We're five months into 2013, and now that all the beginning-of-the-year trend pieces are but a distant memory, we can identify what foods and dishes are hot at area restaurants.
Some off-the-cuff observations from this restaurant critic: Pimiento cheese (or pimento, if you prefer, but you invite the wrath of my editor), cauliflower in pretty much any form and kale salad.
This last item received notice today from no less an authority than the New York Times in an article titled "Oh, How the Humble Has Risen," which, among other things, manages to work a Great Gatsby reference into the lede.
Writes Kristin Tice Studeman:
Forget about filet mignon or caviar. The fashionable plat du jour these days is the humble kale salad, which seems to telegraph a certain veggie-chic for the juice-cleanse set.
"Kale creates a younger, hipper feel as opposed to something like classic haricots verts tied up," said Liz Swig, a board member of Creative Time and a chairwoman of the gala. "Our food was really a nod to Brooklyn and the culture of food that's happening there."
Fear not, fellow St. Louisans. You don't have to travel to Brooklyn to experience the kale salad. We have several excellent versions of the dish right here in town.
Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603) serves a shaved kale salad with breadcrumbs, a creamy anchovy dressing and a generous shaving of pecorino. You can make an entire meal out of the larger version of this salad ($11.95), but even the more modest $6.95 version is hearty and flavorful enough to satisfy.
Riffs on the classic Caesar salad are common. Olio (1634 Tower Grove Avenue; 314-932-1088) serves its kale salad with anchovies, while Basso (7036 Clayton Avenue; 314-932-7818) gains its fishy edge by pairing a mixture of kale and peppery arugula with a classic tonnato sauce.
As with Pastaria's version, Basso gains full-meal status thanks to the mountain of pecorino cheese atop it, while what are essentially rye-bread croutons add crunch and a welcome note of caraway. Cleveland-Heath (106 North Main Street, Edwardsville, Illinois; 618-307-4830) doesn't quite the follow the faux-Caesar template, with garlic, red-chile flakes and a lemon vinaigrette providing a brighter, punchier flavor, while Parmesan crisps provide the crunch.
Kale salads are so popular now that I've surely forgotten several. Let me know in the comments.