Every year brings its fair share of trends to the ever-changing food scene in New York. Restaurants come and go, chefs reinvent themselves and unknown delicacies become part of the dining zeitgeist. This past year was an exciting one, characterized by a plethora of fried chicken purveyors, a general preference for vegetables — on a tasting menu or in a burger — and a whole new way to make and eat ice cream. Here's a look back at the eight food trends that defined New York City in 2015.
The byproduct of a timeless burger trend and a recent boom in plant-based eating, veggie patties won over the palates of steadfast carnivores this year at both fast-casual spots and upscale eateries. Not only are veggie burgers veritably heart-healthier than their Kobe beef counterparts, but they give chefs creative license to play around with meat-free ingredients, whether that’s beets and mushrooms or lentils and quinoa. At Superiority Burger, former Del Posto pastry chef Brooks Headley tops his bean-, nut- and grain-based patty with Muenster cheese, roasted tomatoes and honey mustard sauce. By CHLOE, another counter-serve newcomer, draws crowds for its tempeh, lentil, chia seed and walnut patty topped with beet ketchup.
Before Per Se alums opened Noreetuh in March, most New Yorkers associated Hawaiian cuisine with one of two things: tiki drinks or Spam. Now, poke (it rhymes with OK) is on everyone’s radar. Already huge on the West Coast, the dish is essentially a raw-fish salad, and typically made with ahi tuna marinated in soy sauce or sesame oil, and tossed with avocado, seaweed and accoutrements like nuts or sesame seeds. A signature at the sophisticated Noreetuh, it’ll be getting the fast-casual treatment in 2016 when the cafeteria-style Wisefish Poké opens in Chelsea.
Thai Ice Cream Rolls
Between OddFellows’ sandwich shop rebrand and shaved ice cream at Snowdays, nontraditional frosty desserts had a moment this summer. Thai-style ice cream rolls took the spotlight though, popping at more than one spot Downtown. The dessert is made-to-order by pouring an ice cream base onto a cold metal plate, then scraping the frozen crêpelike layer into individual rolls. Served with add-ons like graham crackers, berries, Nutella or torched marshmallow, the end result is very Instagrammable.
If 2014 was the year bagels and lox made a comeback (Black Seed, Russ & Daughters Cafe and Baz all opened within a few months of each other), then 2015 was the year of babka and Jewish desserts. The best marbleized loaf in town was once thought to be found at Breads, but the opening of Sadelle’s from Major Food Group and baker Melissa Weller in September intensified the competition. Meanwhile, crescent-shaped rugalach is the specialty at Upper East Side bakery Petite Shell, and the sesame confection halva topped donuts at Underwest Donuts and crème brûlée at Bar Bolonat.
Vegetable-focused cooking exploded around the city this year. Two plant-based pioneers reinvented their classics: Amanda Cohen moved Dirt Candy to a larger space on the Lower East Side with eccentric and addicting dishes like Korean fried broccoli, black radish spaghetti and carrot waffles, and John Fraser reopened Dovetail, where a multicourse vegetable-only menu is available alongside a traditional chef’s tasting one. Newer spots like Semilla, Wassail and Avant Garden served up hearty dishes like roasted cauliflower steaks to more gastronomic creations like parsley root mousse.
Of all the Japanese specialties to take a stake in the city’s food scene, okonomiyaki got the most hype this year. A staple on Japanese comfort menus, okonomiyaki is a savory grilled pancake typically made with cabbage and pork, then drizzled with Kewpie mayonnaise and brown sauce. Its name translates to “as you like it” and not surprisingly, every teppanyaki counter doles out its own interpretations, like one with a chorizo base at Bushwick's Okiway to a pescatarian version with octopus, rock shrimp and calamari at the LES' Bar Goto.
Blue cocktails had a brief comeback in the mixology world this year. The tropical drinks get their coloring from blue curaçao, a bitter-tasting orange liqueur that’s named after the Caribbean island and dyed blue with food coloring. At Porchlight in Chelsea, bartender Nick Bennett shakes the liqueur with mezcal, peach brandy, lime juice and bitter cinnamon syrup, and over in Downtown Brooklyn, Damon Boelte served it up with rum, allspice dram, orgeat, fresh lime juice, pineapple juice and bitters at Grand Army.
Fried Chicken Sandwiches
Fried chicken trended across the country in 2015, and New York had its own bout of mania this summer when David Chang unveiled Fuku, his fast-casual concept for spicy Asian-inspired fried chicken, served on a basic Martin's potato roll. Shake Shack took note and released a limited-edition ChickenShack sandwich at its Brooklyn locations, and Chick-fil-A is still drawing daily lines at its new bi-level Midtown location. Outside of the counter-serve space, Southern-inspired sit-down spots like Root & Bone did their own rendition with a bacon-topped spicy fried chicken sandwich.