There was more to 2013 than the Cronut. And there will be more to 2014 than the amaranth. In no particular order, here are the food trends we saw out and about in 2013, and some to watch for in the new year.
With the grain
Call it the year of Taking It Seriously. Restaurants began habitually providing and noting gluten-free entrees, or even providing gluten-free menus, for customers with celiac disease or gluten intolerances. In the case of Capitol Cider on Capitol Hill, we got an entirely gluten-free kitchen and bar. Gluten-free flour mixes became available in mainstream grocery stores. In officialdom, the Food and Drug Administration finally set guidelines on what gluten-free actually means when it comes to labels.
2014: Designer grains.
It’s become downright easy to find amaranth, buckwheat, teff, sorghum and other flours to add diverse tastes and textures — and, in some cases, whole grains and better nutritional value — to baked goods. Broader options exist for gluten-full grains as well. One week we’re looking up the ancient grain freekeh in the dictionary, the next week boxes of the roasted young wheat are on special at QFC. Look for more recipes adding nutrition and flavor by swapping out at least some white flour with alternate grains. Also look for more locally grown and ground flours, as the Northwest is becoming a major center for re-establishing a regional ground-to-table chain for growing and grinding different varieties of wheat.
Fremont at last
2013: Pioneer Square.
The Elliott Bay Book Co. what? The historic neighborhood has never been hotter, a few years after it feared ghost-town status when its flagship bookshop moved to Capitol Hill. 2013 brought the Square more than one candidate for the title of the year’s best new restaurant (Il Corvo Pasta and Bar Sajor come to mind), three projects from top city chef Matt Dillon, a new branch of Rainshadow Meats, a bar at E. Smith Mercantile, a sit-down branch of Little Uncle, a sausage house from up-and-comer Brendan McGill, and, oh, its own farmers market.
Now that every storefront in Pioneer Square seems to be filled with an irresistible place to eat, the crowds might look to Fremont, which is being transformed into the kind of culinary neighborhood that the average food lover dreams about. It’s full of choices good enough to impress your out-of-town visitors, affordable enough to regularly visit on your own and maintains that Center of the Universe personality that manages to be individual but not annoyingly hip.
There’s already such a critical mass, between places like Rock Creek, The Whale Wins and Joule, Revel, Roux, Vif’s, Dot’s Deli, and even the frequent cookbook samplings and Coyle’s Bakeshop goodies at The Book Larder, that it’s hard to direct visitors where to go for just one meal.
Farmer to toque
2013: Three — or four, or five — is the new two.
No, we’re not talking kids, but restaurateurs. First came the chef-owned restaurants, then, five or so years ago, came the chef-owner deciding to open a second bar or eatery. In 2013, the trend exploded into a city of mini-Tom Douglases or Ethan Stowells, with chefs (including Douglas and Stowell) working on a handful of new projects, sometimes nearly simultaneously. The talented Josh Henderson, for instance, who started out with a single Skillet Street Food truck, this year added a Skillet Diner in Ballard, an upgraded roadside tavern in Woodinville, a well-received restaurant in North Lake Union and an adjacent oyster bar and grocery, with the doors set to open any day on a Capitol Hill neighborhood market.
It’s gone beyond a kitchen herb garden or rooftop lettuce bed. Now we have chefs who are practically farmers in their own rights. Look at Brian Scheehser of Trellis restaurant in Kirkland, who grows, preserves and serves vegetables, fruits and herbs from his 10-acre garden plot in nearby Woodinville. Scheehser even cans enough to sell top-notch dilly beans and tomato purée at the nearby 21 Acres farm market. Look for more farm-to-table chefs to take over both sides of that equation.
Nuts for soup
2013: Soup dumplings.
With long lines at the Din Tai Fung restaurant in Bellevue, we spent a lot of 2013 waiting for updates on a new Seattle location for those slurpable xiao long bao, a specialty that had been oddly absent from the region before the Taipei-based chain opened here in 2010. The new branch finally opened just before year’s end at University Village, making way for …
The good stuff, not the supermarket packs, with ramen-dedicated shops specializing in rich broth and toothsome noodles and maybe even a soft-boiled egg on top. Ramen’s officially become cool nationwide, with shops like a branch of Ivan Ramen (a Japan-based shop owned by a ramen-obsessed American chef) opening in New York City. Seattle, though, is only now approaching the point where ramen is seen as being as delectable and desirable and worthy of a singular focus as any bowl of pho.
2013: Root-to-stalk cooking.
From cookbooks (including an excellent one by Tara Duggan of that very name) to chef’s menus, we saw a new emphasis on carrot-top pesto, sweet fennel-stalk chips, pickled chard stems, and other attempts to use every edible part of our produce.
Think of it all as the vegetable equivalent of offal, which got its trendspotting day with the nose-to-tail cooking movement of a few years back. The all-encompassing vegetable dishes are often original, inspiring and make for good news for everything but the compost heap.
2014: Raw vegetables go mainstream.
Maybe helped along by the juicing craze and the endless onslaught of kale salads, look for raw vegetables to move off the crudités plate and onto the fine dining tables. An early adopter is Maria Hines, who served one of the best dishes of the year at her Golden Beetle restaurant in Ballard: A small bowl of raw cauliflower florets tossed with a tahini vinaigrette, almonds and golden raisins. Look also for a greater emphasis on specific varieties of vegetables, as momentum grows behind researchers suggesting that specific kinds of vegetables and fruits might carry better flavors and/or a bigger nutritional punch.
There’s a snack for that
2013: Google Glass gets you kicked out of a restaurant.
Privacy concerns and public etiquette haven’t been so confusing since the first person pulled out a cellphone to yak in line at the grocery store. One Seattle restaurateur, David Meinert, banned Google Glass wearers from his establishments, to the cheers of patrons who feared being surreptitiously videotaped by the wearable computers and those who felt there should be a place where tech-equipped humans are at least partially unplugged.
2014: Use your Google Glass to order a restaurant meal at home.
An escalating number of new business models like Trycaviar.com provide, for a fee, online ordering and delivery of restaurant meals to your doorstep.
Teach a man to julienne …
2013: Cookbooks from chefs with recipes you won’t follow.
Do you have your sloe berries? Did Safeway carry the sea buckthorn? Coffee table cookbooks have always been with us, but we used to buy them at least assuming that we would try out their recipes. Some of this year’s most gorgeously produced books, though, are collections that only a tiny percentage of readers seem likely to attempt. It’s still interesting to see how the gifted chefs in question work, and it provides some measure of inspiration, but it changes our fundamental assumption about what we’re looking for in a cookbook. (Me, I’m still stuck on recipes from 2012’s “Favikken,” which called for a “perfectly matured” black grouse and a bundle of “good-quality hay with a high herbal content.”)
2014: Chefs who show you how to follow their recipes.
Look for more authors to self-publish cookbooks, develop apps and videos and online classes and other means to give their readers a practical window into the skills they’re trying to teach. Local case in point is long-established author Cynthia Nims, who just upgraded and e-published her previously out-of-print Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series, focusing on iconic local ingredients like crab. Nims, a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in Paris and a co-author of the Rover’s cookbook, also recently began teaching French cooking basics in a video series at Craftsy.com.