When we predicted a year ago the rise of fancy ferments and locally milled grains, we didn’t see a pandemic coming. We were right about our plant-based foods trend prediction, it turned out, but we didn’t think it would be spurred by people trying to fend off excess COVID weight.
This year, we can expect to see more of the restaurant trends of the last six months—takeout, ghost kitchens, comfort food—but also plenty of innovation. And post-vaccine, things could get a little more exciting.
Here are the Canadian food trends we’re expecting in 2021.
Fine Dining Takeout
The increase in takeout, from fine dining to fried chicken, is bound to continue. Fine dining Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto in Toronto is setting the bar high. Its wagyu bento-style care boxes and three-box, eight-course dinners include intricate arrangements of raw, steamed, fried, grilled, and seared creations.
Nearby Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse is delivering its exceptional steaks three ways: raw, cooked to be eaten immediately, and part of a meal kit in which the raw steak is accompanied by sauces, salts, popovers, and cooking instructions. The extensive options include dry-aged Canadian prime beef and a A5 black tajima striploin from Japan. You can even add a bag of charcoal for grilling at home.
Meanwhile in Vancouver, Savio Volpe’s Arrosto-GoGo chicken dinner for two is drawing diners with a roasted half-chicken, salad, vegetable side, dessert, and a bottle of barbecue sauce infused with bitter orange Italian chinotto soda (plus an optional bottle of vino). The menu didn’t change much for takeout, but some of the restaurant’s more luxurious items, for example, whole fish, aren’t available, operations manager Kaitlin Legge says. “We wanted to make sure that all the items would travel home and still be enjoyable for our guests who prefer the comfort of their own couch to a banquette at this time,” she explains.
Wine and Cocktails to Go
Depending on provincial liquor laws, restaurants will continue to sell bottles of wine, beer, cider, spirits, and cocktail kits with takeout and delivery into 2021.
Pullman wine bar, like many Montreal restaurants, has turned itself into a caviste, essentially a wine shop, but it has gone beyond by creating custom-mixed cases by region, varietal, and type of wine.
The charm of cocktail bar Proof in Calgary comes through in its 13 boxes for at-home mixologists, including the Snowball Old-Fashioned cocktail box, which includes a full bottle of rye plus gingerbread syrup, two oranges, and a cubed-ice mould—because you don’t want your Old-Fashioned melting too quickly, even at home.
Upscale Goes Casual
In addition to opening a bottle shop or grocer, one popular COVID pivot for smaller high-end restaurants has been to shift their menu to a trending dish or cuisine.
The most menu recent shift from Le Mousso in Montreal is to a selection of TV dinners including Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes, pear- and caraway-braised cabbage, and white chocolate-yuzu mille-feuilles; a rustic salmon and shrimp parmentier marin; and a white lasagna with squash and mushrooms.
During Edmonton’s most recent lockdown, Yarrow is taking a break from its 20- to 25-course tasting menu in its tiny space in favour of takeout cocktails from the bar and dry-aged burgers to go inspired by the Peter Luger Steakhouse in New York.
“We’re calling it ‘This is not Yarrow,’” chef Ben Staley says. “When we did our first burger, we had so many orders, we sold out twice. People actually got mad at me.” Now he’s adding themed sandwiches to mix things up, such as a seafood week with oyster po’ boys, a Krabby Patty, and maybe a lobster roll, he says. Get them while you can, though, because they won’t be sticking around once the restaurant opens again.
The reinvention of restaurants—or at least menus—every few months will no doubt continue into the winter and spring as more barbecue and picnic-friendly options reappear. But gourmet salads, like those from Mandy’s—whose cookbook is a Globe and Mail no. 1 bestseller—are bound to skyrocket in popularity as temperatures rise. Artful options can also be found at high-end restaurants of various cuisines, including Park in Montreal.
A World of Comfort
The upside to an abundance of empty storefronts and chefs out of work is that there’s ample opportunity for bootstrapped restaurant ventures as Canadians explore the world through food. The types of cuisine at these new places run the gamut, from Nigerian suya beef from Cassava in Toronto to Syrian lamb kibbeh at ghost kitchen Yasma in Vancouver to Taiwanese beef noodle soup at La Canting in Montreal. “Now more so than ever, people are looking for comfort in food,” La Canting co-owner Helena Lin observes. ”At their core, our dishes are meant to comfort and nourish.”