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New World of Flavors

At the new Thasos Greek Taverna in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Executive Chef William D’Auvray puts a modern spin on old-world Greek cuisine in dishes like this flame-broiled shrimp saganaki with roasted tomato and feta. michael pisarri for thasos
As global cuisine gets further defined, regional culinary hot spots come to the fore

By Joan Lang

Today’s global menus are digging deeper. Now that overarching categories like Italian and Asian are second nature to American diners, it’s time to explore the regions and sub-regions of world cuisine. “Italian” begets Roman and Calabrian food; “Mediterranean” drills down into Moroccan and Provençal French cuisine.

Not only are consumers more aware of redefined global cuisine, they’re also more interested in the regional specialties of American cuisine. Whether it’s New England or Low Country, more chefs and consumers are looking at U.S. regions to identify the “best of” cuisine. Here are a dozen places that make up the map of new world flavors.

With its emphasis on meze (small plates), dips and flatbread-wrapped meats, Greek food seems right in tune with current dining preferences. Approachable Greek ingredients also lend themselves to fast-casualization, as concepts like Zoe’s Kitchen and Daphne’s California Greek have discovered. Cava Mezze Grill, with five units around Washington, D.C., features mix-and-match Greek-influenced salads, pita sandwiches and bowls that can be topped and filled with the likes of tzatziki, feta, roasted red pepper hummus, falafel or grilled meatballs. Little Greek Restaurant, with 10 locations in Florida and Texas, features standards such as wrap and pita sandwiches, avgolemono soup, horiatiki Greek village salad, and dinners like souvlaki, gyros, pastitsio and moussaka.

At the other end of the spectrum is Jose Andres’s Zaytinya, which celebrates meze with an enormous selection of small plates, including spreads like yogurt labneh and taramosalata; goat cheese wrapped in grape leaves; and Greek pork-and-orange-rind sausages known as loukániko. Chef Michael Psilakis has gone back to his roots with three MP Tavernas, a modern take on a Greek tavern, with items such as crispy cod with garlic, potato purée and tomato sauce; a Trio of Spreads (yogurt and cucumber, feta and spicy chile, and sun-dried tomato and chickpea); and lamb shanks with orzo and root vegetables.

> Mujadra — Caramelized onions steamed with green lentils and topped with fried onions — CK Mediterranean Grille, San Diego and three locations in Michigan
> Pastitsio — Greek macaroni, ground beef, béchamel; served with mixed greens — Egg & Dart, Miami

Forget the Cajun-Creole boom of the 1980s; this is the New South, from the refined Low Country cuisine of South Carolina to the proud Bubba-cue of the Gulf Coast. The trend may have started with the whole-hearted embrace of shrimp-and-grits and fried green tomatoes, but it’s turned into a full-fledged exploration of the roots of Southern culinary history.

Chef Mark Steuer travelled with two colleagues to his hometown of Charleston to stage and research his new South Carolina-inspired restaurant Carriage House in Chicago, with a menu of Southern-inflected small plates and a whiskey-heavy bar program.

The new Hops N Scotch in Brookline, Mass., touts 40 beer taps, a 90-plus scotch and bourbon list and Southern-y comfort food, including blackened catfish po’ boys, housemade beer bread, fried green tomatoes with buttermilk dressing, Southern Scotch eggs and deep-fried root-beer custard pie.

> Pimento cheese with Ritz crackers; pickled shrimp; fried Carolina Gold rice with house-cured tasso, vegetables and clams; Low Country Boil (shrimp, clams, sausage, potato, and corn in smoked tomato broth) — Pasture, Richmond, Va.

> Cajun boiled peanuts; hush puppies; New Orleans style BBQ shrimp; boucherie plate; duck and sausage jambalaya — Boxing Room, San Francisco

Compared with the complexity of the Emilia-Romagna or the povera of Sicily, Roman cuisine is both more austere and more affluent. Typical Roman dishes — like gnocchi, pan-sauced pastas including spaghetti carbonara and cacio e pepe, pork and baby lamb dishes, salt cod, artichokes and fava beans, and oxtail stew and other “fifth quarter” meats like tripe — have all become more popular in the United States. The ancient, anchovy-like Roman seasoning garum (made with fermented fish) persists today.

Restaurateur Danny Meyer was one of the first to put the Roman trattoria concept together for an American audience, with Maialino in New York City — its stone floors, blue-and-white checked tablecloths and menu of straightforward pastas, salumi, suckling pig specialties, offal and ample contorni (vegetable side dishes) are all straight out of Lazio.

And Poggio in Sausalito, Calif., pays tribute to the Roman tradition of August seaside vacations with such specialties as uccellini allo spiedo (roasted game birds), fritto misto (mixed fried seafood) and grilled veal liver.

> Fried sweetbreads and artichokes; bucatini all’Amatriciana; lamb shanks with chickpeas and coriander; spit-roasted pork with charred peppers and lardo croutons — Locanda, San Francisco

> Clams and fregola; saltimbocca; Lupa pork and veal sausage — Lupa Osteria Romana, New York City

What’s an izakaya? Think of it as the love child of a tapas bar and a neighborhood pub, by way of Japan.  Inspired by the Japanese sake shops where a salaryman could sit and enjoy a glass or three of sake after work (the name literally means “sitting in a sake shop”), the izakaya serves an essential role in Japanese social life, just like the pub in England. And like these local joints, the izakaya also serves small snacks, the better to absorb — and sell more of — the booze.

One of the prototypical izakaya foods is kushiyaki — skewered grilled meats and vegetables. At ChixStix, in Portland, Ore., the menu includes The Original ChixStix (marinated roasted chicken in traditional homemade yakitori sauce with bell peppers and green onion); Pig Stix (pork, shiitake and ponzu); and veg-only Virgin Stix. There’s also a selection of Japanese sake, whiskey and beer.

Tokio Pub, in Schaumburg, Ill., features specialty cocktails along with cold and hot plates (peanut noodle salad, crying tiger shrimp with sriracha), selections from the robata grill (skirt steak, pork belly sliders) and crispy-rice sushi, called pub-style nigiri.

Nombe, in San Francisco, typifies the genre with an emphasis on beverages (the word “nombe” refers to someone who likes to drink heartily), with more than 90 kinds of sake, whiskey, beer, shochu and cocktails. The food menu features sashimi, snacks like edamame hummus, plus skewers and grilled items.

Styling itself as a dispensary for “Japanese tapas,” the new Bugs in Manhattan serves small plates like Asian pancakes with seafood and wild spinach, shrimp and seaweed salad with a plum-tofu mousse dressing, and Berkshire pork filet with burdock root chips.

> Scallop Tempura — Shredded filo, creamy spicy sauce, nori — Yakuza Lounge, Portland, Ore.
> Satsuma Age (housemade fish cake with seaweed and local vegetables); Kurobuta Pork “Kushikatsu” (bite-size skewered cutlets with Hatcho Miso sauce)  — Izakaya Yuzuki, San Francisco

Roman classics at Artisan’s in Tom’s River, N.J., include pasta carbonara — upgraded with guanciale (jowl bacon) and an egg yolk. Photo courtesy of barilla america. 5. REGIONAL CHINESE
Young, highly trained Asian and Asian-obsessed chefs like Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food have seen to it that regional variations of Chinese food are starting to appear. Lettuce Entertain You’s Wow Bao concept was one of the earliest entries in the mainstream dumpling arena, with its “hot Asian buns” menu and approachable fast-casual format. Other examples of the bun revolution include New York City’s Baohaus and Take a Bao, in the Los Angeles area. The new Biang! (the word said to mimic the sound of hand-stretched noodles being made) in Flushing, N.Y., has been attracting adventurous non-Asians with its huge menu, including “Spicy and Tingly Beef” with wide, hand-ripped noodles and Cumin Lamb Noodles seasoned with longhorn peppers — specialties of the Xi’an province of central China.

> Sichuan Pickled Vegetables (Napa cabbage, carrot, chile oil, Sichuan pepper, beer); “Mouthwatering Chicken” (cured chicken thigh, seared chicken hearts, vegetable noodles, Sichuan pepper) — Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco and New York City

Anyone who noted the land-office success of sushi in the United States might have guessed that Japan’s beloved ramen noodles might be the next step.

Rabid ramen fans have helped speed the mainstreaming along, from hole-in-the wall traditional ramen-ya to today’s amenity-laden ramen shops. And, of course, a nod to Momofuku’s David Chang for his benchmark pork-belly-and-shoulder ramen with soft poached egg.

The trend is exemplified by restaurants like the quick-casual Kobeyaki in New York City, with its sleek décor and its menu of rolls, bowls, burgers and buns, and of course its Ramen Noodle Soup, made fairly traditionally with roast pork, scallion, ginger, nori, togarashi (pepper), sesame seeds and tempura flakes.

Doodles, a new ramen/sushi quick-serve outlet on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, features oodles of pick-and-choose ramen combinations (Spam, wakame seaweed, sliced hard-boiled egg, baby bok choy and so on), served college-dorm-style in styro cups amidst anime ambiance, plus inexpensive grab-and-go sushi, Asian shakes and the like.

> White Soy Berkshire Pork Ramen — “Creating a perfect white soup instead of a brown soup is the goal of many ramen chefs. After a day of bathing in boiling hot water, a list of ingredients passed down for three generations finds itself transformed into more than just a simple stock. Although far from the peak, we strive to reach closer to that fabled soup. Finished in white soy sauce and topped with pork belly, bamboo, marinated soft-boiled egg, scallion and naruto.” — Hiro Ramen Shop, Philadelphia
> Café Duck Ramen  — Slow-roasted glazed duck leg and thigh, Café-made chicken and shoyu dashi broth, portobello mushroom, bean sprouts, spinach and scallions over fresh pulled Asian egg noodles, shiso-daikon radish salad, wakame seaweed salads, pickled ginger, sriracha and togarashi — Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café & Grill, Washington, D.C.

Ever since Roy Choi of Los Angeles’ game-changing Kogi BBQ made the “Korean taco” a household term, the straightforward, fiery foods of Korea have become more familiar to American foodies.

CJ Foods, a California distributor of Korean food ingredients, has opened a fast-casual restaurant called Bibigo (meaning “to mix”), with three locations in the Los Angeles area specializing in mix-and-match bibimbap, the iconic Korean rice bowl topped with meat or tofu, vegetables and sauce, mixed with lots of red-chile pepper paste.

Social Eatz, an “Asian gastropub” in New York City designed in partnership with Top Chef’s Angelo Sosa, features numerous Korean-inflected menu items, including a bibimbap burger with 60-minute egg and Korean pickles, kimchi fried rice, and Korean Fried Chicken and Taro Waffle with gochujang butter and maple syrup. And The Pearl, a restaurant in Nantucket, Mass., that serves some Asian-style specialties, menus a “KFQ” Korean Fried Quail with scallion, sesame, radish and kimchi pancakes as well as a Ssam Plate of sizzling pork belly cooked on a hot rock and accompanied by traditional condiments.

> Korean BBQ Beef Soft Tacos — Tender beef marinated in Kogi hot and sour barbecue sauce served in grilled flour tortillas and garnished with spicy pickled cucumbers and housemade kimchi — Sea Dog Brewing Co., South Portland, Maine
> Bulgogi beef sliders (with spicy pickled cucumber and scallion salsa); spicy “KFC” Korean fried chicken wings (honey, garlic, four chiles); kimchi bacon chorizo “paella” with fried Jidori hen egg — Danji, New York City

8. CLAM SHACK CUISINE: New England and Baltimore
Taking a cue from the iconic seafood shacks of Maryland, Maine and Massachusetts, operators are looking to New England and the Mid-Atlantic for thematic menu inspiration.

Manhattan’s new Down East Clam Shack is styled as a retail fish counter dispensing oysters, fried clams and fish sandwiches, lobster roll served with a pickle spear and Cape Cod Kettle Chips, plus a New England-style hot dog with a snappy natural casing. (Co-owners Ryan Chadwick, Callum McLaughlin and Gavin McLaughlin also operate the Nantucket-themed Grey Lady in the same neighborhood.)

Meanwhile, the Med-style Blue Room in Cambridge, Mass., offers up all-you-can-eat, crack-your-own Blue Crab + Beer Fest, plus steamers, corn on the cob and unlimited Narragansett, Cambridge Brewing and other local brews — all served on communal tables.

This year’s record-low Maine lobster prices are also spurring the trend: Milwaukee’s Mason Street Grill has added several lobster dishes to its menu, including a $30 lobster boil (a whole Maine lobster, corn on the cob, red potatoes, clams, mussels and linguiça sausage); a lobster cocktail and salad; broiled whole Maine lobster with crab stuffing; and lobster gazpacho.

> Maine Lobster Roll (with mayo); Maine Crab Roll; Connecticut Lobster Roll (with melted butter); Lobster Bisque; California Lobster Taco; Whoopie Pie — Cousins Maine Lobster, Pasadena, Calif.
> Baltimore-style Crispy Fried Whiting (a.k.a. “lake trout”); Cheese Fish “Sangwich”; Crab Cakes; Western Fries — Lake Trout, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Korean taco has spawned a new wave of innovations, such as these jicama-wrapped short ribs with Asian pear slaw. Photo courtesy of mccormick for chefs. 9. OUT OF NORTH AFRICA: MOROCCO
When you see harissa mayo on a hamburger, you know the food of Mediterranean Africa has arrived.

Moroccan cuisine is ripe for translation, filled with healthy grains and vegetables, exotic spices and fiery chiles. Two of its signature condiments — harissa (a chile- and cumin-laced hot sauce) and charmoula (a coarse, pesto-like sauce of cilantro, parsley, garlic, onion, lemon and cumin) — have already made it to mainstream menus.

Anthology in San Diego, for instance, quickly marinates swordfish with harissa and plates it with eggplant caponata and balsamic glaze. The Riverview restaurant in Ipswich, Mass., serves grilled baby Cornish hen with onion, olives, preserved lemon and charmoula sauce.

Aziza, a Michelin-starred contemporary Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco, may have led the charge to wider interest. It features traditional specialties treated to chef Mourad Lahlou’s innovation: duck confit basteeya; couscous with shelling beans, squash, figs and urfa (a type of pepper).

Tangierino, in Charlestown, Mass., is styled as a “Moroccan chophouse,” featuring a fusion of North African, French, Spanish, Asian and American culinary culture. Chef-owner Samad Naamad’s specialties include Moroccan Fisherman Stew (shrimp, squid, white fish, harissa olives in a light tomato-cilantro broth) and Sultan’s Kadra (za’atar-spiced rack of lamb, three-cheese-filled eggplant, shiitake, figs, apricots and rosemary reduction).

> The Marrakesh Come — Spicy merguez sausage with harissa mayo and Mediterranean salad — Underdogs, Philadelphia
> Lamb Shoulder Chop — With preserved lemon couscous, feta, tomatillo, grilled peaches and merguez oil — Five Leaves, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Grilled meats, green sauces, tasty sandwiches, meat-filled pastries — what’s not to like about the cooking of Argentina and Uruguay? Both of these countries reflect the arrival of immigrants from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France — pasta, pizza and sausages are big in both.

Asado (grilled meats) are the region’s superstars, touted by the 2009 cookbook Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, by chef-restaurateur Francis Mallmann with Peter Kaminsky.

The new Super Linda Latin Grill in Manhattan showcases the owners’ pan-South American backgrounds, with such grilled meats as flat iron steak with roasted pumpkin, grilled scallions and Malbec jus, and pork ribs with fried Brussels sprouts, pickled chiles and mint. Sandwiches include the “Chivito” (grilled steak, ham, mozzarella and fried egg) and Milanesa (breaded chicken breast with smoked pebre, arugula and lime).

Guarapo, featuring “modern Andean cuisine” in Washington, D.C., features a trio of different arepas (steak, chicken and shrimp) and Churrasco, grilled New York strip steak with Argentinean-style chimichurri, served with mixed greens and fries.

And choripán, the popular Argentine street food consisting of grilled sausage in a bun with various sauces, is the specialty of the new Choripan by Asado, inside the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash.

> Empanadas — ground beef; beef and cheese; Italian sausage and cheese; spinach, artichoke and cheese; crabmeat; barbecue chicken; pizza; chicken, broccoli and cheese; guava and cream cheese; apple — Mr. Empanada, Tampa-based
> Parrillada Argentina — Grilled combo of beef steak, pork chop, chicken and chorizo Argentino — Chimichurri’s South American Grill, New York City

Just as Ferran Adria contemplated shutting El Bulli, the baton of best restaurant in the world was passed to Noma, in Copenhagen, and thus was born a new influence. Chef-owner René Redzepi serves foods native to his homeland, famously hunting and foraging ingredients himself, inspiring a locavore-oriented interest in the food of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

The Bachelor Farmer, in Minneapolis, celebrates the region’s Nordic heritage via items like dill-cured white bass with crème fraîche, red onions and pickled cucumbers; Rullepølse (spiced meat roll) with preserved pheasant egg, fermented radish, and pork broth; and poached eggs with whey-glazed fingerling potatoes and braised kale.

The New York City outpost of Copenhagen’s Aamanns restaurant spotlights Denmark’s iconic smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches), topped with the likes of roast sirloin beef with coarse root vegetables, rémoulade and horseradish; braised pork belly with lettuce, walnuts, shallots and cranberry purée; and herring marinated with homemade curry with cloves, coriander seeds, bay leaves and mustard seeds. Trillium, in Denver, showcases the similar Swedish smörgåsbord, with $7 cheeses, caviar, and cold prepared items like aquavit-cured salmon, shaved air-cured beef tenderloin with pickled onions and beer mustard, and a trio of oysters with ginger aquavit mignonette.

> Mackerel with pear, radish and smoked egg yolk; Chicken & Eggs with new potatoes, fried eggs  — Acme, New York City

12. TAKIN’ IT TO THE (Southeast Asian) STREETS
The market fare of Southeast Asia is grabbing all kinds of attention. James Syhabout is the chef behind Hawker Fare in Oakland, Calif., with a menu inspired by the snack foods of Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. The menu includes Beef “Larb” (grilled beef steak salad with lemongrass, red onions, mint, cilantro and toasted rice powder); Bowl of Mussels in coconut broth; and Blistered Green Beans tossed in caramelized ginger “prik king” with smoked pork bacon and dried shrimp.

In Miami, Pubbelly dispenses such “haute street food” as Thai-style salt-and-pepper squid with smoked soy and serrano, udon carbonara and baby back ribs with barbecue peanuts and kimchi slaw.

Menu items at Cholon Modern Asian Bistro in Denver include Soup Dumplings filled with sweet onion and Gruyère as well as a Beef Shortrib Burrito with spicy radishes, bean sprouts and taro chips. And SC Crazy, a new fast-casual concept in San Francisco, offers everything from Saigon meatballs and crab-cake handrolls to ahi tuna poke, edamame teriyaki and Bangkok noodles.

> “Street Cart” menu: Truffled Shiitake Mushroom Noodles; Dragonfly Tater Tots (melted Gruyère, sriracha, sesame seeds, spicy mayo dipping sauce); Fresh Sriracha Bacon — Dragonfly, New York City


About The Author

Joan Lang

A freelance writer and editor living in the Portland, Maine, area, Joan Lang has been writing about food for more than 30 years, beginning her career in the financial and B2B press. She formed her own food and editorial consulting firm, Full Plate Communications, in 1989. She is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and holds degrees in architecture and journalism.