By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
On the downswing of fine dining: Fine dining isn't dead, but it's certainly breathing through a straw from the bottom of a river. Coming out of the worst recession we'll ever see, even with economic conditions improving, people don't feel right overspending on dining experiences on a daily basis. That pervasive position makes "daily bread" for fine dining and their related price points a challenge. Moreover, I see the overarching trend being the continued elevation of comfort foods. We now have two gastro-diner efforts here in Denver [Punch Bowl — Social Food & Drink and Tom's Urban 24], with many more examples around the country, including Stephanie Izard's new gastro-diner concept in Chicago and Little Goat Diner, which opens soon. Rather than seeing acclaimed chefs take the next step up to fine-dining concepts, they're making an equally forward-moving step sideways to perfect dining traditions and concepts we've had for generations. Denver will continue to move with this tide, too.
On restaurant designs: It's all about recycled materials, which is as it should be — and hopefully will be for years to come. We were able to repurpose an entire barn and 200 high-quality but recycled chairs and stools at Punch Bowl Social; nothing bad can come from that. We'll see places with optional moods, sometimes introverted (video games/closed seating), sometimes extroverted — karaoke and community tables, for example, sometimes solo, sometimes with a crowd. There's an always-changing story within these new concepts with adaptive reuse: It's not decor, but a fundamental element of concept. We'll see places that one can call "mine," which only comes from warmth, so no stark color themes or hard edges that exist for shock, not rock. Also, blue is the color for 2013.
On T.G.I. Friday's and roving bicycle bars: The emergence of keg wine as a viable way of storing and serving wine will increase in popularity; we'll see craft spirits and cocktails in dive bars and chain restaurant settings. In other words, T.G.I. Friday's will offer a decent Aviation; airport bars will become a place of quality service, cuisine and beverage; economical restaurant lists with good food and drink at reasonable prices will pop up on top restaurant lists like Westword; wine lists will offer better margins on wines by the bottle, encouraging patrons to move past the by-the-glass list; and we'll see the death of roving bicycle bars. I mean, who really wants to work out and drink at the same time?
On the nitty-gritty: I see the industry having an even larger focus on the actual breed or exact type of food we're eating — like Berkshire pork or Duroc pork. I'm talking about the actual type of pig and how it's raised, or the exact type of heirloom tomato we're using.
On cocktail culture: Barrel-aged cocktails will take off. We do two barrel-aged cocktails here that are aged in oak for 21 days: the Manhattan Project, a 21-day barrel-aged Manhattan made with Breaking & Entering bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth and Angostura bitters, served with housemade cherries; and another barrel-aged cocktail with St. George Terroir gin, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Carpano Antica vermouth and Angostura bitters, served with a lemon peel.
On food trucks: While the food-truck scene has cooled off a bit, I think that 2013 will be the year of survival of the fittest. The trucks that are providing consistent quality and exceptional service are the ones that are going to make it.
On special-occasion dining: I don't think fine dining will ever die — there will always be a market for that special-occasion place — but I do think that high-end ingredients will be seen on more mid-market menus, with closer attention paid to the guest experience, all at a more affordable cost compared to fine-dining establishments.
On menus: We'll see more prix fixe menus and restaurants that serve a changing menu every day. While traveling this past year, my favorite places all had prix fixe options with a focus on seasonal and local products.
On Scandinavian cuisine and Denver's best new restaurant: I love the Scandinavian restaurants and products, and I think my favorite meal of last year was at the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, a Scandinavian restaurant. Locally, the Populist has to be the best addition to the Denver scene in a long time.
On herbivores, farmed fish and filets: I think with the continuous rise of prices of animal proteins, chefs will focus more and more on creating stellar vegetarian dishes that will satisfy the meat eater. I also think that exotic spices like asafoetida will be used more often. Chefs want to be original, so the more the exotic we are, the more desire there is from the guest. Smartly farmed fish that are sustainable with natural feed and low impact on the environment will become more acceptable because our oceans are being over-fished, and we'll also continue to see the practice of nose-to-tail utilization. This way, nothing is wasted and fewer animals are raised to provide just the very popular cuts like — ahem — the filet.
In Iowa--less emphasis on pork and booze; more emphasis on eating healthy. Pigging out and getting drunk are among the leading pastimes in Iowa.
I predicted last year that Scandinavian cuisine and more low spice/low intensity meals would come back but it didn't happen. Maybe this year.