Yo' Edamame

What are the trendiest foods in Dallas today?

No one in the restaurant industry wears the "trendy" label without complaint. They scowl when they hear the term and quickly correct unwary types who direct the word at their establishments.

Rock Gennaro, mâitre d' at Samba Room, launched into a lengthy and impassioned denial when the Burning Question crew innocently let the "t" word slip. The problem is one of longevity. "Trendy people move on to the next place," explains Lisa Garza of Suze. "We try not to be trendy."

Of course, restaurants do try to attract crowds, often changing décor, music and menus to anticipate (or keep up with) periodic whims. But ever sensitive to the postmodern intricacies of language and definition--and because foods, being for the most part dead, don't talk back--we direct this week's Burning Question not at eating establishments, but at the things we eat. What are the trendiest foods in Dallas today?

The hottest, hippest appetizer of the moment is edamame, a Japanese dish consisting merely of steamed soybeans, salted and served in the shell. Yep, thousands of well-dressed, sane, fully cognizant people ordering up baskets of soybeans.

"We sell a ton of edamame," claims Jimmy Lu, owner of Jimmy Lu's (a fortunate coincidence). "Why? I couldn't tell you." Diners must suck the beans out of the shell one by one--an inelegant but highly suggestive operation. The Burning Question crew spent several hours at sushi restaurants watching people suck on soybean pods, trying to figure out why they didn't just order a bowl of peas and dump salt on them. We secretly believe it has something to do with Tracy Lords and plan to spend next week on research. "I think it's a word-of-mouth thing," says Linda Mazzei, manager of Fishbowl, confirming our oral-fixation suspicions. "When you try them, you'll realize it's like peanuts: You just can't stop."

People trying to describe edamame often settle for comparisons. "They're salty, so it's like you're eating chips, but they're soft and green," says Jennifer Ring, sucking down soybeans at Sushi on McKinney. "They bring it out to you quickly, and it's salty," adds Bernie Schuchman, dining at Fishbowl. "It's like bread."

Asian noodles are the trendy entrée of the moment. "Business is better than it's ever been," says Greg O'Neill, executive chef at Liberty Noodle. O'Neill's restaurant carries between 10 and 15 different noodles on any given night--rice noodles, egg noodles, wheat flour noodles, Japanese spinach noodles, pad Thai, chow fun and so on. Several of the area's "hot spot" restaurants (note how we deftly avoided using the word "trendy")--Liberty Noodle, Steel and Jimmy Lu's, for example--serve pan-Asian noodle dishes. "We don't go truly into what the peasants eat," says O'Neill. "We infuse it with different flavors."

Gelato ranks as the most popular dessert. It's so popular that Häagen-Dazs even offers a version. "It's ice cream," explains Lisa Mond, pastry chef at Mi Piaci. "It's just a little creamier than American ice cream." Gelato uses only heavy cream and more egg yolks. "It's very, very fattening," says Mond, "and it goes pretty quick." Mi Piaci makes gelato in-house, offering hazelnut, cinnamon, walnut, mango "and whatever else strikes me," Mond says.

"Anything new can become trendy, just because people haven't had it before," says Mark, a waiter at Il Sole. He made this comment while serving up a tray of goat cheese and olives--both very trendy, neither very new.

Indeed, goat cheese and olives are the hot finger foods of the moment. At least 80 different goat cheeses exist on the market. Worldwide Foods on Greenville stocks 18 different varieties of olives. "Sales are growing more and more and more," says manager Mohammed Hamoudeh as patrons search vainly through buckets of Alphonso olives, Moroccan dry olives or kalamata olives for plain old green or black olives.

Not to shoot huge holes in Mark's theory, but none of today's trendy foods represent anything new or different. Goat cheese, olives, soybeans, noodles, ice cream--they're all commonplace somewhere.

But they're trendy here now. Thus, says Amy Adams of Champps, "It's just like in the fashion world."

 
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