Complicated times require simple foods: It won't be long before buttery puree de pommes de terre gives way to lumpy mashed potatoesagain. But now those lumpy potatoes are Russian Bananas, French rattes or purple Peruvians. (Purple is popularin peppers, carrots, kale, broccoli, tomatillos and kohlrabi.) Beans are good for you, and heirloom beans seem to be good for just about everythingtry them at Beppe, in New York City, or cook them yourself after ordering a supply from www.earthy.com. These days, just about anything is being called "sushi," whether or not it contains raw fish or rice. (The Hoppin' John sushi at the Beaufort Inn in Beaufort, South Carolina, is about as Japanese as, well, Hoppin' John.) French food is taking a 180-degree turn to the past, with classic sauces like gribiches and gastriques regaining ground. And just when you've mastered pan-searing salmon, now it's time to confit it for hours in olive oil. Even desserts are taking a step back in time: ganache brownies (at Denver's Kevin Taylor), sourdough doughnuts (at Los Angeles's Campanile) and malted vanilla cream (at Boston's Salamander). Now that we've explored everyone else's culinary heritage, we're reclaiming our own.
SCALING BACK is the theme du jour. Smaller, neighborhood restaurants are better suited to a smaller economy, but no matter the size, when the food is really good, you still can't get a seat. (The Minnow is a tiny newcomer that's swum into Brooklyn, and Foreign Cinema, with husband-and-wife chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark, projects a feel-good atmosphere in San Francisco.) MENUS ARE SHRIKNING too, and separate charges for sides are starting to disappear. RATHSKELLERS are in; rooms with a view are out. Gold-rimmed tableware is giving way to simple white GEOMETRICS: square plates, triangular bowls. (Susur in Toronto even has a polygon or two.) MISMATCHED CHAIRS and blackboards are becoming acceptable in some places that command top dollar; any similarity to your grandmother's kitchenette is purely intentional. As a result, DRESS CODES ARE LOOSENING. (A tie is no longer necessary at Lespinasse in Manhattan!) Names are dressing down too, with CHOPHOUSES that offer all kinds of meat picking up where steak houses left off (the new Dunwoody Chop House in Atlanta and Cole's Chop House in Napa, to name two).
More affordable wines. The world's wine glut will mean a wealth of good, cheap bottles.
An increased emphasis on native grape varietals. Think Falanghina, not Chardonnay.
More great American Pinot Noir.
Late-harvest everything everywhere. Winemakers are making more dessert wines.
Sommelier as real career choice.
New American wine appellations with housing development names, like American Canyon, in Napa.
Fading of fads. Finally, fewer wines in blue bottles!
Americans are going on road trips to country inns (we love the new South Fork Lodge in Idaho), cute towns like Greenwich, Connecticut (perhaps to the Delamar Greenwich Harbor hotel, due to open in April), national parks and wilderness areas. We're favoring Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Bahamasalso Mexico and the rest of the Caribbean. We're spending some Euros, because Europe is affordable, especially with lower air fares, but who knows if our appreciation of Slovenia/Croatia will continue? In America, value-minded airline JetBlue is thrivingin part because it was the first domestic carrier to install bulletproof, titanium, dead-bolt cockpit doors on its entire fleet. Coziness is taking over from chilly supermod hip in hotel design (as seen at the echt Arts and Crafts Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California). We're using travel agents again: It's all about human contact. Touchy-feeliness is keeping the thousand new spas in business, especially those offering such ritual treatments as the two-hour Javanese Lulur, with its turmeric-yogurt rubs and flower-petal bath (at Las Ventanas al Paraíso, in Los Cabos, Mexico, and at Cap Juluca, in Anguilla). Armchair travel will be huge.
Square pots and pans, from Le Creuset, Lodge, Wearever. A perfect complement to all the new square plates.
Potent water purifiers. Waterpik's Aquia bubbles ozone through water to kill almost every last microbe.
Cooking classes at home are part of the nesting trend. Men and women who never boiled an egg are getting in touch with their inner chefs.
Taste Test: Pasta Sauce
After educating ourselves about the intricacies of authentic regional Italian cooking, we're heading back to Italian-American classics like good old spaghetti with red sauce. The quality of the jarred sauces on supermarket shelves is better than ever. We tasted 35; these came out on top.
--Monica F. Forrestall
|product||staff comment||interesting bite|
|Rao's Homemade Vodka Sauce||"The cream in this really rounds out the flavor. A huge improvement over the usual sauce from a jar."||Rao's, a tiny red-sauce restaurant in New York's East Harlem, is perhaps the city's toughest reservation.|
|Dell'Amore Portobello Mushroom Sauce||"I'm not a big mushroom fan, but I loved this. The flavor is subtle and the texture comes very close to homemade."||The company formulated the sauce using porcini mushrooms but found them overpowering; portobellos have a softer edge.|
|Barilla Green and Black Olive Sauce||"The olives in this are really top-quality."||Barilla decided to call this sauce "green and black olive" rather than "puttanesca" because of concern that customers might find the Italian name "confusing."|
|Francis Coppola's Mammarella Organic Pomodoro Basilico||"Nice big chunks of tomato and good basil flavor."||Coppola says, "What surprises people is that this sauce has lots of chopped onions but no garlic. Italians don't use garlic in everything."|
Flavored spirits. Not just flavored vodkas now, but flavored rums, gins, even sakes.
Beer cocktails. At Forbidden City, in Manhattan, beer gets spiked with a milky, fizzy Japanese drink called Calpico.
Herbal martinis. Lavender infuses the cocktails at the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco.