March 3rd, 2019

Time to Re-Think Chinese Food

Posted in Food Trends, Restaurants

It’s a New Era for Chinese Food

And it’s really stepping its game up

Chinese Food

For a long time, we in the states have associated Chinese food with the overly sweet, oily, and often deep-fried mess that comes from local restaurants. You know the types, they often throw the words “Jade,” “Garden,” or “Dragon” in their name to feign authenticity.

Luckily, times are changing. With the increase in culinary exploration currently happening, we’re seeing a re-birth of truly delicious Chinese restaurants. These purveyors reach back to the traditions of Cantonese and Sichuan cooking, using locally available ingredients and complementing them with savory sauces, spicy rubs, and umami rich glazes.

So let’s spotlight 3 restaurants changing what we think Chinese food should be.

Chinese Food in a New Light

Hop Alley – Denver, CO

Chef Tommy Lee, a Denver native, ventured into his second restaurant business with Hop Alley. His first spot, Uncle, is a well-renown noodle and Ramen bar in Denver.

With Hop Alley, however, he went from focusing on a single item (noodles), to developing a delicious and diverse menu of classic Chinese dishes with modern twists. The menu is especially conscious of using local products. The Cumin Lamb made with Colorado lamb ribs exemplifies this.

Modern Chinese Food

Photo Courtesy of Westword.com

The Char Siu (Chinese BBQ) Pork Shoulder and Sichuan Potatoes with fermented black bean sauce convey the traditional spirit of Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. The main 2 regions we unwittingly reference when we speak of Chinese food. But more importantly, they do so without dumbing down the quality and complexity of what makes these foods special.

Duck Duck Goat – Chicago, IL

Bravo’s Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard has certainly made the most of her post-television life. Opened in 2016, Duck Duck Goat is Chef Izard’s 3rd restaurant, and personally, my favorite. DDG combines just the right blend of tradition, modern technique, and whimsy on the menu making it an unforgettable experience.

New Chinese Food

Picture courtesy of Chicagomag.com

The Char Siu Bao (there’s that Char Siu popping up again) are perfectly savory and chewy, acting as a terrific appetite warm up. Her menu further walks the tight rope of tradition with items like Wood-Fired Chicken Hearts with a sesame horseradish sauce, Sichuan Eggplant with goat sausage, and a fit-for-a-king whole Peking Duck with mandarin pancakes and an assortment of sweet, salty, and spicy Chinese sauces.

If DDG is not on your short list of Chicago restaurants, it definitely needs to be.

Wu Chow – Austin, TX

Everyone knows Austin is a culinary beacon for delicious Texas style BBQ. But what many folks outside this one-of-a-kind city don’t know is that it’s also a mecca for amazing Asian cuisine. Tyson Cole’s Uchi, Otoko from Chef Yoshi Okai, Thai Kun from Chef Paul Qui, and the plethora of Tatsu-Ya restaurants exemplify the breadth of delicious Asian cuisine in the city.

But not to be forgotten is the stand out hot spot of downtown Austin, Wu Chow. Executive Chef Ji Peng Chen brings a remarkably unique and delicious menu to life, highlighting familiar Chinese favorites and unknown oddities side by side in a winning tableau.

Chinese Food

Image Courtesy of atasteofkoko.com

The traditional soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao), made with pork shoulder and concentrated pork broth are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Plus, it’s nice to get a little walk-through of the proper soup-dumpling procedure before you eat (dip in vinegar, place on spoon, bite a hole and suck out some soup, then eat the rest in one bite). For a nod to Texas, Chef Chen offers Wok-Tossed Texas Okra. Similar in preparation to dry fried green beans, the okra is made with ginger, Thai chili peppers, and a delicious seasoning mix. This is by far one of my favorite dishes.

For more abstract but delicious items try the Seafood Bird’s Nest, the hot and spicy Striped Bass, or the Chicken and Taro Egg Rolls. Really, you can’t go wrong.

Xièxiè

Thanks for reading along. I hope this article motivates you to go try out some new and unique Chinese food in your local area. If you know of any restaurants doing something special, be sure to let us know in the comments.

Cheers!

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February 18th, 2019

Vegetables to Center Plate Please

Posted in Food Trends, Vegetables

Veggies Continue to Earn Center Spot in Restaurants

Vegetables Focused Dining

It seems like everywhere I look right now I’m seeing or reading about vegetables taking a central role on plates and menus. From the Culinology Magazine’s December 2018 issue, “Plant-based Entrees,” to Nancy Kruse’s recent article “Vegetables Move to the Center of the Plate,” published on the Nation’s Restaurant News website, vegetables are steaming up trends all over the place.

This isn’t breaking news, however. We’ve even discussed this topic here on DishBliss before, with the “Vegetables Take Center Stage” article in 2015 and the “Plant-Based Protein Gaining Traction Article” in 2018.

What is new and noteworthy, is how well these changes are being received and how well restaurants are executing plant-based menus that speak to omnivores everywhere. There have been more than a couple breakout restaurants across the U.S. executing either vegetarian, vegan, or veggie-centric (focused on vegetables but still incorporate some meat products, mostly for flavoring) menus with great success and mass appeal.

Let’s shine a spotlight on a few of these locations nationwide.

Delicious Vegetable focused Restaurants Nationwide

City O’ City, Denver, CO

Vegetable Centric Dining

Anyone from Denver knows City O’ City. A staple of the town for the last 20 years, CoC reflects the modern, trendy, hipster/hippie vibe that can only exist in Denver. Part vegetarian and vegan restaurant and coffee shop, part late night bar and art studio, CoC offers both great food and great culture.

Menu items like the Savory Waffle with Vegetable Ragu and Kimchi Pancakes are presented for the more adventurous diner, safer items like the Cauliflower Chorizo Tacos and Seitan Buffalo Wings are safe and delicious options for someone a bit more hesitant. No matter what you choose, you’ll find an imaginative, filling, and most importantly, delicious meal that’ll make you not just forget about meat but fall in love with vegetables.

Bad Hunter, Chicago, IL

Vegetables

Image courtesy of ChicagoMagazine.com

Clever name, right? As it implies, Bad Hunter is a veggie-centric (not vegetarian) restaurant on the West Loop side of Chicago.

Rather than focus on the health benefits of veggies, Bad Hunter goes all in on the decadence. Try the Tempura Fried lemons with Black Garlic Bleu Cheese Dressing, or the Butter Dumplings with Candies Hazelnuts and Aged Balsamic to start. Then fill whatever room you have left with the Vegan Bahn Mi with Charred Trumpet Mushroom or the Black Garlic Tagliolini made with Koji-Almond Crema and Black Truffle.

Seriously, who needs meat when you have plates like that, right!?

Bouldin Creek Cafe, Austin, TX

Veggie focused dining

Image courtesy of CadrysKitchen.com

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a breakfast spot as well, it is my favorite meal, after all. While it seems easy to do vegetarian breakfast (for ovo and lacto vegetarians at least), some do it better than others.  In point of fact, Bouldin Creek Cafe.

This quirky South Austin hangout is as popular as it is delicious. I’ve dined in multiple times, and no matter what day or time, I’ve always waited at least 10 minutes for a table. But the wait is well worth it for items like Zucchini and Cheese Migas with Fire Puree Scrambled Tofu or the Vegan Blueberry Cornbread finished with real maple syrup.

Or try my personal favorite, the Tamale Breakfast. Instead of pork or chicken, these delicious corny confections are stuffed sweet potato and Texas pecans and served with fresh, locally sourced fruit. Booking my flight now…

Vedge, Philadelphia, PA

Vegetarian Dining

Image courtesy of thetastesf.com

Finally, a restaurant from a pair of James Beard nominated chefs showing off just how special vegetable centric dining can be.

Vedge, operated by Chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, offers an exciting menu based on seasonal vegetables in a beautiful historic brown house in Center City Philadelphia. Receiving accolades from Philadelphia Magazine and GQ, to Food & Wine and Bon Appetit, Vedge is rapidly becoming a prime destination restaurant.

Items like Rutabaga Fondue with Fresh Pretzel and Ssamjang Tofu with Burnt Miso make it easy to understand why Vedge is topping the charts. Other delicious bites include Seared Maitake Mushroom with Smoked Remoulade, Romanesco Carbonara, and Stuffed Avocado with Pickled Cauliflower and Fried Rice.

Ciao for Now

We’ll keep an eye on the veggie-centric landscape and let you know if anything else pops-up. In the meantime, it would be wise for restaurants, local and national, to start adopting the idea of vegetable focused items or menus to catch this trend early.

Cheers!

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June 11th, 2018

Single-Focus Restaurants Offer New Benefits

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends

Single-Focus Concepts Are Bringing a New Norm

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Instead of looking for the best restaurant specializing in a regional cuisine, how about looking for a restaurant that specializes in the best execution of a single item?

If this idea seems strange to you, it shouldn’t. According to Datassential, 46% of consumers are looking for these types of single-focus restaurants. This change in the tide may come with some discomfort, but for food producers, there are many benefits.

Focusing on the production of a single item allows a restaurant to do several things, including: Minimize overhead, reduce stock, streamline operations, reduce waste, easily replicate kitchen and menu designs, experiment with flavor in a low-risk environment, and, perhaps most importantly, focus on quality.

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For manufacturers, single-focus concepts give opportunities to create foods with exotic flavors and unique attributes that otherwise might have not had an audience in the past, find creative ways to cross-utilize ingredients to reduce waste, bring in new talent to update the creative process, and develop new distribution avenues thanks additionally to the continued rise in global flavors.

Macbar in New York focuses on making a variety of high quality macaroni and cheese, including flavors like chipotle chili and cognac and tarragon. Super Chix, based out of Dallas, TX, focuses on the production of high-quality chicken sandwiches and diversifies them with an array of sauces including Nashville Hot, Mississippi Comeback, and Sweet BBQ.

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Brooklyn’s Arancini Bros. focuses on, as the name eludes, savory balls of breaded and fried risotto rice. Flavor offerings include spicy buffalo with Gorgonzola cheese, classic ragu, and Pizzaiola (tomato-braised steak). And finally, a personal favorite of mine, Ramen Tatsu-Ya based out of Austin, TX, sets it’s sights on making a variety of craveable ramen bowls made with a spectrum of sauces including Thai chili and habanero, chunky red pepper paste, and Japanese citrus with Serrano, jalapeno, and garlic.

Single-focus restaurants will continue to stretch the limits of the consumer’s palates with new flavor experimentation, rapid flexibility, and increasing food quality. Their efficiency and scalability will allow for fast growth and broad distribution, making them a prime asset for food manufacturers. In order to keep the pace, manufacturers need to remain focused on trends and adopt levels of versatility not previously seen in the industry.

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