(More) Food Predictions For 2012

Now that Art has had his say about what he thinks 2012 will bring to the Philly food scene, I figure it’s my turn.

For starters, I agree wholeheartedly with all of his prognostications. Ramen will finally have its moment in Philly (followed speedily, I hope, by a dumpling revolution). Burrata, inasmuch as it isn’t already everywhere, will be everywhere even more. Italian beer will, in fact, become the alcoholic darling of the well-heeled brew snob (thanks, primarily, to Birra and Alla Spina) and our year without Starr will, in fact, be just as Starr-filled as any other year because, in this town, one just can’t escape the gravity of his money and name.

But that’s not all that the New Year will bring our way. Because we’ll also be contending with…

The Aforementioned Dumpling Revolution: Because, seriously, who doesn’t love dumplings? And I’m not just talking about Asian dumplings (though that would, I admit, be enough for me), but pierogi and pelmeni, momo and every other international variation. Though Philadelphia suffers from no particular lack of dumplings on the scene currently, there is just no such thing as too many options when it comes to dumplings. I freely admit that part of this prediction is completely self-serving (I just kinda wish there were more dumplings out there for me to eat, and a Din Tai Fung would go quite nicely in Center City, thank you), but I also truly believe that the ramen fervor now seizing this city will, before too long, give way to a dumpling revival that will make all of us smile forever.

Retro Cocktails: I am a big fan of the modernist cocktails being shaken up all over town. I love the fact that the great bartenders in this city are now thinking of themselves as liquid chefs–responsible not just for giving people what they want, but for giving them the best of what they want, sourcing the greatest ingredients, learning from the tipsy history of generations come and gone, and throwing in a few surprises along the way. I am somewhat less enamored of the obsession with prohibition-era cocktail bars (if only because we got so many of them, and in such a hurry), but do believe that, sooner rather than later, the double-vision of bartenders looking both too far forward and too far back will eventually focus on the dramatic improvement of the simplest drinks in their arsenal. Once you have had a gin gimlet made with all the care and attention of some thirty-ingredient concoction named after an obscure Screaming Jay Hawkins B-Side you’ll understand how classics became that way in the first place.

Donuts: This is the year of the donut. Bank on it.  Michael Solomonov already has.

The Big Go Small: Speaking of Solomonov, he did pretty well with Federal Donuts and the new, micro-sized Percy Street BBQ at the Comcast Center, didn’t he? Yeah, and what is the restaurant industry but one giant game of copy-cat? Trust me: there were plenty of big operators out there watching those two addresses to see how they fared in the New Economy. And now that they’ve proven themselves, you can bet that there will be a lot of meetings happening after the New Year where Big Chefs start brainstorming about going small. Vetri-2-Go anyone?

Farm-To-Table Continues Its March of World Domination: Farm-to-table was probably the biggest and most enduring trend of 2011. 2011 was also the year where it seemed to reach a point of maximum saturation–where the phrase began to lose its meaning and become washed of all soul by its almost universal (and not always well-meaning) adoption. Many chefs have already begun to treat farm-to-table like a form of culinary Taoism–that it is simply The Way and that everything good flows from it, so if you’re really doing it right, you just don’t need to talk about it. Unfortunately, that sort of quiet acceptance hasn’t yet filtered down to the rank-and-file chefs and restaurateurs planning openings for 2012, so expect to see a whole lot more “Farm-To-Table Bistros” in the future–which, semantic annoyance factor aside, is not the worst thing in the world.

Thai: I’m just going to say it and hope it comes true: 2012 will be the year that some truly great Thai food comes to Philadelphia. Especially some really great yellow curry and moo dade deaw. Especially coming to a space walking distance from my house.

Artisan Candymaking: We already have some really fantastic pastry chefs in Philadelphia. Know how I know that? Because names like Monica Glass, Jessica Mogardo and Frederick Ortega are (almost) as well known as the names of the chefs they work for. But now, with places like Shane Confectionery opening, I’m betting that Philly’s chocolatiers, sugar artists and candy makers will start creating some waves of their own.

You’ll be spending less money on eating out more: In the same vein as the “Big Go Small” prediction above, 2012 will see people going out to eat more…but spending less when they do. With the economy still struggling and people having fled restaurants in near-record numbers in 2011, 2012 will see a boost in the numbers of covers in restaurants (the butts-in-seats calculation) but a decline in the per-plate average as folks decide that sharing plates, eating at the bar and skipping that $100 bottle of wine is better than staying home and eating cold Dinty Moore out of the can. This development can go one of two ways in the restaurant world: either we will see a return to the tapas/small plates craze of the early 2000’s (god, I hope not), or owners and chefs will find a way to cater to the hungers and desires of their neighbors through bar menus, peasant food and great, low-rent booze without resorting to the coward’s solution of $7 half-size plates of patatas bravas and mini tuna tacos. Obviously, I’m hoping for the latter. Though if I had to make an honest prediction, I’d bet on the former.

Though, that said, I would not be at all upset to see a few more izakaya-style joints opening up in town in 2012–places for great sashimi, grilled meats and Japanese drunk-food bar snacks, all done on the cheap and with hours running late into the night. And since dumplings would not be at all out-of-place on menus like that, maybe they could kill two birds with one stone.

And then, of course, grill and serve said birds.