RESTAURANT TRENDS: A Rough Year Ahead, A Few Bright Spots

RESTAURANT TRENDS: A Rough Year Ahead, A Few Bright Spots

We’re in a bit of a “restaurant recession” as the industry runs into many of the same problems that retail has been dealing with over the last several years i.e. less foot traffic (especially at lunch), bargain hunting, and way too many restaurants.

However, chefs and restaurateurs are an incredibly resourceful and creative lot so here are some of the ways they’re adjusting to the circumstances:

DELIVERIES FROM HIGH-END RESTAURANTS

If you can’t beat them, join them?

Over the last couple of months, a slew of top-notch restaurants e.g. Rebelle have joined Seamless. What would have been unimaginable in the past, is great news for GrubHub, the leader in the app-based delivery industry (and owner of Seamless). Their revenue grew 36% last year and I swear they get $100 a month just from me!

This shift is also evident in a recent study from Restaurant Business Online which shows more than a third of restaurant revenues now comes from takeout.

Read on below for more on new restaurant dayparts (a hit with millennials), wood-burning open ovens and the latest on food halls.

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BOOZY TRENDS: More Thoughtful Drinking for 2017

BOOZY TRENDS: More Thoughtful Drinking for 2017

The overarching trend is that we are drinking less but we’re drinking way BETTER – whether it’s wine, beer or spirits.

Let’s start with WINE TRENDS and then move on to spirits and beer.

We’re Spending More On Wine (Source: Wine Enthusiast)

My wine guru, Luciana Ramsey, is taking me from the basement of red wines to the pinnacle. I have seen the light and am adjusting my budget to make way for beautiful bottles of Mascarello Barolos. Luciana may be bad for my wallet but she has excellent taste in wine and food!!

  • 20% of high frequency wine drinkers are dining out more often and 24% are spending more on wine
  • Even millennials are spending more: 17% paid over $20 for a bottle, compared to 10% of all drinkers

Italian eateries connect wine and food most frequently

  • 64% of high frequency wine drinkers are likely to order wine with Italian food vs. 56% for steakhouses (Japanese and sushi restaurants come in last)

By-the-glass

  • This is the number one factor prompting diners to order wine
  • Most restaurants I go to have doubled or tripled their wine-by-the-glass offerings

Fastest growing categories

  • Prosecco – by 2020 consumption will grow by 13.6%. Considered an “everyday luxury”, “less serious” than champagne
  • Red blends from California
  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  • French rose

Grocery Store Wine Selections Go High-End

  • Pavilions, in Orange County, has added a 500-bottle walk-in cooler stocked with California’s most prestigious wine labels. They also have 100 wine stewards on staff and do training every 8 weeks with sommeliers and whiskey ambassadors.
  • Bringing an expanded selection of alcohol to the front of the store is going to be a big trend.

Screwcaps are becoming the norm

  • Not turning people off
  • Sommeliers especially like them for wine by-the-glass and banquets

Cans becoming more popular

  • Especially with millennials
  • Wine industry experts consider them a fad

Bota Box

Read on below for more on spirits and beer trends as well as a heads up on what will be the trendiest new bar to open in NYC this summer: the Aviary from Chicago’s Alinea. It will open on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental. $30 cocktails anyone? Make sure you check out the video below.

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On The Road Again: Upcoming Explorations in Philly, DC and HotLanta

On The Road Again: Upcoming Explorations in Philly, DC and HotLanta

This is the beginning of a new series. I’m planning to travel to one US city per month to do an urban scouting trip – seeing firsthand what’s new, cool neighborhoods, what’s trending in hospitality (hotels, restaurants, bars).

Starting with three cities that I haven’t been to in years and I’m staying with friends so will definitely get an insider’s perspective.

Philly:

Visiting with top brand strategist/trend analyst, Mindy Elgart of Bespoke Scout. On our agenda:

  • The Barnes Foundation – looking forward to checking out the newly reopened Barnes (from architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien).
  • Lots of great restaurants: Helm, Vernick (impossible to get reservation, rated best restaurant in Philly).
  • Fishtown – neighborhood with some of the best places to see art, drink and eat (Wm. Mulherin’s Sons). Also home of the flagship cafe of La Colombe Coffee Roasters (photo bottom left).

Read on below for DC and Atlanta.

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Chef’s Counter and Bar Seating: Always the best seats in the house!!

Chef’s Counter and Bar Seating: Always the best seats in the house!!


Had a great dinner at Freek’s Mill in Gowanus this weekend. The only seats available were at the chef’s counter and all I can say is: YES!! Besides a delicious dinner, we also got info from chef Chad Shaner (in video above) on many of the dishes being prepared. I already know what I want to eat next time! Chad is not only one of the chefs but also a co-owner – and he was a former chef at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. And just for good measure, Pete Wells of the NY Times awarded Freek’s Mill  two-stars when he reviewed the restaurant last year.

Apparently I am not alone in considering the chef’s counter the best seat in the house. Per the National Restaurant Association, 42% of diners want to eat there.  Younger restaurant goers are even more enthusiastic with 53% opting for counter seating.

Note I am NOT a fan of chef’s tasting menus. I just want to sit at the counter overlooking the theater of the kitchen. At Freek’s Mill it’s quite a scene with expediters yelling out orders, food miraculously appearing from secret compartments and a manned wood-burning oven glowing in the corner. And chefs are just so adorable with their tattoos and bandanas and burn marks!

And finally, here’s what to order at Freek’s Mills – we had many of these dishes and saw the rest heading out of the kitchen. Also a heads-up, while most dishes are relatively small, they are filling so I would only order two dishes per person vs. the suggested three. They also have a good sommelier who recommended a great red wine to us for $60.

Recommended dishes and more photos below.

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Freight Elevator Restaurants – cheap, delicious and super cool

Freight Elevator Restaurants – cheap, delicious and super cool

SnaxtimeUSA (Justin Ulloa) and I hit up Acuario Café this past Monday and just loved it. The concept is funky and authentic. It’s literally located in the passageway leading to the freight elevator of a garment district building. As you can imagine, it’s no frills with most customers doing take-out but there are some bar stools and ledges for on-location “dining.”

We were there at 1pm and the line was 50 deep out the door. We ordered the chicken and rice with lentils and the cod and rice. The chicken was fabulous, the cod not so much. It’s $5 for a huge portion and no tipping. The majority of customers are garment district laborers although there were also a handful of fashionistas who were clearly regulars!

This is not a place where I would typically go – but it would be an awesome place to have a party – just putting it out there!!

Now on to a more glamorous spot. On Tuesday night I checked out brand new Chinatown hotspot, Chinese Tuxedo. It’s located on Doyers Street, one of the most unusual and iconic streets in Manhattan. This one block long street is home to several of the coolest bars and restaurants in the city including Apotheke and Pulqueria. Chinese Tuxedo fits right in with this vibe – it’s a gorgeous space in a former opera house.

Read on below for my review of Chinese Tuxedo plus photos and a video.

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SAVANNAH EATS: The Best – and Coolest – Restaurants in Town

SAVANNAH EATS: The Best – and Coolest – Restaurants in Town

Spent 3 fantastic days in Savannah as a guest of friends from my recent Nat Geo Trip. Will cover the art scene tomorrow (Saturday), followed by my Top 5 things to do when visiting Savannah on Sunday.

First, however, food. Here are the two restaurants that blew me away. Not only the best – but also the hippest and most of-the-moment food destinations in Savannah.

The Grey
109 MLK Blvd

This is an absolute game-changer for Savannah. Opened in late 2014, in a restored 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus Station, the Grey is a real stunner. Very difficult to get reservations, so book early. You can also get a feel for the place at their Diner Bar which opens at 4pm and offers an exceptional cocktail program with delicious bar food.

The Grey is owned by a former NYer – Johno Morisano. Savannahians have embraced this newcomer – as they should! The Grey knocks it out of the park! All I could think is, why can’t we have something as fabulous in NYC?

Here’s what I loved most:

The design and the vibe:

Cool, mid-century style, beautiful art deco colors, creative lighting, quirky touches e.g. numbers on the wall correspond to gate stations where buses previously lined up. The tables are also reproductions of what existed in the space back in the day – only change is the removal of the ashtrays that were built in to the center of each table (see photos below). Elegant renovation by Parts and Labor Design.

The inventive food by Chef Mashama Bailey:

Everything is both familiar and yet new. Interestingly, the chef cooked previously for Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in NYC. I am wholeheartedly recommending everything we ordered: the crab and coconut starter with Serrano chili, the coffee roasted beets with ricotta, the country pasta with ragu of braised pork shoulder, bison meatballs with zaatar spice, the smoked collards with maldon salt.

The cocktail and wine program:

I had both the Spanish Caravan with bourbon, vermouth and sfumato amaro as well as a great glass of sancerre with dinner.

LOVE THIS PLACE!

Read on below for my other favorite restaurant – as well as several favorites of my hosts. Unfortunately, we did not get to all during my brief stay. Also, more pictures at the end of the post from The Grey.

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BEATRICE INN: Suddenly hot again, in a good way!

BEATRICE INN: Suddenly hot again, in a good way!

My first time at the Beatrice Inn (285W 12th St) for dinner last week. Phenomenal experience – the bone marrow creme brulee (see pic below) blew my mind. SO GOOD!!  But aside from the food, I also loved the ambiance, the service and the overall vibe.

For those of you not familiar, here’s some background:

Paul Sevigny (brother of Chloe) took over the Bea in 2006 and turned it into a super sexy clubhouse for all the cool kids. I never even tried to get in during that period – although I was very curious! Then in 2009, the city shut the place down for debauchery (or overcrowding, or smoking, or sex – Shia LaBeouf was heard loudly begging for sex at the club!). It was reopened in 2012 by Graydon Carter. I continued to avoid it – snooty crowd and awful food (is this because thin fashion people don’t eat?)

Then in August of last year, 34-year-old chef Angie Mar who had been poached from the Spotted Pig by Carter (but had a falling out with him over creative and business differences), bought the Bea and everything changed almost overnight. Suddenly food was front and center and pretentiousness was out. She added several recipes to the menu that had been in her family for generations e.g. the milk-braised pork shoulder which she has been making since she was 15 – DELICIOUS!!

Here’s a roundup of what’s to love at the Bea, and why I will be back often:

  • Beautiful space with an old school Hollywood vibe.
  • Ask to sit in the backroom by the fireplace. (Note: This was ‘social Siberia’ under Graydon Carter- for no-names and D-listers.)
  • Reservations thru OpenTable – and they honor them. Only peeve: they will only seat full parties.
  • Informal and accessible e.g. dress code has been done away with and photography is now allowed. After all ,with so many instagram-worthy menu items, how can you have a ‘no-photography’ rule?
  • Its history: the Bea dates back to the 1920s, when it was a speak-easy.
  • The Food – read on below for recommendations on food, cocktails along with photos.

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Taim Guest Chef Series: This is one outstandanding line-up

Taim Guest Chef Series: This is one outstandanding line-up

This poster above, in the window of Taim, caught my attention recently. Very intriguing: every month for a year, a renowned chef creates a recipe to spice up Taim’s classic falafel sandwich. The program started in September with Mario Batali. Other chefs in the line-up include Mads Resflund, Bobby Flay, Floyd Cardoz, Anne Redding & Matt Danzer (Uncle Boon’s!!).

I missed Molly Yeh in January but did get there for lunch yesterday. The Jessica Koslow (Sqirl LA) falafel sandwich is so tasty with persimmon and root vegetable slaw – YUM!! Will definitely make sure that I check out each of the upcoming chef creations.

Also love the posters designed by The MP Shift – they created the colorful template and applied it to each guest chef’s handmade illustration.

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