Summer is an ideal time to dine out at restaurants, with people looking to usher in the steamy weather by taking advantage of a noticeably less crowded city and reserving tables at some of its newer establishments. Plenty of New York City restaurants have recently opened their doors, and we say that these first couple of months just might be the best time to try them out — the word is not yet out, service is usually attentive and seasonal ingredients are plentiful. Additionally, it’s rather well known in the restaurant industry that August is among the least busy times of the year, so why not help out your favorite neighborhood spot while scarfing down a steak frîtes, medium rare?
While covering the newcomers and gallivanting around, we picked up on the following restaurant trends:
- Burger supremacy
We’ve written about this extensively, but since when did the once-ordinary hamburger become crowned as the barometer of a New York City restaurant’s quality level? Be it a classic pub, sparkling bistro or upscale dining room, more and more new establishments are offering some form of the beloved burger as a specialty item.
Call it a harbinger of today’s restaurant trends, as acclaimed chefs are regularly opening more casual venues. In a similar vein, diners nowadays at city mainstay Gramercy Tavern are just as likely to enjoy a burger at the bar as they are to order from an elaborate tasting menu complete with wine pairings.
- Excessive emphasis on ingredient sourcing
Okay, so menus touting fresh produce from local farms aren’t exactly new. You are no longer surprised to learn straight from your menu that the apples in your salad were handpicked at Holbrook Farm. Pat LaFrieda has become a household name to the point of your questioning where the beef is from if it’s not explicitly specified as such. But have things officially gotten out of hand?
I enjoyed dinner at a (relatively casual) new American restaurant this week. The waitress made sure to point out that his main dish consisted of three components: one from a farm in upstate New York, one from coastal California and one from a small region in Italy. At this point, we’re just a step or two away from learning the name of the chicken we’re about to devour. Perhaps Portlandia was on to something.
- The slow, continued demise of OpenTable
A mere half-decade ago, there were generally two ways to obtain a restaurant reservation: Call the restaurant directly or log on to OpenTable to check out availability. Fast-forward five years and the dreaded “5:15 or 10:30 p.m.” conundrum has become commonplace for diners without some sort of legitimate personal connection. Yes, taking into account friends, family and VIPs, dining out in the city has become more political than ever. But what was once the dominant website for bookings has effectively become nothing more than a formality at this point.
Even more concerning is that there is no consensus solution in sight. “Hot” city restaurants these days employ third-party services, in-house systems or some combination of options to accommodate diners — often, not listing any openings whatsoever on OpenTable. The result is diners committing to meals — mostly at off-peak times — further in advance than ever before.
- Lots of openings, brought to you by fewer groups
Let’s conduct a quick, wildly unscientific study and use Eater’s most recent Heat Map as the sole guide to the city’s most popular restaurants currently. You’ll notice that a majority of the names near the top of the list are owned by renowned restaurant groups. Some of the newest vaunted spots are backed by Danny Meyer’s Union Hospitality Group, the Torrisi brothers’ Major Food Group and world-famous chefs like Daniel Humm, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Enrique Olvera. Other listed venues, such as Korean steakhouse Cote and Mexican mini-empire Empellon Midtown, are operated by chefs with existing successful restaurants in the city.
It’s easy to make the argument that these places are included on such a map due largely to their affiliation with these established chefs and groups, but it’s also a sign of just how difficult it is to be recognized as a new independent restaurant in the city. A growing number of restaurants are being opened at unprecedented rates by fewer restaurant groups, minimizing the already razor-thin margin of error for first-time restaurateurs and relegating them to merely hoping for rapid recognition through some sort of major media outlet.
- Omakase rules!
Another day, another omakase-only spot opening in the Big Apple… or so it seems. It’s been just over a year since this method of eating — in which the selection of items is left entirely to the chef, who bases his or her decisions primarily on the freshest ingredients available that day — really took off. (The term is most commonly associated with sushi but can encompass other types of Japanese cuisine as well.) Consider it a tasting menu — without any sort of menu, and, usually, a minimal amount of formality: Sit at the sushi bar and you might be out the door a mere 45 minutes later.
The past few months alone have yielded quality omakase openings, such as a Manhattan outpost of Brooklyn original Sushi Katsuei, Sushi Ishikawa on the Upper East Side, Los Angeles mini-chain Sugarfish, chef David Bouhadana’s Sushi by Bou inside Gansevoort Market and Sushi Yasuda alum Tatsuya Sekiguchi’s Omakase Room by Tatsu. While omakase has become associated with astronomical price points as it’s been introduced to American diners, it’s important to note that a few of the newer openings are specifically targeting lower check averages. Full meals at Sugarfish, Sushi by Bou and Sushi Katsuei go for $40, $50 and $57, respectively. That’s a far cry from the price tags attached to many of the city’s omakase venues that opened in the past couple of years, where a meal for two can easily run into the mid-hundreds of dollars. The popularity of omakase is definitely on the rise and here to stay, and it’s comforting to witness multiple restaurants now offering this luxury at attainable prices.