Top 5 Rhode Island Food Trends for 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Let's just forget the "13" on the end and believe that 2013 will be an amazing year. As we look at the culinary landscape in Rhode Island, things are about as bright as they've ever been. We are lucky to have a vibrant community of food artisans that push the dining envelope so we, as diners, are constantly challenged by new flavors and ideas. We scanned the horizon for things to watch for in 2013 and, we think, these 5 are near the top...
Being the smallest state in the union has to have some advantages, right? Thanks to our farmers and fishermen and women, because without their amazing products our state might be reduced to a unit a measurement (You know -- "The fire was three times the size of Rhode Island") instead of an epicenter for great food products. Whether it's the incredible beef from Smithfield's Blackbird Farm, delicious greens from Farming Turtles or fresh lamb from Hopkins Farm, our little state is producing more products than ever. The former chef of our duo constantly comments on how home chefs now have better access to products than local chefs did 15 years ago. On any given Saturday a home cook could travel the state's farmers' markets and put together a world-class set of ingredients. Cauliflower now comes in a rainbow of colors and varieties (if you haven't tried Romanesco yet...you have your challenge) and if you love corn you really need to find some Mirai this year. An all yellow sweet corn, not a bi-color variety like we have grown accustomed to, it had a depth of flavor that was gone from corn in recent years. It reminded us of childhood and might have been the best thing we ate last year. Find some! So, your goal for the year should be to find new farmers and flavors and expand your flavor borders.
New Kids on the Block
The only acceptable part of the horrific attrition rates for restaurants are the fearless newcomers who take their place. The unfortunate part of this business is that most restaurants that open eventually go under. The margins are really tight in the industry as chefs seek out the best ingredients for better educated diners. With limited space and opportunities, these new kids on the block face long odds. This year, however, we are very encouraged by the quality of new spots that have recently opened or are on the horizon. If you haven't tried North yet, you really need to experience what these talented guys are doing. Some really authentic flavors and textures are wowing diners already. We also love the newly opened Circe. Carlo Carlozzi's spot in the old Downcity space with Chef Simon Keating is turning out some delicious food and fun drinks. The folks behind Gracie's have just opened a wonderful bakery/cafe called Ellie's on the first floor of the Biltmore garage. It's a terrific spot for coffee and a macaron. February promises another fun Downcity newcomer right next door. Figidini will offer creative wood fired pizza and entrees. Over on Broadway, the battle raging over a planned urban farming store, Cluck, highlights the struggle between our growing food industry and the local community. We hope that the new year brings some new thinking to this situation and some new favorite spots for you!
A conversation over Christmas got us thinking about this one. We were going to order pizza as a family when a sibling, who had moved away, pointed out that Domino's had some good pizzas now. Well, we surmised, if you are lucky enough to live in a state that has actual pizza places, that's where you should order from. And so we headed to Caserta's. Go to Providence Coal Fired Pizza or Neo Pizza or Tomaselli Brothers -- any of which will be better representations of Rhode Island pizza. The same holds true all over the culinary map in Rhode Island. Yes, Chipotle is is good quick fix, but do yourself a favor and get to El Rancho Grande, on Plainfield Street in Providence. Once you experience the real flavors of Mexico, you might just be willing to spend a little more time to enjoy it. If your're in a rush, try Mijo's Tacos truck for authentic flavors with local ingredients. We also love what's happening at Abyssinia on Wickenden Street in Providence. If you haven't experienced Ethiopian food, this is the place to start. The flavors are very authentic and the staff is very good--and patient--at finding out what you like and picking menu items that fit. It's a fun experience for a group. Whatever the flavors may be, make 2013 the year you tried a new cuisine.
It's the "Ocean State," Folks
All year round, we are within reach of fresh local seafood of almost endless variety. The past few years have seen a resurgence of some fish that you may not have tried before. Locals have long loved striped bass, but only eating a small handful of species is not sustainable for the local ecosystem. Local chefs and fishermen have gotten together and started fishing for and cooking these forgotten species. Menus are suddenly filled with tautog and scup and fluke caught and served responsibly. Local chefs such as Derek Wagner and Ben Sukle are turning these native fishes into delicious dishes. Most people have enjoyed scallops before but if you haven't had a Bomster scallop, you need to in 2013. The Bomster family is from Stonington Connecticut--or Western Westerly really--and they have developed a method for flash freezing the scallops at sea with a minimal amount of sea water. A lot of the top restaurants in the city serve them. If you see the name on the menu, you should try them. Push your boundaries and try somthing new and local!
Personal Responsibility in Dining
This last one falls on us. We know you don't think of it but we, the dining public, are a big part of the dining experience and it's high time we held up our end of the bargain. The past year saw legislation hit the food world like never before with the banning of foie gras in California and large, sugary drinks in New York. We really worry about this slippery slope. Who's to say what's bad for us? How do we assign the word "humane" to the treatment of certain animals and not others? We feel that as diners WE need to decide what we eat and control what we eat. We already have a group of chefs in Rhode Island who have taken responsibility for the food they cook by using whole animals. Nothing goes to waste. They honor the animals they serve. These chefs will continue to serve the entire animals if we as diners continue to educate ourselves and order them. The more adventurous we are, the more they will push us. We have a unique opportunity here in Rhode Island. We have the largest culinary school in the world. We have an incredible bounty of native land and sea vegetables and proteins. We have a vibrant and passionate food culture. These sound like the ingredients for some incredible things to come. What we do with in 2013 is up to us. Let's resolve to be the best dining public we can be.