The Tasting Panel magazine

January/February 2015

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january/february 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  97 Dungeness crab toast with uni butter and lardo ($8) and chicken wings in a soy-chili sauce ($12). Riding the Beverage Boom A bar-focused environment is important. "All new restaurants have prominent bars," says Martin. "We opened SoBou in 2012 in the French Quarter because the concept was the place we all wanted to go to and work in: a truly cocktail-centric restaurant/ bar where the cocktails are the original inspiration, not an afterthought," explains Martin. SoBou also has tables with beer taps and wine machines so guests can self-serve. "Our 30-foot-high wine tower makes a statement when people walk in," says Horn at Purple Café, whose global wine list offers 92 by the glass. On the liquor front, brown, barrel-aged spirits rule, the Kimpton survey found. Classic cocktails are still cool, in a move toward simplicity and away from complex 15-ingredient concoctions. Juice infusions, savory ingredients, and house- made sodas gained steam. Rum is piquing more interest, thanks to a tiki cocktail revival. "Classic simple drinks, three ingredients or less, are hot," says Martin. At Dirty Habit, "A Dirty Decision" cocktail contains chanterelle mushroom—infused Lustau Amontillado Sherry, Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth, black garlic tincture and orange bitters. Yam purée, Grand Poppy Liqueur and Cognac are found in "Purple Drank." "We're now seeing a shift back to less-is-more, with more inspiration from the classics," Sagaria explains. "Like Negronis . . . you find them everywhere and so many variations are now commonplace. At our Marta, a bottle-aged Negroni has quickly become a signature cocktail." And drinkers are embracing bitter flavors: "Aperol was the gateway to Campari; Cynar led to Fernet—and it's just the beginning," he adds. Recent years have also ushered in the craft distillery move- ment. "It's never been a better time to drink locally—vodka, gin, whiskey and rum are now made in most states," Sagaria says, noting Union Square's North End Grill uses New York distillers in its classic cocktails. Chardonnay—with the "unoaked" style replacing more full- bodied, buttery styles—and Cabernet Sauvignon top bestseller charts, Kimpton's survey found. "Diners can now drink by the glass better than ever due to a group of very passionate distributors, importers and sommeliers," Sagaria says. What's Next In 2015, lesser-known cuts of meat, more vegetable-focused dishes, gluten-free grains, more sustainable seafoods and more simplified menus are expected, our experts note. "The public's rapidly maturing palate means they will continue to seek out new and diverse flavors and demand innovations," says Steenrod. "More variety and lighter options, from seafood to vegetables to sauces, and more straightforward cooking—just good honest food that describes itself rather than requiring a dissertation to decode it," predicts Sagaria. More technology, from mobile pay systems to tablet order- ing, and alternative reservation methods, like prepaid tickets and reservation deposits to eliminate no-shows, will be used, Steenrod forecasts. Wine on tap, Pinot Blanc and reds from Côtes du Rhône and South America will be more popular, according to the Kimpton survey. One thing we can definitely predict: Dining and drinking will never be more fun! Large-format dishes like this 20-oz. rib eye work beautifully with the 30-foot-long community table at Workshop Kitchen & Bar in Palm Springs. "We wanted to create a 'wow factor'—so we totally gutted it [Dirty Habit in San Francisco] for a grittier concept," said James Lin, Senior Vice President of Restaurants and Bars at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. PHOTO: MICHAEL HORTA PHOTO COURTESY OF KIMPTON HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS

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