From bread service to dishes for two, here's what's trending on Los Angeles menus.
Majordōmo offers a dozen variations of Chinese flatbread. Photo by Andrew Bezek.
As the director of culinary relations at ICE’s Los Angeles campus, I dine out around L.A. … a lot. Yes, it’s hard work, and between bites of hamachi crudo and sips of kale margaritas — I’ve noticed a few things on repeat in our restaurant scene. These menu trends have become evident over the course of 2019, and a few have been incorporated into lectures at ICE, exposing our students to what’s on the cutting edge in the culinary world.
In Los Angeles, bread service has become an integral part of the dining experience, spawning many iterations, from the fluffy and warm grilled flatbread with labneh and drizzled honey at American Beauty to the pull-apart monkey bread at Connie & Ted’s. Majordōmo offers a dozen variations of Chinese flatbread, and Otium serves over-the-top naan with “the works”: truffle butter, whipped lardo, chicken liver mousse, salmon roe with charred onion and Royal Ossetra caviar. These breads are a must-order and as a result, a way for restaurants to easily add dollars to checks.
Cannabis-infused food and cannabis cafes may be invading West Hollywood, but on-the-wagon drinks are having their moment elsewhere. ICE alum Steve Samson’s (Culinary, '97) restaurant, Rossoblu, featured the alcohol-free Strawberry Letter 94 with Seedlip 94 (a distilled, nonalcoholic spirit) with strawberry puree, almond orgeat and tonic at a recent event. While the Audrey, ICE grad Lisa Giffen's (Culinary, ’07) new Hammer Museum restaurant, rotates offerings that draw inspiration from L.A. like the Pineapple Agua Fresca. Perhaps it’s the industry’s answer to the growing health-forward movement which is not turning its back on the art of making a good drink — even one without booze.
A good bowl of ice cream or housemade gelato is never a bad way to end a meal, but soft serve decked out as a sundae? These chefs transform the childhood after-school treat into a grand finale. Simple vanilla soft serve swims in a warm, salty caramel sauce, adorned tableside, at L.A. newcomer Angler, while Antonia Lofaso’s DAMA offers soft serve vanilla from local Straus Family Creamery with buttered bananas, caramel and crunchy peanuts.
Trends tend to be cyclical and we’ve seen this one before, especially when the economy is thriving. Dishes “for two,” sometimes referred to as “large format,” with price tags that cause sticker shock have returned with a vengeance: the reserved-in-advance Rouen-style duck at Pasjoli ($165), 45-day dry-aged prime rib (market price) and roast Jidori chicken with sauce perigordine ($80) at Bon Temps, the whole snapper ($64) at Broken Spanish, or the 32-ounce porterhouse with mushroom tzatziki, marinated cucumbers and cauliflower ($165) at Bavel.
Now Hiring: Lead Fermenter
Anything and everything is being pickled and fermented, used as main components or garnishes, especially for cocktail programs. Tartine has employed Caitlin Hata, an in-house fermenter, to serve as the expert pickler in chief. While over at Jessica Koslow and Gabriela Cámara’s Onda, fermentation is even transforming basic corn nuts, which are served dusted with lacto-fermented jalapeño-sauerkraut salt.
In case you were worried, here are some menu trends that are still a thing: mezcal, gem lettuce salads, fried chicken, Nashville hot chicken, good pizza, and likely never going away in L.A., avocado toast which has been memorialized as ice cream by the whimsical Chef Dominique Ansel.