From menus to music, dining out this year had its highs and its lows. From a coast to coast smorgasbord of eating, here is a sampling of restaurant trends that we loved and some that we hated.
Trends We Loved
We loved fresh tajarin with miso-cured egg and roasted mushrooms (Kissa Tanto) and wide egg noodles with Mongolian lamb, carrot and chili butter (Máqué). Italians: Time to fire back with ramen carbonara.
Lobster over charcoal
Forget butter-poached; Candide and Le Fantôme touted the new crimson standard for imparting complex flavour to the king of crustaceans.
The maximalist rejoinder to minimalist Edison bulbs lit up the room at Chabrol, Piano Piano and Agrikol.
Decor in 2016 was like a Hitchcock movie… in a good way, as birds of all types flocked to wallpaper (Alo, Agrikol), wall-mounted sculptures (Nightingale), birdcages (Little Grouse on the Prairie), framed drawings (Máqué) and even restaurant names (Uccellino, Italian for little bird, and Máqué, sparrow in Chinese).
Keeping all those birds in check were two eateries named after hungry hunters (Foxy and Savio Volpe).
It’s no longer just a prime-rib condiment: We loved the pungent root grated fresh over mackerel (Kraken Cru) and fried pork cotechino sausage (Uccellino), and anchoring a sauce suédoise with chilled poached chicken (Chabrol).
From the Peloponnese in the south (fresh moschofilero white, ripe agiorgitiko red) to Macedonia in the north (natural xinomavro rosé), we unearthed ancient varietals that out-old-worlded the Old World.
Savio Volpe poured negronis from a bottle, Noorden gave us our own swing-top bottle of XXX gin punch, Highwayman entrusted us with our own pitcher of Pimm’s Cup, and Little Grouse offered us an entire cocktail program of barrel-aged pours.
The heirloom grains resurrected by Glenn Roberts in South Carolina gained more ground in 2016, including flour at Foxy in Montreal, Carolina Gold rice at Alo in Toronto and grits at Royal Dinette in Vancouver.
Roland Jean painted a manic accordion player on the wall behind the staircase at Agrikol, and designer Kayla Pongrac accentuated the stairwell at Fairouz with images of the Lebanese pop star Fairuz.
The new Arborio rice, seeding our favourite risottos at Seto Kitchen and Candide.
Drink your eggs
Flips and sours – shaken cocktails with egg whites added to produce a frothy head – were tasty enough to drink for breakfast.
Beyond Irish coffee
Adult coffee went craft in 2016, as a cup of small-roast brew spiked with locally distilled spirits launched us happily out into the night with a double buzz on.
Trends We Hated
Root vegetables for dessert
Instead of making them into ice cream, why not roast those carrots, salt-bake those beets and purée those parsnips so they actually taste, y’know, hot and delicious?
A decade after tobacco was banned in restaurants, the live-fire trend is once again sparking morning-after trips to the dry cleaner.
Do you really want our first impression of your $100 tasting menu to be, “Here, taste this thing a random server threw together for you.”?
We’re either bored by the same handful of radio-friendly anthems you’ve been spoon-feeding us for the past half-decade, or cringing at the explicit lyrics of your deep cuts.
Vinyl menu sleeves
Serious fine dining used to require a fine tablecloth; today, a printed menu that feels nice in our hands is table stakes.
The four-hour dinner
Some hustlers can fit an entire workweek into the time it takes us to work our way through your plodding tasting menu.
Describing a balanced cocktail as “dialed in” or calling a dish’s composition “on point” is a new generation’s overused, empty-calorie “yummo!”