

Please take a moment to enjoy the posts below, and I encourage you to search the archives for others that may be of interest to you.

Cooking in Silence

Chocolate Dirt: Is it Art or is it Dinner?

Insanely Delicious Fresh Figs

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