With new concepts boasting elevated ingredients and decor (and ensuing higher prices), “fine fast,” “fast fine,” or “polished fast casual” appears to be launching a renewed insurgence on fast casual’s turf. Here’s a look at some of the recent entrants into this crossroads category.
1. $68 for two?
A recent Washington Post headline screams, “$68 for a fast-casual dinner in D.C.? Expect to see more of this.” The concept in question is ChiKo, a newly opened Chinese-Korean limited-service spot that offers dishes like kimchi stew with pork belly ($15), chopped brisket with furikake butter and a soy-brined fried egg ($18) and Orange-ish Chicken ($17). The restaurant features communal tables, as well as a dining counter at which, in an unusual twist for a fast-casual concept, customers can opt for a $50 tasting menu. There are two seatings nightly, with just four stools available, in front of the open kitchen.
2. Posher pizza
Nick Anderer—the chef behind Martina, Union Square Hospitality Group’s new pizza concept—doesn’t want his restaurant to be known as the Shake Shack of pizza, saying the new concept will “bring elements of fine dining into elements of fast casual.” The restaurant serves premium options like Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne, potato-and-chive croquettes and fior di latte soft serve. USHG isn’t saying yet whether the concept will expand beyond its one New York City location.
3. On-site olive tree
MidiCi, a growing Neapolitan pizza concept, bills itself as “fast fine” based on its high-quality ingredients and decor. One Los Angeles unit, for example, features a live olive tree to mimic an Italian courtyard, while others have indoor and outdoor fireplaces. The concept’s menu includes several burrata dishes made with local cream as well as pizzas with upscale ingredients like truffle cream, rosemary-roasted potatoes and free-range eggs.
4. Counter service in candlelight
Duna, a recently opened Hungarian restaurant in San Francisco, offers family-style dishes in woodsy decor with votive-topped tables. The limited-service restaurant, known for its dips and flatbreads, also offers ticketed “Sunday Suppers” with table service. Outside of those suppers, diners receive a phone number to text after they’ve ordered in case they want more bread or need someone to clear the table. Some customers, however, have found the gourmet food and counter service a confusing mix. “Maybe delayed wine and DIY water are just what it takes to get a decently priced dinner in this town these days,” an Eater reviewer wrote. “(But this) modern Central European fare deserves full service. Or at least some service.”
5. Elevated water
Vital Root, plant-based restaurant from Denver multi-concept operator Justin Cucci, creates its dishes with organic oils, gluten-free flours and no refined sugars. The space includes a partially-covered outdoor “zen garden” with living-wall greenery. As with other fast casuals, diners have to fetch their own water. But here, there’s a tap with three H2O choices—ambient, chilled and sparkling —to give the experience a more fine-dining feel.
This week's head-spinning restaurant moments included a suggestion in court that the "b" in IHOb stood for "bad news for Applebee's." That's just one of the long-shot gambles that came to light as oddsmakers considered the likelihood of restaurants charging into sports betting and who'll win the chain vs. independent bout.