WHAT an interesting year in food it's been.
Far from the try-anything mentality of a few years ago, ongoing global economic woes seem to be encouraging a more thoughtful take on dining.
Certainly there are fads (see Bacon below) and an emphasis on value, but it doesn't mean there's a lack of fine dining, or of chefs willing to take chances. It just seems there's more careful attention given to execution and flavour . . . and that's a shift I welcome.
Here, then, are my top trends in food and dining that have carried us through 2011 and promise to keep heating up in 2012 - plus a few of the eateries and products that capitalized on them. May your new year be a delicious one!
- Fine dining. After years of casual, comfortable, valuedriven food, perhaps the return of chef David Hawksworth and his eponymous restaurant in the beautifully restored Hotel Georgia marks a return to very high-end eating. Or maybe it's a one-off. Regardless, Hawksworth's food soars as high as it ever did, his feel for balance and nuance is impeccable, and the restaurant's overall attention to detail is outstanding.
- Pizza. Metro Vancouver, including the North Shore, has never been a mecca for authentic pizza lovers. In 2011 though, there was a race to see who could do true Neapolitan best, as in made with Caputo 00 pizza flour, San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on volcanic plains near Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana. In Vancouver, find it at Nicli Antica or Pizzeria Farina. On the North Shore, traditional Neapolitan pizza is scarce, but there are some delicious "flatbreads" emerging from the forno oven at Beachside Forno in Ambleside.
- Adventurous eating. Molecular gastronomy has largely taken a backseat to classic, more familiar techniques, but skilled chefs are still embellishing their dishes with unexpected touches. At Fraiche restaurant in the British Properties, chef Jefferson Alvarez has been making waves with his use of hard-tofind ingredients like yak and sturgeon, and delicious, though surprising, constructions like ash-crusted ostrich with chocolate jus.
- Single-item eateries. As well as pizzerias, 2011 saw the introduction of other singleitem outlets: sandwich shops, American cheesesteak, and for the North Shore, probably the continent's most famous yogurt shop. The opening of Pinkberry brought a handful of celebs to West Van, and long line-ups to the Village at Park Royal for the remainder of the summer.
- Cocktails. Our love affair with mixed drinks continued in 2011, and reached a new high when the New Orleans' drink fest known as Tales of the Cocktail hit the road for the very first time, and came to our town. Want to join in on three days of seminars, tastings, special events and more? It's coming back Feb. 12 - 14 in 2012. Find out more at www. talesofthecocktail.com.
- Comfortable food. In 2009, several high-end Vancouver restaurants closed their doors only to reopen as more casual, better-priced versions of themselves. That move towards food that is comfortable and comforting continued through 2011, and with all the competition, it's gotten even better. This year saw great new casual additions to the North Shore dining scene with remakes of Ya Ya's Oyster Bar (now called The Olive & Anchor) and Calvin's CafÃ©, now parked near Deep Cove.
- Bacon. It suddenly seems that North American consumers have just discovered the juicy, crispy, smoky appeal of it. There's nothing wrong with the abundance of pork dishes on menus everywhere, but it's the bacon-flavoured products that are alarming. In our office alone, we've had a range of items - from bacon jam (delicious), to Bacon Lube (yikes).
- Local, organic, sustainable. I know, these buzzwords are not new - nor are they going anywhere. Even with a greater emphasis on value, diners continue to pay attention to where and how their seafood is caught, whether or not their chickens are free range, and if their fruits and veggies are organic. The trend - healthy for our bodies and for the planet - is well represented at eateries like Lower Lonsdale's Buddha-Full (where lunch and smoothies are both mouthwatering and ethical) and at the many farmers' markets that sprang up over the summer. But it is nowhere more evident than at the Loutet Farm Edible Garden Project in North Vancouver.
- Mobile food. It can't be denied - though they have made only intermittent appearances at markets and events on the North Shore, a food truck craze is sweeping the West Coast. Spend any time at all downtown and you can't miss them - from Korean tacos to southern barbecue, sidewalk eating is all the rage, and it goes well beyond hot dogs and smokies. It can't be long before we can get our own fish tacos and rice bowls from streetside carts and trailers. (Are you listening, North Shore mayors and councils?)