While everyone was enduring the Super Bowl pains here in Dallas, I was away in NYC and LA for work. Despite braving a blizzard and juggling time zones, I ate well.
Both food scenes were predictably different. I ate rich, fatty foods in the NYC winter blast, while in LA, I can't think of a meal that didn't involve fresh, beautiful produce. The great thing about New York City is that something new will crop up spontaneously and catch on fire for months. For instance, when I was in New York six months ago, Mario Batali's Eataly had yet to open, but upon my return, it seems as if European style food halls are the new thing in Manhattan. On the flip side of that, food trends are also extinguished pretty quickly, with the embers of the last fad struggling to make rent while fickle eaters ravenously seek out the next scene.
In Los Angeles, food trends tend to usually revolve around new health crazes, with tacos and sushi being the only foods with staying power. However, fans of Top Chef might be aware of a sensation called the "pop-up restaurant" being spearheaded in Los Angeles by Ludo Lefebvre. The eccentric French chef picks random eateries around the city to set up temporary fine-dining experiences with evolving menus.
The following is a compilation of interesting trends I noticed from my coast-to-coast trip. There's the good, and there's the bad.
NYC European food halls Eataly is like a Jimmy's Food Store on steroids and with a swanky stylist to boot. Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's latest venture is a 50,000 square feet of Italian produce, meats, desserts, wines, restaurants, and you get the idea. Go to one station to have a pasta dinner with friends. In search of lighter fare? There's a kitchen devoted completely to vegetables. Walk over to the pastry section for some after-dinner dolci.
The other popular food hall in NYC, currently, is the Plaza Food Hall, which opened a few months before Eataly. Located in the "basement" of the Plaza Hotel, this space isn't as sprawling as Eataly, but what it lacks in square footage, it totally makes up for in sophistication. The food hall is the creation of chef Todd English, and is more along the lines of a "dining" experience than that of Eataly. There are stations devoted to everything from sushi and ramen to pizza and desserts. The candlelit dining space has a hostess for seating and all orders must be placed through a waitstaff. The risotto "tater-tots" with horseradish dipping sauce are a must.
The negative: For such a behemoth complex, Eataly needs to be more seating in each section. I know New Yorkers are accustomed to eating while standing, but it felt bizarre having to grab a beautifully elegant almond tart only to have to wait and jostle for seating in order to eat it. Also, prices at Eataly seem a tad too high, even higher than the posh Plaza Food Hall. Maybe the prices are comparable, but the bill at the Plaza seems more justifiable.
Sea Urchin Pasta Uni with linguine. Uni with spaghetti. Uni with orchiette. This is EVERYWHERE. Since Marea is the most coveted reservation at the moment, Michael White's sea urchin spaghetti might be getting all the attention right now, but the Flatiron District's Basta Pasta has an equally revered sea urchin pasta dish. The popular Japanese-infused Italian eatery offers an exquisitely creamy and pungent sea urchin linguine with pink sauce.
The negative: For the price range of $16-$26 per uni pasta entree, servings are too small at all these restaurants. Also, on a personal note (if you'll please excuse me), the service at Basta Pasta was terrible. While the food at the restaurant is worthy of glowing praise, it, ultimately, was the worst dining experience of my whole three-week business trip. I still can't figure out if it was an issue of racial-diner profiling or just a terrible server (I am inclined to think the former since the exceptionally kind owner of the restaurant informed me that our waiter is one of the most popular at the restaurant), but it completely ruined the experience for four consistent 30-40 percent tippers. Tourist diner profiling=not a good thing.
Soup Dumplings No, I haven't forgotten that this is supposed to be an Asian-food blog, so the soup dumpling needs a shout-out. Joe's is the hip choice for the winter staple. Soup dumpling fans flock to Chinatown for their crab version. Soup dumpling fever has even extended outside of Chinese food, as the Lower East Side celeb hotspot Stanton Social serves up a yummy French onion variation. Still, my personal favorite is the traditional pork Shanghai bun offered at Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street. Shanghai buns are also a favorite of Sarah Jessica Parker, who frequents Shanghai Garden on Elizabeth Street, and what's more New York City than Carrie Bradshaw? OK, I'll shut up, now.
The negative: If you're uptown, traveling to the LES or Chinatown can be a hassle in the extreme winter weather.
L.A. Pop-Up Restaurant If one is to believe all the raves from the Internet, Ludo's Ludobites pop-up dining experience is incredible.
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The negative: It really is a speakeasy kind of situation. On Ludo's website, one can sign up to receive a newsletter on the wheres and whens, but upon my trip, Ludobites was no longer being held at its most previous location, Gram and Papa's.
Little Saigon Little Saigon isn't necessarily a new thing, but every time I return to the OC, the Vietnamese neighborhood has spread out a bit more. Which made me think: Why don't we have this in Dallas? Yes, there are always new "Asiatowns" opening all over the Dallas area, but why don't we ever see one centralized location expand? I'm constantly having to drive to Carrollton, East Plano, West Plano, Richardson, Arlington, etc., to visit a new smallish Asian community. The benefits of having one centralized community, (say, Richardson), is competitive pricing and a variety of dishes. Not everything is pho and dim sum. In one afternoon in Little Saigon, I had com tam (a Vietnamese broken rice dish), a snail vermicelli soup and che. Because of all the competition, everything was cheap and everything tasted amazing. The che at Hien Khanh is the best che I have ever had outside of Vietnam. There was a line outside the door at 4 p.m. on a Sunday!
The negative: Google Maps was confused as hell. It would take a lifetime to try everything, but if I had more time, I'd be up for it.
Will we be seeing some of these things in our city anytime soon?