Looking back at my culinary trend predic-tions for 2016, I was spot-on with the proliferation of poke bars, the more complex Korean chili paste gochujang replacing Sriracha as a chef favorite, and the increased popularity of farm-to-shop butchery. Let’s see how I do with my 2017 predictions:
CAN I HAVE FRIES WITH THAT ROBOT?
The high tech “fast casual” concept reigns supreme
In the Silicon Valley, fast casual has already overtaken sit-down restaurants, thanks to the latest tech boom. According to the New York Times, more than 70,000 square feet of Palo Alto retail and restaurant space became technology offices between 2008 and 2015, which now rent for more than $7 per square foot. Restaurateurs are overwhelmed with narrow profit margins, skyrocketing rents, high fees, and a critical shortage of labor — sound familiar, San Francisco? That makes fast casual (food made with quality ingredients ordered from the counter) an appealing concept.
In Google’s hometown of Mountain View, you can order a pizza at Zume that is cooked by robots. In downtown Palo Alto along main drag University Avenue, robots the size of adult humans greet shoppers with screens in various languages and escort them into an unmanned Beam store where those robots sell themselves. Expect to see robots selling quinoa and kale bowls downtown San Francisco in the near future.
Limited menu concepts continue to explode
Venerable restaurants like the House of Prime Rib figured out a long time ago that if you do one thing and do it better than anyone else you will thrive, even in a competitive food scene like San Francisco’s. To go along with the fast-casual counter service, many restaurateurs are narrowing their focus to just one thing, like 2016’s craze, the fried chicken sandwich.
At The Bird, from the folks who created the Super Duper Burger chain, you only have four items to choose from: an $8 “free range” fried chicken sandwich, curly fries, a salad, and hot wings. I expect to see a bistro dedicated to the oh-so-trendy avocado toast hit the city this year (avocado toast with crab; avocado toast with bacon and runny poached egg; avocado toast with … you get the point).
HERE’S THE BEEF
Meaty nonmeat burgers will head to the masses
I went to a press event at the Redwood City headquarters of Impossible Foods a few months ago and couldn’t believe my eyes (or ears or mouth) when I watched them put a patty on the grill that sizzled, smelled, and looked like ground beef but was completely vegan. Even more surprising, it was cooked to medium-rare, juicy perfection and tasted just like beef. It’s made from simple ingredients like wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes, but the secret is “heme,” the building block of all living organisms, from cows to plants. Impossible Foods figured out how to ferment plant heme, which gives their burger the characteristic color, taste, and texture of meat.
The burger is currently only available at two San Francisco restaurants — Jardinière and Cockscomb — but expect to see the beefy plant-based burgers (not to be confused with veggie burgers) in more eateries, as well as in high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods in the near future (grocery stores may have to wait a little longer, so that might be a better 2018 prediction).
BELLY UP TO THE BAR
Artisanal neighborhood lounge food boozes it up a notch
When chef Adam Hubbell, his brother Mark, and their friend Chris Snowden opened The Lunchpad inside the charming, cozy Hayes Valley Noir Lounge in 2013, they weren’t the first chefs to take over bars by day (think Nick’s Crispy Tacos at Rouge and Naked Lunch at the former Enrico’s), but they have boozed it up a notch by incorporating their tasty, creative, artisanal sandwiches and luscious morning treats like huevos rancheros with a full bar for their boozy weekend brunch. From the best Bloody Mary I’ve tasted (spears of their family recipe pickles and a dash of the juice, topped with chef Hubbell’s signature habanero candied bacon) to a tender, fluffy cheddar jalapeno breakfast biscuit with gooey smoked cheddar, fried egg, and garlic aioli, I predict the boozy weekend brunch at The Lunchpad will inspire more chefs to take over the bar as well as the kitchen on weekend mornings in 2017 (remember, it’s the sincerest form of flattery).
PIQUE MY INTEREST
National hot sauce of Puerto Rico will replace gochujang (which replaced Sriracha last year)
I’d love to say that Puerto Rican cuisine will become the latest Latin sensation, overtaking the gourmet Mexican craze, but I might be a year or so ahead on that trend (or wishful thinking).
When we stopped for dinner at the San Rafael outpost of the Puerto Rican eatery Sol Food, I fell in love with the cuisine, but I became obsessed with their homemade pique, the delightfully vinegary just-hot-enough Puerto Rican pepper sauce. The traditional recipe includes caballero peppers and/or habanero peppers, pineapple (the skin or small pieces), vinegar, oregano, peppercorns, garlic and/or onions. Whatever Sol Food puts in their version, it’s addicting. I sprinkle it on Carolina Gold rice; use it to marinate tofu; and dash it on grilled meats. When I run out a certain panic sets in. Fortunately, Sol Foods sell 12-ounce ($10) and 5-ounce ($6) bottles at both the San Rafael and the Mill Valley locations. And yes, it is worth driving across the Golden Gate Bridge for — trust me.