Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What will 2013 bring to the Arkansas food scene?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Ramen from The Slurping Turtle
  • Ramen from The Slurping Turtle
I’m sure that I'm like most other enthusiastic Arkansas food fans, with high hopes for the Arkansas foodscape in 2013. Last year brought us some interesting developments, but I’m optimistic that this year will be a promising time for those searching for exceptional, intriguing food in The Natural State. If we look at the food world on a national level, we may get a glimpse at some of the potential developments creeping towards our fine state. Here are some of the hottest trends in food currently, all of which I’d be much-pleased to see embraced by the culinary wizards in central Arkansas:

Ramen- We’ve all been subjected to the nine-cent, Styrofoam cup ramen specials at some point in our lives, but the dainty noodle dish is finally getting the proper respect and attention it deserves. All over America, patrons are lining up for steeping hot bowls full of handmade wheat noodles that curl and twist with cooking, tender pork belly or pork charshu, roasted garlic, soft boiled egg, cabbage, onions, and bean sprouts. Enjoying these dishes often requires one to alternate between soup-spoon and chopsticks, savoring the rich, often spicy chicken or fish based broth with chunks of meat or vegetables. In NYC, establishments such as David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar and Minca are leading the pack. In Washington, DC, Toki Underground is serving up a delightful version of Taiwanese ramen with pulled pork, soft egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, and nori. And in Chicago, The Slurping Turtle is a favorite spot for ramen, serving their Tori ramen with baby bok choy, green onions, snow peas, and soft-poached egg. It’s clear that ramen is no longer reserved for the penniless college student.

The Funky Monkey from Gourdoughs
  • The Funky Monkey from Gourdough's
Fancy donuts- Frankly, I’m a little surprised you still can’t find a maple-bacon donut in central Arkansas. Fancy donuts are piping hot in most of America’s biggest cities and donuteers are doing much more than the simple jelly-filled gut bomb. With donut pioneers such as Doughnut Plant in NYC, Dough in San Francisco, Voodoo Donuts in Portland, and Top Pot in Seattle, pastry patrons are able to experience flavors never before attempted in this humble breakfast treat. Chicago’s Glazed and Confused is frying up blueberry cake with lemon glaze, honey wheat cake with honey-vanilla bean glaze, and a vanilla crème brulee filled bismark with a bruleed sugar crust. Just a little south of us in Austin, TX, you’ll find Gourdough’s, a small, shiny Airstream trailer dishing out hot, fat donuts such as the “Mother Clucker” topped with fried chicken strips and honey butter and the “Funky Monkey” with caramelized grilled bananas, cream cheese icing, and brown sugar. And in Brooklyn, the nouveau American gastropub, Do or Dine, is selling out of foie gras stuffed donuts every night.

Mission Chinese Foods Danny Bowien
  • Mission Chinese Food's Danny Bowien
The resurgence of Chinese food- Led by the young, charismatic, rock star-like chef, Danny Bowien, owner of Mission Chinese Food, the Chinese food scene is perhaps the hottest ticket in the country right now. After earning nearly universal approval from critics and customers, Mission Chinese is inspiring restaurateurs everywhere to take Chinese cuisine a bit more seriously. And we’re not exactly talking the strictly “authentic” Chinese cooking that seems to have always been held superior to the more commonly seen Americanized version. Bowien and his colleagues, who’ve followed in his footsteps, are proving that those dishes we Americans have come to embrace and call our own, the Americanized standards we know and love, should be considered to have as much reverence as the more authentic, ancient, ancestral dishes. Diners are camping outside the doors of Bowien’s restaurants to sample his spicy plates, items such as General Tso’s veal rib, thrice cooked bacon with Shanghainese rice cakes and bitter melon, and kung pao pastrami with chilies, sweet peppers, potato, and roasted peanut. Expect Chinese cuisine to really take off in 2013.

Alligator sausage from Max Bratwurst
  • Alligator sausage from Max Bratwurst
Game meats- Arkansans are not entirely unfamiliar with eating little animals, and game meats are marking their territory across the country. But with the whole beast, snout-to-tail movement catching on worldwide, restaurants from sea to shining sea are utilizing less commonly used parts from less commonly seen creatures, and we’re finally getting to taste the bounty and flavor of Mother Nature’s furry forest friends. Bison, alligator, elk, goat, rabbit, rattlesnake, and venison are not uncommon in some of America’s hottest restaurants. At Tip Tap Room in Boston you’ll find marinated kangaroo with basil garlic jus, Chicago’s Storefront Company will serve you deep fried rabbit liver, and at Seattle’s Volterra you’ll find wild boar tenderloin with Gorgonzola sauce. This is the year diners will be venturing outside the familiar in favor of the mysterious.

Haute dogs and other meats in tube form- Essentially, any form of animal flesh is made better when crammed inside the thin intestinal wall of a pig. Sausages, bratwurst, and hot dogs are gaining momentum in the culinary world. Hot dogs, particularly, are bringing smiles to the faces of many who once felt that the lowly links were doomed only to ballpark vendors and Labor Day Weekend wiener burns. But culinarians are embracing the hot links as a new opportunity to transform something familiar and comforting into an expression of edible ingenuity. In Denver, Biker Jim’s is seizing the opportunity to introduce diners to new meats by squeezing them into sausage links. Elk jalapeño cheddar dogs, duck cilantro, and Alaskan reindeer are a few among the more exotic dogs on the menu, but they’re also amping up the common all-beef dog by topping them with combinations such as roasted cactus, Malaysian jam, and scallions or wasabi aioli, caramelized apple, and shaved Irish cheddar. You’ll find similar happenings at Chicago’s Hot Doug’s, Austin’s Frank, and NYC’s Max Bratwurst und Bier. Even the big name chefs are getting in on the hot link action, such as Daniel Baloud’s DBGB serving pork sausage links with pommes mousseline and black truffle, and spicy blood and pig’s head sausage with scallion mashed potatoes.

Korean tacos from Kogi BBQ
  • Korean tacos from Kogi BBQ
Mexican-Korean fusion- I’ll admit, the Mexican-Korean fusion movement is certainly not new to American diners in 2013, but it is something I feel Arkansas is long overdue in embracing. When Roy Choi introduced LA diners to his Kogi Korean BBQ food truck, which specializes in Korean inspired tacos, the food world practically worshiped him as emperor of the New World. Lines outside his truck (seemingly) stretched for half a mile in order to sample the hottest cuisine in mobile dining. Restaurants and food trucks all over the country have jumped on the opportunity to introduce their individual home towns to Mexican-Korean fusion, offering everything from kimchee and sweet glazed short rib tacos to spicy pork and kimchee-topped fries. Burritos, quesadillas, and burgers have all received a bit of Korean flair at these establishments and their popularity does not seem to show any near signs of waning. Who will be the first to bring Arkansas its first taste of Korean style tacos? Hopefully 2013 will give us the answer.

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