During the course of what I’ll call “The Great Post-Millennial Comfort-Food Stampede,” certain immutable truths emerged in the world of big-city dining. Brasseries are always in vogue, and any restaurant with the word barbecue in its name will get mobbed, at least for a month or two. In difficult times, rustic is the favored buzzword among Italian chefs, and casual spinoff is the term restaurant barons employ when they wish to sell lots and lots of profitable drinks. Some of these trends will hold true in 2004, but during my culinary perambulations around town, I’m beginning to detect a subtle turn in the weather.
With the stock market on the upswing, high-end establishments are beginning to fill up again. Formerly baroque, unfashionable phrases like “Asian fusion” are suddenly fashionable again, and with the completion of the mammoth haute cuisine food court in the new Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, a new wave of great chefs will soon be setting up shop in Manhattan. And in the meantime, as the city slowly comes back to life, sophisticated food continues to bloom all around town. Only it’s wrapped in modest packages and tends to be served in the most unlikely, out-of-the-way places.