[Clockwise, from the left: The beef tartare at Ma Peche, the meatballs from the Meatball Shop, the octopus at Riverpark and the chicken for two at Nuela]
Over the last year, a lot of chefs have described their new menus as full of "the kinds of foods that they want to eat." Perhaps as a result, we've seen several of the same oddball menu items pop up over and over again. And we’re not talking about pork belly, fried chicken, burgers, or Neapolitan 12’’ pizzas here — those are NYC post-recession staples at this point. These are the new buzz dishes that chefs and restaurateurs seemingly can’t resist putting on their menus, even if they may be totally incongruous to everything else that’s on there.
10) Tacos: Tacos are one of man's greatest weaknesses. Knowing this, a lot of savvy chefs have included them on their menus as apps or entrees, even thought the restaurant might not actually serve any other Mexican food. (see: Burger & Barrel, Choptank, The National, Lowcountry)
9) Pickle Plates: Even though a lot people are grossed out by them, pickle plates hit the sweet spot of "Greenmarket + Artisan Cred + Touchstone to Old, Weird America" that's so appealing to chefs these days. (see: The Smile, Brooklyneer, Seersucker)
8) Shrimp and Grits: Maybe the Southerners are right: in New York, we just don’t know how to cook a proper plate of shrimp and grits. Still, even if we always screw it up, this dish is now a staple of many brunch and dinner menus all over this city. (see: Seersucker, The National, Peaches Houthouse, Peels)
7) Roasted Beet Salads: With blood orange, fennel, goat cheese — whatever. Beets are the Glee of greenmarket vegetables: they're cool in a dorky way and so hot right now. (see: The Atlantic Grill, The National, BLT Bar & Grill, Ca Va, Print, ABC Kitchen)
6) Meatballs: Meatballs, without pasta, usually in a little crock with some sauce, have landed on the menus as an as an app, or mid-menu item at many of the big new Italian projects of the year and a few that don’t even serve that kind of food. As we know, everyone loves meatballs, and what’s more, it’s an easy pick-up for the kitchen. (see: Pulino’s, Traif, Ovest, Corsino, Lavo, and The Meatball Shop)
5) Chicken for Two: Hey, it worked at Balthazar. (see: Riverpark, Nuela, The Mark)
4) Not Your Grandma's Tartare: The classic version is a no-brainer for steakhouses and French bistros, but recently New York has seen a lot of experimental riffs on the classic beef or fish dish with exotic cheeses, marinades or greens. If it's "hand cut" it will most definitely say so on the menu. (see: Strong Place, Stadium Grill, The Lion, Ma Peche, Lavo, Takashi)
3) Charcuterie Plates: What happens when you put a few pieces of grilled bread, some house-cured meats, a ramekin of stone ground mustard, and maybe a handful of cornichons or some of those damn pickled vegetables on a plate? You get the appetizer that's now mandatory on any French or Italian menu, and on many New American/Southern ones, too. (see: Plein Sud, Wall and Water, Osteria Morini, Ca Va,Burger & Barrel )
2) Octopus: This creature from the deep has had a great year in NYC restaurants. In 2010, chefs loved including grilled, braised or plancha-seared versions of the cephalopod on their menus in salads with citrus, as an appetizer with peppers or greens and in one extreme case, on a bun, like a hot dog. (see: Ca Va, Riverpark, Peels).
1) Ribs: Although not anywhere near as popular as pork belly was two years ago, slowly but surely ribs are getting similar treatment on menus throughout the city. They are frequently served in a small pile, lacquered with a seasonal glaze as an app, or braised and placed over a starch as an entrée. They don't have the same decadent appeal as pork belly, but they are versatile, and come with a certain built-in allure amongst meat-freaks. (see: The National, Print, Ca Va, Hurricane Club, Fatty Cue, Osteria Morini, Lowcountry, Edi & The Wolf)
And what will be the hot dishes of 2011? Who knows! But here are a few predictions: kabobs, fondue, all-starch po-boys, seasonal latkes, chimichangas, "a New American spin" on Ethiopian wat and injera, sourdough soup bowls, tarte flambé, fancy nachos, and vegetable shabu-shabu.