Some themes Freeman highlighted are continuing trends that have been gaining steam for the past few years, such as the ongoing interest in grilled cheese, healthful indulgences and the customization of French fries with dipping sauces or style of cut.
On the topic of ethnic food, Freeman called out Thai and Indian concepts, noting that ingredients from those countries are becoming more popular.
For example, Thai-style issan sausages are popping up on menus. Some restaurants in San Francisco are even offering ghost peppers, one of the hottest types of chili pepper available, which is favored in India, particularly in the northeastern region around Bangladesh.
“I believe Indian food is really going mainstream,” Freeman said.
He also noted that Eastern European food is gaining popularity, with Moscow 57 scheduled to be opened in New York by Ellen Kaye, the daughter of one of the owners of the famed Russian Tea Room.
Freeman offered the following predictions and observations of restaurant innovations:
• Wild ice creams and veggies for dessert: Savory flavors like bacon and lobster, as well as vegetables and unusual spices, are appearing in house-made ice creams.
At Murray Circle in Sausalito, Calif., for example, a pear dessert is served with licorice sabayon, pear confit, candied beets and sourdough ice cream. At Max and Mina’s in Queens, N.Y., ice cream is flavored with grass and horseradish.
In San Francisco, Atelier Crenn offers a Douglas fir ice cream pop, which is served over smoking dry ice with fresh Douglas fir nettles.
• Hand-pulled noodles: Celebrity chef Martin Yan plans to open a new concept in San Francisco in February 2012, where a noodle chef will twist and pull lumps of dough into strands of thin noodles using only his hands.
• Infusions and cocktails on tap: Chefs and bartenders have long added flavors to booze, but Freeman noted some unique offerings, such as vodka infused with the flavors of a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich, and beer infused with fruit.
Zwack, a liqueur made in Hungary with a blend of herbs and spices, is also appearing on bar lists, he said, as is Bärenjäger, a honey-flavored liqueur.
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For some reason, Nation's Restaurant News chose to showcase this 2011 article this week.