A Half-Dozen Trends to Look For on Menus in 2012

1. Going with the Grain
We’ll continue to see increased enthusiasm for grain-based menu items as grainiacs gravitate toward rice, pasta, quinoa, barley and a host of heirloom and specialty grains. At Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C., for instance, the “Simple Plates” that pair proteins and grains include combos like fish, barley and roasted vegetables; chicken, quinoa, zucchini and pine nut salad; and the beef, red rice, pickled vegetable and arugula salad.

2. Reading It Before Eating It
More menu descriptions these days include the provenance of dinner. With the search intensifying for local, artisanal and authentic ingredients, menu notes tell customers the story of ingredients featured in menu items. Restaurateurs used to say customers first ate with their eyes. Now, it seems, restaurant-goers want to read it before they eat it. The antipasto at Rialto in Boston is described as: San Daniele prosciutto, Montasio cheese, sweet and sour quince and pickled turnip.

3. Cool Desserts
Literally, that means more ice creams and sorbets in flavors inspired by the seasons, herbs and spices, and savory ingredients. Examples include desserts at Lola in Cleveland, where ice cream flavors such as caramel-parsnip and maple-bacon are featured in desserts. At L.A. Creamery Artisan Ice Cream in California, ice cream flavors range from goat cheese and currant to olive oil.

4. Developing a Taste for the Islands
The Hawaiian Islands, that is. Hawaii-inspired ingredients offer a Pacific Rim/American Regional focus. Offerings include seafood varieties, Hawaiian sea salt, tropical fruits, purple-fleshed Okinawa sweet potatoes, taro, macadamias, flavored shave ice, and juice-based beverage blends such as POG (a combination of passion fruit, orange and guava). At Hali’imaile General Store in upcountry Maui, entrees include macadamia nut-crusted fresh catch with tropical fruit salsa, mashed purple sweet potatoes and mango lilikoi (passion fruit) butter sauce.

5. Veg-ucation: Tempting Menu Items Introduce Customers to More Vegetables and Educate the Palate
Inspired presentations for beets, kale, celery root, parsnips, salsify, Brussels sprouts, and squash varieties are dressing up American menus.

6. Not Kidding Around with Kids’ Menus
Expect to see creative changes to kids’ menus that address concerns about childhood obesity and encourage children to eat more healthfully. For example, Hyatt Hotels is working with Partnership for a Healthier America to make changes to its children’s menus. Similarly, Darden Restaurants has announced its commitment to provide healthier options on kids’ menus.