I recently got back from a trip to New York City and Washington D.C., where I ate a lot of the top-notch food those cities are known for: a Momofuku ramen bowl, lunch at the Museum of Modern Art's Michelin-star restaurant the Modern, pizza on the street. You know, the kind of fare people seek out specifically in those locales. But my traveling buddy and I also encountered a couple of food trends that could — and should — catch on in the Tampa Bay area.
Varying portion sizes: We encountered two extremes in terms of portion sizes at restaurants, both of which I haven't seen with as much frequency in the Tampa Bay area. On the smallish side were the "one-bite" dishes we had at a tapas restaurant called Huertas in the East Village. Realistically, most of these were about 2-4 bites, depending how daintily you consume food, but the most expensive one was just $7. For $20, you could order all six, allowing you to try many different flavor profiles and composed bites instead of just the ones in a single dish.
Another trend was family-style dishes, which seemed to appear on almost every dinner menu we perused. The dining style hasn't yet caught on in a big way here, but there are traces of it: At Il Ritorno in St. Petersburg, chef David Benstock recently introduced Family Night on Tuesdays, where diners pay $30 for a meal of solely family-style dishes. Like the small bites or tapas, it's another way of dining that appeals to the desire (particularly among millennial diners) to share plates and try more than one dish.
Cereal everywhere: David Chang's Momofuku empire is not just known for its noodles. It has also introduced to the world Milk Bar, a sister bakery run by chef Christina Tosi that specializes in sweets like crack pie and, most infamously, ice cream made with milk, cornflakes and brown sugar that mimics the flavor of the milk leftover at the bottom of a cereal bowl. (I liked it, but it's an acquired taste.) There are a couple of locations in NYC and a newer one in D.C. Then there was Kellogg's NYC, a cereal cafe that opened at the beginning of July right in Times Square. They only serve cereal, but the menu is vast and quirky and a more fun way to start the morning than bagels or doughnuts. It's all Kellogg's cereal, but with a twist (Tosi actually consulted on this menu, too): My bowl was a base of Special K and Frosted Flakes pumped up with pistachios, lemon zest and thyme — truly delicious. A place like downtown St. Petersburg seems just whimsical enough to welcome this nutty cereal fascination.
Salad places: One of my favorite culinary discoveries was not a high-end restaurant but a casual chain concept called Chopt, which specializes in salads. Specifically, make-your-own, Chipotle-style salads. We've written before about the serious lack of fast casual spots at which one can grab a healthy, hearty and affordable salad around here (particularly in downtown St. Pete and downtown Tampa), so Chopt and similar places like Sweet Green stood out to me. At each place, I was able to choose from a wide variety of bases — quinoa grain blend, arugula, spinach, etc. — and fresh toppings, and my salads usually came in at less than $10.
Contact Michelle Stark at [email protected] or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.