We’ve looked through our grainy iPhone pics of tacos, counted all the times Momofuku has been written about, and reminisced about the time we rang in the New Year with Captain John. Now, we hereby present the Top 10 food trends of 2012.
Taco bars, taco trucks, taco cook-offs, taco pop-ups, and tacos popping up in restaurants, Toronto’s street food of choice exploded on to menus this summer largely due to La Carnita, which became so popular it opened an actual restaurant (at 501 College St., at Bathurst) in June. Food Network show Eat St. finally acknowledged Toronto’s existence this summer by featuring food truck El Gastronomo Vagabundo’s tempura fish taco.
Other places that launched this year featuring tacos: Kitch (229 Geary Ave., at Dufferin), Far East Taco at this year’s CNE, Seven Lives (214 Augusta Ave., at Nassau), Rebozo’s second location (424 College St., at Bathurst), the Kung Fu Taco pop-up, Buster’s Sea Cove food truck, The Food Dudes‘ food truck, Per Se Mobile food truck, Bent (777 Dundas St. W., at Markham), and Urraca Resto Lounge (19A Finch Ave., at Yonge).
Alas, it didn’t work for every establishment as year-old Korean taco bar Jang Bang (430 College., at Bathurst) shut down, as did Toucan Taco Bar (686 Queen St. E., at Broadview), which both opened and closed in 2012.
2. New Korean
While the city’s two Koreatowns are a fixture on our culinary landscape, this year saw young cooks and chefs reinterpret traditional dishes like the ssam and bibimbap. The brothers behind Swish by Han opened Oddseoul (90 Ossington Ave., at Argyle) serving bulgogi cheese steak, Banh Mi Boys (392 Queen St. W., at Spadina) added kimchi fries to the menu, A-OK Foods (930 Queen St. W., at Shaw) has Korean fried chicken, Seoul Food Co. (1 Baldwin St., at McCaul) is doing build-your-own bibimbap, Momofuku Daisho (190 University Ave., at Adelaide) deals in black rice and bo ssam, and Red Fish (890 College St., at Delaware) has spicy octopus ssam.
Designers put birds on things; food people put bacon on things. Leslieville had a bacon festival in August; bacon declared independent statehood at the CNE; bacon appeared on donuts. There’s also a PB&J and bacon sandwich, bacon s’mores, and bacon popcorn and mousse with bacon ice cream and, this month, bacon-sandwich restaurant Rashers opened. Forget about the world ending this month, how will you tell your grandchildren about the worldwide bacon shortage freakout from last September?
4. Food trucks
With help from online food magazine publisher Suresh Doss, who became an advocate for getting food trucks on city streets, a slew of new food trucks hit the roads this year: Buster’s Sea Cove, Fidel Gastro’s, Food Dudes, Gourmet Bitches, Gourmet Gringos, Per Se Mobile, Rome’n Chariot, Hogtown Smoke, Stuft Gourmet Sausages, and The Feisty Jack. It was enough to warrant an awards ceremony. It got so big, the trucks got the attention of restaurant groups like Swiss Chalet and Jack Astor’s, thus rendering it uncool (sort of like when Barbara Walters does “Gangnam Style”).
The diverse cuisine from Japan made big strides this year in familiarizing Torontonians with Japanese restaurants that don’t serve spicy salmon rolls. Prior to 2012, Guu had a monopoly on the downtown izakaya experience while Fin ruled midtown; the suburbs had Ju and Tsuki. This year, we welcomed quite a few newcomers: Don Don Izakaya (130 Dundas St. W., at Bay), Chou Izakaya (556 Church St., at Wellesley), Nome Izakaya (4848 Yonge St., at Sheppard), Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., at Clinton), and Kingyo Izakaya (51B Winchester St., at Parliament). And lest we forget two other new places with “izakaya” in their name but are more akin to all-around Japanese restaurants: Ebi Sushi Izakaya (867 Bloor St. W., at Ossington) and Ninki (133 Richmond St. W., at York), the latter of which uses the word “izakaya” in its license. Expect “izakaya” to become a vague, non-descript word that’s slapped onto restaurants, like “café” and “bistro.”
In other skewered-meat news, Yaitori Bar (1 Baldwin St., at McCaul) just opened, while Vancouver’s Zakkushi Charcoal Grill Diner (193 Carlton St., at Ontario) will be arriving in Toronto imminently.
There’s been a real push for Japanese-style noodle bars since late summer. Kinton (51 Baldwin St., at Henry) kicked it off in May; Sansotei Ramen (179 Dundas St. W., at University) and Momofuku Noodle Bar arrived in September, followed by Raijin Ramen (3 Gerrard St. E., at Yonge), Santouka Ramen (91 Dundas St. E, at Church), and A-OK Foods (930 Queen St. W., at Shaw) in November. You know it’s getting popular when you see ramen being served in a pop-up format. Next month will see the opening of Ryoji Ramen (693 College St., at Montrose).
The irony of seeing people line up to eat a bowl of noodles is that, in Japan, noodle bars are a common sight in train stations, where people go for a quick lunch during their commute.
Donuts continued their exile out of coffee shops this year with the opening of Glory Hole Doughnuts (1596 Queen St. W., at Beaty), Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken (913 Queen St. E., at Morse), and Rachelle Cadwell’s donut biz Dough Toronto, which sells donuts from Beast Restaurant’s back door. Other places to score donuts: Bestellen (972 College St., at Dovercourt), John and Sons (1 Balmoral Ave., at St. Clair), Pangaea (1221 Bay St., at Bloor), and Little Nicky’s Coffee (375 Queen St. W., at Peter).
8. The American invasion
While there is plenty of great culinary talent in this city, let’s face it: Food people lost their shit in the weeks leading up to the opening of Momofuku in September. Almost matching the hype was news of Daniel Boulud opening a branch of his café in the Four Seasons. Chain-wise, Chinese-American big-box restaurant P.F. Chang’s opened its first Canadian location at Shops on Don Mills, Tilted Kilt (38 The Esplanade, at Yonge) spilled onto The Esplanade, and Five Guys expanded downtown (329 Yonge St., at Dundas W.). Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain trekked along Dundas West and Kensington, while Guy Fieri also came north of the border to film Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. Prediction for next year: Paula Deen’s rides her butter stick to Splendido.
9. Leslieville (especially Queen and Carlaw)
It seems like every neighbourhood gets the “up-and-coming” tagline slapped on it (see: Ossington, Dundas West, Yonge-Eglinton), but this year Leslieville—in particular, the intersection of Queen East and Carlaw—saw a major injection of new places: Leslieville Pumps (929 Queen St. E., at Carlaw), Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken, Rashers (948 Queen St. E., at Carlaw), and Skin and Bones (980 Queen St. E., at Carlaw). Further east is Glas (1118 Queen St. E., at Caroline), the freshly Restaurant Taken-overth Curzon (1192 Queen St. E., at Curzon), and next spring will see the arrival of Middle Eastern restaurant Tabule’s second location (810 Queen St. E., at De Grassi St.), just at the western edge of Leslieville.
10. Tasting menus
Yours Truly (229 Ossington Ave., at Dundas W.) nixed its late-night snack menu and is now only offering a daily tasting menu. Chantecler (1320 Queen St. W., at Elm Grove Ave.) is following suit by getting rid of its a la carte menu at the end of the year. Momofuku Shoto’s (190 University Ave., at Adelaide) $150 tasting menu earned its share of fans. Same with the six-month temporary restaurant, The Feasting Room (580A College St., at Palmerston). Keriwa Café (1690 Queen St. W., at Triller) gave it a shot with a weekly $300, 14-course meal but that quickly got canned. Perhaps the resurgence of tasting menus is a sign that the economy is getting back on its feet. Ha, no, we’re all still poor.
A tribute to long-serving restaurants we lost this year
Senior’s Steakhouse (1961-2012)
Captain John’s (1970-2012)
Bistro 990 (1988-2012)
Five food trends for 2013
1. Instagram will no longer be the preferred app to take pictures of brunch
Everyone’s favourite photo app will implement a new set of rules come January, causing everyone to freak out and abandon it before understanding what they really mean. Just as chefs switched to the slow-food movement, food bloggers will move to the slow-photo movement and use pinhole cameras at the dinner table. Just like grandma used to do.
2. Interactive daily tasting menus curated by the individual
Driven by the popularity of social media and restaurant rating sites in which diners call the shots, this concept will put diners in complete control of the ingredients and techniques utilized to prepare their meal. This trend will also be called by its other name: cooking.
3. 28-day, dry-aged sushi
4. Rusty dining.
Rustic restaurants have been so popular that stretches of Parkdale now resemble a town from the Wild West. (Surely, the nation has run out of old barn doors to salvage.) Next year, rustic dining will go to the next level with rusty dining. Chairs? Rusted. Forks and knives? Rusted. Music? Rusty. No la-di-da luxuries like proper refrigeration and hand-washing stations. It’s all about taking it back to the olden days of cooking.
5. Celebrity dishwashers
What were your most memorable food-related moments of 2012? Share them in the comments section below.