Chicago restaurants are hotbeds for food, drink and design ideas, as a group of over 100 operators discovered during a whirlwind dine-around to kick off the 2017 NRA Show. The 20th annual Taste the Trends tour, hosted by Winsight Media and Basic American Foods, began with breakfast at a bustling downtown food hall and continued with stops at four of-the-moment restaurants. Here are some of the ideas that bubbled up as we sampled the fare at a modern steakhouse, a veggie-centric eatery, a Sichuan restaurant and an informal seafood spot.
1. A triple shot of salt
Many steakhouses serve a choice of sauces to accompany an order of beef, but GT Prime swaps out these traditional condiments for a trio of salts. A small divided ceramic dish comes to each table holding three artisanal salts—Icelandic sea salt, Australian sea salt and hibiscus salt. It’s a conversation starter that not only gets guests’ attention and allows them to custom-season their steak, but the salts also save back-of-house labor to make sauces from scratch.
2. Pricing to portion size
Customers at GT Prime can order a steak portion that best fits their appetite and budget. Rib-eyes, fillets and other cuts can be ordered in 4-, 8- or 16-ounce sizes, priced accordingly. The menu also encourages tables to mix and match steak cuts and share platters of meat that may include slices of wagyu, skirt steak, bison and rib-eye to feed four or more diners.
3. Downsizing lobster rolls
To create mini sizes of its signature lobster rolls, Brown Bag Seafood Co., one of the concepts at Revival Food Hall, cuts hot dog rolls in half and hollows out the ends. Each end forms a pocket that can be stuffed with a lobster salad mixture. It creates a portable handheld item that can easily feed a crowd and would be convenient to pass at a catering event.
4. A turntable of dishes
WonFun Chinese focuses on Sichuan cuisine, characterized by flavors that create a tingling sensation in the mouth due to Sichuan peppercorns. Everything is served family-style on a metal Lazy Susan at the center of the table that spins to make every dish accessible to every guest. Among the items on the menu are chilled rabbit in sesame sauce, pork wontons with housemade chili oil and ma po tofu with dried chilies and Sichuan peppers.
5. Moving to the dark side
Activated charcoal is showing up as an ingredient in cocktails, ice creams and other savories and sweets, turning food and drink a shade of black. The trend was in full play at Bad Hunter, a veg-forward restaurant and bar. Chef Dan Snowden creates a fresh turmeric panna cotta topped with passion fruit sauce, puffed rice and coconut ash ice cream—the latter sporting a black hue from the addition of activated charcoal.