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Ingredients, hot dishes we’ll see in 2014

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:50PM

Remember when no one knew what quinoa was (let alone how to pronounce it), kale was the domain of Southern restaurants and bacon rarely left the confines of breakfast? Frankly, we can’t either.

With dining food trends changing faster than you can say, “Check, please!,” it’s hard to keep up. For 2014, we’ve looked into our crystal ball — i.e., checked in with some local food industry professionals — to predict what we’ll be seeing on menus in Chicago in the next 12 months. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Vegetable-focused dishes: This one has been a long time coming, with restaurants slowly adding creative vegetable dishes. This year, look for the green-day trend to expand, like it has at Nellcote, where chef Jared Van Camp recently added a menu showcasing vegetables (think kale carbonara, wood-roasted mushrooms). “It’s a consciousness kind of thing,” says Van Camp. “People are demanding more vegetables and healthier items.”

Biscuits: Look out, cupcakes! Biscuits are popping up on menus around town, including at Bang Bang Pie Shop and newcomer Endgrain. Soon-to-open Leghorn will use them for its fried chicken sandwiches and, as the name indicates, they will be front and center at upcoming River North’s The Buttered Biscuit. “A lot of chefs are getting back to the basics and letting go of crazy flavor combinations and gimmicky fads,” says Endgrain’s chef/partner Enoch Simpson. “Biscuits are the perfect vehicle for all things good: butter, jam, gravy, pork belly, fried chicken. Anything you like is going to taste better on a warm, buttery biscuit.”

Italian: With the recent openings of the Gold Coast’s Nico Osteria and the 63,000-square-foot Eataly, quickly followed by the packed status of both, the prediction of Italian cuisine coming on strong this year is a no-brainer. “It’s cyclical,” says chef de cuisine Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria, which focuses on seasonality rather than old-school stand-bys like spaghetti and meatballs. “Chicago has a long tradition of Italian restaurants, but now chefs are adding more modern influences to classic dishes.”

In-house produce gardens: Restaurant rooftop gardens are great, but what happens if you don’t have the space? If you’re the creative chefs at Kabocha, J. Rocco Italian Table & Bar and Moto, you bring the green goodness inside. All these spots have started growing herbs, microgreens and lettuces indoors via hydroponic and other innovative technologies, giving them an abundance of rotating greens right at their fingertips. Says J. Rocco’s Steve Chiappetti: “What’s more sustainable than this?” We think they’re onto something.

Oysters: Fans of the bi-valve mollusk have plenty to be excited about in 2014 with the opening of three new oyster-focused restaurants: downtown’s Pearl Tavern, Oyster Pail in Lakeview and Bow & Stern Oyster Bar, which debuted in December. Credit the oyster increase on an abundance of different varieties, says Carl Galvan, director of marketing and procurement at Supreme Lobster & Seafood Co. Added bonus: With those variations come infinite opportunities for beverage pairings. “Oysters are the perfect drinking food because the brininess makes you want to cleanse your palette with another sip,” says Galvan.

Creative beverage programs: Chicago’s craft cocktail scene saw plenty of love in 2013. This year, we predict non-alcohol beverages are going to be in the spotlight. At Owen + Alchemy, set to open in early 2014, seasonal nut milks and a chef-designed juice program are in the works. When it opens in early 2014, Ukrainian Village’s The Winchester will feature on-tap programs for both its cold-pressed fruit-juice sodas and kombucha.

Gluten-free: Not that long ago, eating gluten-free at restaurants was a challenge. But these days it has become a lot easier (and tastier) with chefs foregoing wheat in favor of alternative flours for their bread, pasta and even pizza offerings. Leading the pack is Lakeview’s Senza, which offers multicourse gluten-free dinners, as well as baked goods in the morning.

Unusual fish and presentations: No, it’s not your imagination; restaurant menus are featuring more under-the-radar seafood, whole fish options, which you’ll find at Nico Osteria and come January at GT Fish & Oyster, and uncommon plating. At the just-opened Dusek’s in Pilsen, chef Jared Wentworth opts to serve his monkfish on the bone. “Unusual and whole fish are a cool trend that is finally becoming not only acceptable in Chicago but searched out due to the fact that diners are becoming more educated and adventurous,” says Galvan. “Since Chicago has become a culinary destination, chefs are now more free and willing to explore because they know the product will sell.”

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