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Top Ten Trends to Look Forward To in 2012

Food and Drink Digital dishes on its expectations for the year ahead
 Top Ten Trends to Look Forward To in 2012

No one can predict the future – but it’s certainly fun to try. The new year is right around the corner, and we’re making predictions for what’s going to be hot in 2012.



In certain cities, food trucks are everywhere. Los Angeles and Portland are overrun with the gourmet meals-on-wheels outfits, and even smaller cities like our own San Diego are getting in on the trend. Food trucks are even becoming the catering method of choice at every kind of function from office parties to trendsetting weddings. But we want to see this trend pushed even further. We will not be happy until every decently sized city in the nation has an army of food trucks to call their own – and, with the way this trend is spreading, we think that dream has a good chance of coming true.



Since last year, tastemakers have been on the lookout for a resurgence of Asian cuisine as the next big trend – but it has yet to really happen, overshadowed by comfort food and better burgers. But we think 2012 will be the year the foodservice industry makes it happen. We’re not expecting an influx of Chinese staples, though. Food consultants in the know are pointing to Thai and Indian cuisines as the breakout stars of the new year.



In this economy, who can afford a $50 filet mignon? While some chefs may see it as a problem, others see it as a challenge to become more creative with what they have.  Many restaurants are turning away from exclusively letting expensive prime cuts do all the heavy lifting, instead proving their chops by drawing intense flavors out of cheaper off-cuts like shanks and sweetbreads.



Okay, full disclosure: we love Jell-O molds. We love their jiggling kitsch so much that we put our money where our mouth is and bought a mold of our own at the last (read: only) Tupperware party we went to. So imagine our delight when Eater National posted two separate TrendWatch alerts naming gelatin as the next big thing. Everyone from progressive San Francisco restaurants to esteemed food writers are extolling the virtues of elevated creations likeheirloom tomato aspic salads and black plum terrines. These aren’t your grandma’s fruit salad ring molds: they’re better, and we’re hoping the budding trend picks up steam.



We’re still very much down with quality handcrafted cocktails, but we are getting a little weary of waiting twenty minutes while our oranges are muddled to perfection. Sometimes you just want a top-notch drink on the double, and some ahead-of-the-curve bars have already started to anticipate that desire. In August, Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen in San Francisco got major buzz for serving up Negroni cocktails on tap, while the taps at El Cobre in NYC’s East Village run Dark and Stormy. We anticipate even more bars getting in on this trend in the near future.



In July, serving foie gras will become illegal in California. But for the six months before the ban sets in, we expect that restaurants will be going all-out to satisfy their customers’ foie fix and maybe spark some anti-ban activism. If the ban does finalize, we expect surrounding states to take full advantage of their relative freedom by going into overdrive, whipping up delicious and experimental foie gras creations because they can (and to give California fans something to look forward to next time they travel out-of-state).



“Can’t you just be ‘farm-to-table’ without talking about it?” Chef Amanda Baumgarten of Water Grill posed this question at a recent fine dining panel, and it wasn’t the first time we’ve heard it. Indeed, while we certainly don’t want the farm-to-table concept of fresh, local, seasonal fare to go anywhere, we are definitely seeing a trend of moving away from the specific term as a marketing strategy. If you’re a top restaurant, we trust that you’re serving us the best and freshest ingredients possible. Don’t disappoint us, and we should be golden.



While we’re expecting a national cool down on the cupcake trend before 2012 is over, we don’t think anyone’s ready to give up on tiny desserts just yet. Bite-sized French macarons are gaining recognition among mainstream audiences,mini fruit pies are showing up everywhere from trendwatch lists to episodes of Community, and marshmallows of all things are gaining momentum and demanding to be taken seriously as a standalone treat. We still want desserts we can hold in the palm of our hand, we just want to expand the ways we can expect it.



Everybody loves a good hamburger, and “better burgers” have been dominating the restaurant landscape throughout 2011. Of course, nothing lasts forever and the burger bubble has to burst sometime. When it does, we have a feeling that sandwiches will be there to pick up the pieces. With banh mis getting the gourmet treatment (score another point for Asian cuisine) and New York Deli-style food trucks cropping up left and right (at least in our neck of the woods), we’re expecting 2012 to trade in a bun for sliced bread.



As the economy wears on at its current pace, customers are going to be looking for more than just flavors alone to get the most bang for their bucks. With that in mind, some trendsetting restaurants (San Diego’s Starlite Lounge comes to mind) blur the lines between dinner and drink settings in favor of a more allover social experience where mixed groups can drink, pick at small plates, or eat a full meal at the same setting without feeling out of place. 

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