Taste the trends
The Chicago restaurant scene is bursting with good food, good drink and lots of business-building ideas. To kick off the NRA weekend on Saturday, we visited five new eateries, accompanied by over 100 commercial and noncommercial operators, for Basic American Food's annual Taste the Trends Tour. Here are some of the ideas that we discovered along the way.
Mixing it up at Latinicity
This Latin-theme food hall is lined with kiosks offering all types of street food from Mexico, Spain, Portugal and more. But along with the traditional fish tacos, empanadas, nachos and ceviches, the founding chefs—Jose Garces and Richard Sandoval—dip into a few other cuisines. At a wok station, customers can choose Lomo Saltado (steak flavored with tomatoes, cilantro and soy sauce), have it stir-fried with veggies and served over quinoa in single-serve Chinese takeout containers.
Pasta sauce from scraps
The centerpiece of chef Sarah Grueneberg’s restaurant, Monteverde, is the pastaficio, where prep cooks handcraft fresh pastas throughout service. Prime cuts of pork are used in several entrees, but for the ragu that tops a cockscomb-shaped pasta, chef Grueneberg braises the pork neck meat—an underutilized part of the pig—and turns it into a cost-effective menu item.
Housemade balsamic soda
On the drinks side at Monteverde, the kitchen jumps on the bitters trend with an inventive mocktail—saba soda. It starts with saba, the grape must extracted from balsamic vinegar before it’s aged; sparkling water and a little citrus are mixed in for a soda that can take the place of wine to pair with food.
The new shape of dim sum
Imperial Lamian features a large open kitchen, where chefs create fresh hand-pulled noodles and dim sum, and customers have a front-row seat for the show. This Chinese restaurant, the first U.S. outpost of the Indonesia-based Imperial Group, shapes some of its dim sum to identify the filling inside. The Pumpkin Puff, for example, encloses a filling of butternut squash and minced roast duck in a lightly fried shell.
Beef fat spreads to fries
Last year, our Taste the Trends crew discovered melted steak fat trimmings being used as a baste for steak at RPM Steak. At Maple & Ash, a new wood-fired steakhouse on the tour this year, the kitchen not only bastes its meat with melted beef fat—it brushes the fat on its fries. The Steak Frites plate showcases this smart cross-utilization in two applications.
Cocktails with a story
Today’s customers want to know the story behind their food: where it comes from, how it’s produced, and how the dish evolved. Swift & Sons, a modern steakhouse located in a renovated meatpacking storage facility, is named after one of Chicago’s meatpacking pioneers, Gustavus Franklin Swift, so there’s a lot of history on the restaurant’s side. The storytelling is extended to the cocktail menu. Martinis are prepared tableside on a drink cart, and as the server crafts the cocktail, he relates the story behind the martini and shares other historical tidbits with guests.