We Do Like Chicken. And Now We’ll Have to Pay for It
Last week my esteemed Faster Times editor, Zoe Singer, wrote about how chicken is officially the new bacon. Or something like that. One of her points being that among the top tier food-obsessed — read: the food media — it’s now safe to like chicken, which has long been scorned for fattier, redder foods like pork belly, steak, lamb and all that offal. (Even though chicken has remained the most popular protein for the hoi polloi throughout the entire reign of bacon.)
Now, apparently, the country’s top restaurants are serving $100 dinners of the birds, simply roasted or fried and served family style. As I’ve harped on several times — indeed, so has everyone else with a place to harp publicly about food — chicken isn’t the only commoner cuisine that’s been given the nod to come aboard the Ship of Serious Food.
Top chefly takes on the world’s comfort foods have been on the rise for what seems like forever, and the most recent New York Times Fall Restaurant Preview issue shows that the next step in the trend is that instead of chefs doing their food truck (like Anita Lo) or their fast food burger joint (like Bobby Flay) or their SuperBowl chili spread in Food & Wine (like Michael Symon) they’re straight up converting their restaurants or building them from scratch with simpler, more down-to-earth fare as their theme.
Check all this from the Times piece:
“Mark Birnbaum and Michael Hirtenstein have named this restaurant for grandfathers and are building a dining room for Franklin Becker’s grill menu on the ground floor of the former Lotus.”
“It took Dung Trinh and his partners nearly two years to get their banh mi shop open on Bedford Avenue. Now they’re putting the finishing touches on this adjacent Vietnamese restaurant, which will specialize in home cooking, like pork belly and egg braised in coconut juice.”
“Ed Brown is downscaling. In late August he turned the front room of his Upper West Side restaurant, Eighty One, into Grill 81, with burgers and clam rolls. Now Center Cut, Jeffrey Chodorow’s second-floor restaurant in the Empire Hotel, will go from featuring steak to Mr. Brown’s casual take on the Jersey Shore.”
“David Graziano, who owns Sky Studio, and Corey Lane, a night-life entrepreneur, have rented the iconic space that was Florent and will turn it into a gentrified diner with comfort food from all over the map.”
“His place, as yet unnamed, is the brainchild of Mr. Hille, a former chef and owner of A16 in San Francisco; Mr. Foot, also a San Francisco chef; and Mr. Ronis, a New Yorker. It will focus on quick-service cafe items to eat in or take out, in a setting built from recycled bowling alley materials.”
“Named for a historic Los Angeles neighborhood, this tacqueria with ceviches and tequilas replaces Suba.”
“This storefront addition to Delicatessen will serve only macaroni and cheese.”
“Danny Abrams and Cindy Smith are turning what was Smith’s into a more casual version of Mr. Abrams’s Mermaid Inn with more sand on its feet.”
And the examples literally go on and on.
Like Zoe says, the only catch with this trend, which appears to be giving diners both a break (financially) and a boost (emotionally) during the recession that we may or may not be in, is that none of these restaurants are necessarily a deal. Cheaper than the over-the-top steakhouses and mammoth dim sum palaces of 2004 true, but cheap? Not a chance. If you pick your chicken well (a pastured bird; a heritage breed with flavor rather than giant breasts), you are much better off making roast chicken at home, Zoe wisely points out, than paying a 1,000% mark-up.
In other words, go out for sushi. Make your mac and cheese at home. And for chrissakes, if it’s cheap tacos you want, get thee to a real tacqueria, of which there are now plenty in the United States. I’ll go with you.
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