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Where To Eat Now: The Year in Microtrends

Tipless dining, new wave desserts, and the big secret of foie gras. (It's not very good.)

Aster’s frozen chocolate, mandarin, cocoa nib, and basil; a dessert sans nostalgia.

 

Read more of our ultimate Where To Eat Now guide here.

Have you noticed? Bay Area dining trends can be subtle and hard to follow sometimes, but the undertow is undeniably there. A few current microtrends that may well become macrotrends before the year is out.

 

Hot, Tipless Restaurants
With both the minimum wage and the disparity between front-and back-of-the-house wages on the rise, some Bay Area restaurants are discarding tipping and making dining out an all-inclusive affair. East Bay no-tippers include Ippuku, Camino, Homestead, and Duende, while in San Francisco, Trou Normand, Bar Agricole, Zazie, and Sous Beurre Kitchen have made the switch. For the diner, the inevitable sticker shock that marks the beginning of the meal is balanced by a liberating moment at its end: no more booze-blurred tip calculations.

Desserts Without Nostalgia
For a while, desserts seemed to be traveling in the direction of greasy spoons and Airstream trailers, what with the surfeit of soft-serve and pie. But if there’s any trend we’ve noticed lately, it’s that desserts are resolutely contemporary. Whether it’s Octavia’s wildflower-honey crumb pudding, Mourad’s huckleberry gelée, or Aster’s basil-spiked frozen chocolate, these desserts don’t need gimmicks. They demand only a fork or spoon.

What Heath Hath Wrought
Almost 70 years after the genesis of Heath Ceramics, its legacy is finally clear: It’s become all but impossible to open a restaurant without slapping elegantly rusticated, kiln-fired plateware on its tables. Heath-esque dishes have made their way to the Progress, Al’s Place, Aster, Huxley, Starline Social Club, Octavia, Trestle, and Aatxe, among others. Some are speckled like quail eggs, others are attractively streaked and mottled, and all have an impressive heft that has likely done wonders for servers’ upper-body strength. It’s all very pretty and rustic in a genteel sort of way, much like the cooking that has come to define so many of the above restaurants.

Fly Away Foie Gras
After California’s nearly three-year-old foie gras ban was overturned in January, restaurants like Monsieur Benjamin, Dirty Habit, and Les Clos happily put it on their menus. But now that we can have the fatty duck and goose liver, we've realized that those wacky activists were right: Foie gras is declassé. No one should be force-fed the stuff. Not that it’s bad—it’s just plain boring. No matter what chefs do to it, the French-born delicacy remains a rich, repetitive, one-note indulgence. Why was it considered so damn good? Maybe simply because it was forbidden.

Bathrooms With Swagger
2015 is the year of the loo. At the Progress the party’s in the bathroom, which boasts walls embedded with copper flakes and, like the WC at Liholiho Yacht Club, its own playlist. The disco continues at Aster, where the restroom is outfitted in wallpaper that resembles a metallic kilt. Even toilet paper isn’t left to its own devices: The Progress and AL’s Place wrap it in colored tissue. For a room with a view, try Mourad, where the unisex facilities sport Moroccan tile. You can smell the flowers in Izakaya Rintaro’s lovely john, or imagine that you’ve stumbled into a chic farmhouse at Octavia. This year, even if you don’t have to go, pretend you do.

The Cider House Rules
Although hard cider has been infiltrating bars for a few years now, it’s recently been making inroads onto restaurant drink menus: Lord Stanley, Aatxe, Cockscomb, and Napa’s La Taberna are all pouring it, as is Middle’terranea, the Michael Mina pop-up that launched in late July. Some of these ciders hail from Spain, which gives them a geographical connection to the sherry cocktails sold not only at Aatxe, La Taberna, and Mourad but also at AL’s Place and the Dock at Linden Street. It’s a good time to drink to the Iberian Peninsula, and then drink some more

 

Read More:

Tiny, Pretty Things: Food that's ready for Instagram

A Ground Meat Groundswell: Burgers aren't going anywhere.

Prix Fixe Holdouts and Casual Refinements: Fancy still has its place.

Keeping it in the Family: Platters are the new plates.

Destination Neighborhood Joints: Local spots with wide-ranging appeal.

France, Now and Forever: The bistro still abides.

Eating, Drinking, and the Other Way Around: Bar or restaurant? You be the judge.

Next Wave Asian: Redrawing culinary borders.

 

 

Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco

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