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Seafood finds a new home on morning menus

Seafood is becoming a thing at breakfast.

According to Datassential’s most recent Seafood Keynote report, mentions of fish and shellfish have been growing on breakfast menus by at least 40 percent over the past decade. While some seafoods such as smoked salmon, shrimp and crab have been served for breakfast for years, relative newcomers such as oysters, mussels, anchovy and cod also are finding a place on morning menus.

“Although most people would turn away from seafood early in the morning, the oysters get your blood flowing and the crispy crunch of a fried oyster is something that guests crave while brunching," said chef Donny Farrell of Oyster Bah in Chicago.

Currently on his brunch menu is a fried oyster Benedict made with fried oysters, arugula, poached egg and Tabasco butter. For those who can’t stomach an early morning oyster but still want seafood at brunch, Farrell offers shrimp and grits made with lobster-tomato gravy, Parmesan grits, and poached eggs.

Oysters are all over Jamie Leeds’ brunch menus at her various concepts in the Washington, D.C., area, including Hank’s Cocktail Bar, Hank’s Pasta Bar, and four locations of Hank’s Oyster Bar. Among the brunch favorites is the Hang-town Fry Frittata, a classic Southern California dish Leeds says was made famous during the Gold Rush era, featuring eggs, fried oysters, bacon, tomatoes and onion.

All locations of Hank’s Oyster Bar also serve raw oysters on the half shell, sake oyster shooters and fried oysters.

“Any opportunity that poses itself to feature oysters, we take it,” said Leeds. “Raw, steamed, fried, or smoked, oysters should always be included in a balanced diet. They’re power packed with protein and rich in omega-3 fatty acids and minerals — a great way to start any day.”

Raw oysters with mignonette and celery and steamed clams are among the many seafood dishes on the brunch menu at Shaker & Spear in Seattle, but executive chef Carolynn Spence’s favorite is the salt cod beignets.

To make them, Spence soaks the fish in a mixture of milk, thyme, olive oil, garlic and black pepper, then she blends that with a dough made from eggs, wheat flour, butter and nutmeg. Five beignets are fried in canola oil to order, and served atop salsa verde inside the wood boxes in which the salt cod is delivered.

“There’s just something about rich, savory salt cod. It’s almost like adrenaline for your palate,” Spence said. “Same goes for anchovies, fresh herbs and acid which balance it out as their sauce.”

On the brunch menu at Henrietta Red in Nashville, chef Julia Sullivan offers several seafood dishes, including wood-roasted oysters prepared either with green curry or Calabrian chile butter and breadcrumbs, and mussel toast with sunchoke, fennel, chile, labneh, and kale za’atar on top.

Also offering a seafood toast is Kelly Fields, chef and owner of Willa Jean in New Orleans. Her BBQ shrimp toast is made with grilled sourdough bread topped with burrata and Gulf shrimp slathered with NOLA-style barbecue sauce made with shrimp heads and shells, Worcestershire sauce, Creole seasoning, garlic, butter and black pepper.

On the menu for the last few years, this popular Southern-inspired brunch dish isn’t going anywhere any time soon, Fields said.

At Sunda, with locations in Chicago and Nashville, executive chef and partner Mike Morales gives the popular crab cake benedict a Maryland-meets-Japan touch, and reduces kitchen waste, with crispy Maryland softshell crab and a hollandaise sauce made with siracha and the Japanese spice mixture togarashi.

“Softshell crab is in one of our sushi rolls featured during dinner, so it was a great excuse for me to incorporate it into a traditional brunch item,” Morales said. “I love the way the hollandaise enhances the already delicious crab.”

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Lobster, salmon, scallops, mussels, trout and shrimp featured this summer

Restaurant chains are celebrating the warmer weather with seafood items, such as lobster salad and grilled scallops. Here’s a look at 18 fish and shellfish dishes on menus this season.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@informa.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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<p><strong><span style="color:black">Lobster Ravioli: </span></strong><span style="color:black">Saffron-basil ravioli stuffed with lobster, served in tomato cream sauce with spinach and Pecorino Romano cheese, $12.99</span></p>

<p><strong><span style="color:black">Lobster Insalata Pizza: </span></strong><span style="color:black">White pizza with fresh mozzarella baked and then topped with a salad of lobster and arugula in lemon vinaigrette, $21.99</span></p>

<p><strong><span style="color:black">Lobster Farmhouse Salad: </span></strong><span style="color:black">Salad with pepperoni, roasted olives, diced peppers, cucumbers, fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes and lobster in lemon-herb dressing made with rosemary, parsley, red pepper flakes, garlic, lemon and olive oil, $23.99</span></p>

<p><strong>Lobster &amp; Shrimp Rossini: </strong>Spaghetti in creamy tomato sauce with capers and hot pepper, seared shrimp and lobster meat topped with a blend of shaved aged cheese, $23.99</p>

<p><strong>Cod Piccata: </strong>North Atlantic cod sautéed with lemon, capers, white wine, chopped parsley and Pecorino Romano with a side of spaghetti,<strong> </strong>$17.99</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Through Aug. 11</p>

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<p><strong>Grilled Salmon BLT: </strong>Summer tomato, bacon and shredded lettuce on toasted focaccia with lemon-basil sauce, around $16.75 with choice of side, lunch only</p>

<p><strong>Lemon Basil Grilled Salmon: </strong>Salmon and orzo pasta tossed with tomatoes, summer squash, Parmesan butter, basil and parsley, around $17.25, lunch only</p>

<p><strong>Lemon Basil Grilled Scallops: </strong>Sea scallops and orzo pasta tossed with tomatoes, summer squash, Parmesan butter, basil and parsley, around $27.50, dinner only</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Through July 30</p>

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<p><strong>One Night in Bangkok Spicy Shrimp: </strong>Fried shrimp tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce, topped with scallions and sesame seeds and served on a bed of coleslaw, price varies by location</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Permanent</p>

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<p><strong>Smoked Trout Dip: </strong>Lemon-infused cream cheese, sour cream, mozzarella, Parmesan, dill and smoked trout garnished with chives and diced red peppers and served with crostini, $9</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Through August</p>

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<p><strong><span style="color:black">Citrus Zoodle Salad with Seared Shrimp</span></strong><span style="color:black">: Chilled zucchini noodles, carrots and cucumbers marinated in lemon juice and lime juice with grapefruit vinaigrette and served with seared shrimp, pineapple and red pepper, $9.99</span></p>

<p><strong><span style="color:black">Lemon Ginger Stir Fry: </span></strong><span style="color:black">Choice of crisp fried steak, chicken. or shrimp stir-fried with broccoli, onions and scallions in honey lemon ginger sauce, $8.99</span></p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Through Aug. 7</p>

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<p><strong>Lobster Masher Pizza: </strong>Pizza topped with olive oil, salt, pepper, Asiago and mozzarella cheeses, mashed potatoes, bacon, scallion and lobster meat, served with drawn butter; $3.50 per slice, $14.50 for a small pie, $22.75 for a large</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Through summer</p>

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<p><strong>Summer Power Bowl: </strong>A bowl of quinoa and rice with edamame, seasonal berries, sliced almonds, lemon olive oil vinaigrette and choice of grilled or fried shrimp, grilled chicken or grilled salmon, starting at $9.99</p>

<p><strong>Dragon Power Bowl: </strong>Quinoa and rice drizzled with soy-ginger sauce and topped with broccoli and choice of protein, starting at $9.99</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Permanent during lunch only</p>

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<p><strong>Amalfi Steamed Mussels</strong>:&nbsp;Mussels steamed in lemon-Parmesan-white wine broth with yellow tomatoes, thyme and oregano, $12</p>

<p><strong>Prosciutto-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp</strong>: Shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with sundried tomato, goat cheese, lemon butter and chives, $11.50</p>

<p><strong>Grilled Mahi-Mahi</strong>:&nbsp;Grilled mahi mahi fillet with bruschetta tomatoes (Roma tomatoes in olive oil with garlic, salt, pepper and basil), pesto gnocchi and basil, $23</p>

<p><strong>Availability: </strong>Through September</p>

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Contrasting flavors and textures add to seafood’s appeal

With American appetites for octopus swelling year after year, more chefs are seizing the opportunity to express their love of — and flex their creativity for — the tentacled cephalopod.

“I love the texture of octopus because it gives you everything you want in three to four bites,” said chef Victor Albisu. “An amazing mouthfeel when cooked tender, a crispy outside and a nice glaze.” 

Albisu serves octopus at both of his restaurant concepts, Taco Bamba, his fast-casual taqueria with five locations in Virginia, and Poca Madre, his upscale contemporary Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C.

About a year ago, Albisu added the Wu's Garden Octopus Taco to the menu at the Vienna, Va., location of Taco Bamba. An homage to a now-defunct local restaurant Wu's Garden, known for its sweet-and-sour pork, the taco is a soft corn tortilla filled with braised octopus, smoked pork belly, grilled pineapple, red onion, shishito peppers, pickled Fresno chiles, sweet-and-sour sauce, scallions and sesame seeds.

Galician-style octopus carpaccio at Olivia. (Photo: Olivia)

“I wanted to do something fun based off that dish to honor one of the classic restaurants that use to be in the area,” Albisu said.

In contrast, at Poca Madre he serves the cephalopod crispy with mole blanco, ink pepper jam and sunchokes.

Also serving octopus multiple ways — grilled and as carpaccio — is Lamia's Fish Market, the just-opened 7,000 square-foot, two-story Mediterranean restaurant on New York City’s Lower East Side.

"Having deep roots in the Moroccan and Spanish cultures, I grew up eating octopus prepared multiple ways,” restaurateur Lamia Funti said. “With the octopus carpaccio dish on our new menu … we let the flavor of the octopus stand out by using a simple red wine vinegar and seasoning with sea salt, pepper, and olive oil."

While it is not a new method, Kris Morningstar, chef of Jarman’s Restaurant at H Club in Los Angeles, sees charring as a trending method of cooking octopus thanks to unique flavors profile that results.

Morningstar had cooked his octopus low and slow for year, either by simmering or in sous-vide.

“Then, one day I tried a similar preparation to what I now use on the octopus for pig ears and the results were mind-blowing.”

Currently, Morningstar is serving charred octopus with burnt-leek aïoli, Espelette peppers and fingerling potatoes.

“Before we char, we confit the octopus in olive oil with garlic, chile de Arbol and bay leaf,” Morningstar said. “I think confit gives the best, meatiest texture for the octopus. The charring crisps the outside and creates a great juxtaposition for the tender inside.”

Morningstar even adds char, and depth of flavor, to the aioli, folding charred, powdered leeks and onions into an otherwise straightforward aïoli made with lemon, garlic, egg yolk and neutral oil.

Also playing up char is chef Henry Wesley of 8UP, a rooftop restaurant and lounge in Louisville, Ky. Wesley is currently serving wood-fired octopus glazed with gochujang honey over white beans. The caramelizing glaze amplifies the smoke and char. 

At Onward in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, executive chef Patrick Russ reinterprets the flavors and textures of a traditional Japanese snack in his octopus dish.

“My favorite thing to eat in this world is Takoyaki — an octopus-stuffed dough topped with a barbecue sauce,” Russ said.

For his version, Russ cooks octopus in sous-vide for three hours. He wraps it in a chickpea pancake and fries it to order. Then he tops it in a Japanese barbecue sauce made with Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, fermented Fresno chile, fermented garlic, brown sugar, granulated sugar and oyster sauce.

To lighten and brighten the dish, he serves it with compressed Persian cucumbers in a ginger pickling liquid

“Our spin is meant to be reminiscent of Japanese street food but with a more refined edge,” Russ said.

Also reinterpreting a classic is executive chef Matt Kuhn of Olivia, a new rustic Mediterranean eatery in Washington, D.C. Kuhn is serving a Galician-style octopus carpaccio, which is typically made with thick-cut octopus, olive oil, boiled white potatoes and paprika.

“What makes chef Kuhn’s dish modern is his preparation of the octopus, said bar manager Tim Hays. “Chef wraps the tentacles in Serrano ham and then chills it. The ham and octopus meld together, and chef thinly slices the octopus, carpaccio-style, resulting in a detailed presentation of the tentacles on the plate.”

The octopus carpaccio is served with pickled purple potatoes, a peri-peri aïoli and crunchy chicharrónes.   

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The experts discuss their favorite finds

Nancy Kruse:

The only time we crossed paths in Chicago, Bret, was on the 9 a.m. shuttle to McCormick Place on Saturday morning. It was the lull before the annual NRA Show storm, both of us bright eyed, bushy tailed and running through our respective must-see lists. Less than a week has passed since that encounter, and, while battered, I am also unbroken, just barely, by the usual post-show overload.

As you know, this was a very special edition, the 100th anniversary of the event that began its long life in Kansas City, Mo., before finding its home in Chicago in 1950. It afforded an opportunity to reflect on the strength and vibrancy of our industry, and to ask if restaurateurs can sustain the same level of can-do creativity and energetic entrepreneurship for another hundred years. This last is strictly a rhetorical question, because the affirmative answer was in evidence everywhere on the floor of the show.

All in the family

I am always struck by the extraordinary number of small businesses that support the industry, many of which, like the restaurants they serve, are family owned and operated. Among my favorites this year: Zesty Z, The Za’atar Company, which is run by Lorraine and Alexander Harik, a mother-son duo. Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., they built their business on her Lebanese recipe for the herbal condiment that’s prevalent across Mediterranean cuisines. Their website, which traces the roots of the product all the way back to biblical times, also touts their new line of distinctly unbiblical za’atar-spiked popcorn.

Like the company that they run, brothers Roberto and Francisco Pavan were born in Venezuela and raised in Los Angeles. Their Kumana brand of avocado sauces offers a delicious, pourable version of the wildly popular fruit that relies on their mother’s recipe. Roberto, the foodservice vice president, explained to me that they chose to market their products as avocado sauces rather than use the Venezuelan term “guasacaca.” They smartly reasoned that any name that included caca wouldn’t play well with an American audience.

And I just loved the thoroughly modern matzo products from The Matzo Project, whose founders — lifelong friends from Brooklyn — built a better matzo. Their snappy crackers and chips come in fun flavors like cinnamon sugar and harissa, and their amusing and memorable packaging is pretty snappy too, with its bespectacled Jewish mother exhorting “Eat something. You look skinny,” among other typically Yiddishe-momme expressions.

Coming to America

On a related note, I was constantly reminded that not only are we a country built by immigrants, but also that the restaurant industry is uniquely in their debt. Their continuing contributions stretch from the farm to the factory to the front of the house, a point that was driven home by Simona Faroni, cofounder of G.S. Gelato. When she and her husband moved here from Italy in 1996, they did not speak a word of English, but they were young, enthusiastic and believed in the American dream. And 23 years later they’re living it as the leading manufacturer of gelato for foodservice and private label.

Then there is the La family. Kim Su Tran La, her husband and their seven children fled Vietnam in 1980, landed in Houston and opened the perennially popular Kim Son restaurant. Her recipes are the basis for Mama La’s line of Vietnamese specialties like the East-meets-West Cajun boudin eggrolls and the soothing, restorative pho concentrates. As one of her sons ladled me a cup of aromatic beef broth, he mentioned that, at age 87, La puts in daily appearances at the plant to keep an eye on both her human and culinary progeny. 

Designing women

The prominence of women business owners alongside all those indefatigable maternal recipe providers is an important example of how the industry values and rewards innovation. This was top-of-mind as I moseyed through the American Food Fair pavilion, always a favorite of mine. This year I was introduced to switchel, a vinegar-based beverage with a long history. Minnesotan Melina Lamer was seriously into ice hockey and looking for high-quality rehydration to sustain her exertions with the puck. The result is her Superior Switchel, which she created by combining apple cider vinegar and ginger with a range of other ingredients. It is both functional and lipsmacking.

In a booth nearby, Sue Kakuk, another Minnesotan, was handing out Kakookies, her better-for-you cookies, which she fabricated to be both nutritionally dense and comforting. The product evolved from her desire to provide her daughter, a competitive collegiate cyclist, with an attractive snack during her long rides.

Fortified by both switchel and Kakookie, I was able to navigate an additional half-dozen aisles, which brought me face-to-face with another resourceful woman, Christine Schindler, CEO of PathSpot, a scanner that instantly detects bacteria and viruses on the hands. I was relieved when my scan gave me a clean bill of health and engaged by the enthusiasm of Schindler and her cofounder, Dutch Waanders, neither of whom looks old enough to drive a car, but both of whom have leveraged their biomedical training and scientific smarts to benefit the foodservice business.

When Penny Met Sally

I was simultaneously interested and bemused by the latest generation of robotics on display in the Kitchen Innovations Showroom. I was interested to see how fast the field is evolving, as with Penny, a foodservice robot powered by artificial intelligence that acts as a combo food runner and busser; her offspring, available later in the year and known as Penny 2, will come with a tablet that will allow her to communicate with patrons and take their orders. Sally, by contrast, is a robotic server who dishes out fresh, made-to-order bowls, salads and snacks by means of sophisticated algorithms that allow her to dispense accurate portions of ingredients every time.

But here’s the thing that bemuses me, Bret. What’s up with the girly names? Why aren’t these machines dubbed Spike or Tommy, I wonder? Is there something less off-putting in the feminine identification, and, if so, will they soon begin spouting mom-isms and guilt-tripping us into calling home more often? 

Little things mean a lot

The showrunners continue their improvements to make the show experience a bit less intimidating. It was nifty to be able to snag my badge from a special desk in the hotel before sprinting for the Saturday shuttle bus, and I was taken with the cheerful Chef Bot, an app which kept me apprised of what was happening on the show floor and responded like a flash to my queries. In fact, he/it was so unflappably responsive that I’m thinking of making him/it my CEO.

Bret Thorn responds:

I did enjoy printing my badge in the hotel lobby, Nancy, and sharing a bus ride with you to McCormick Place. I didn’t interact with Chef Bot, who contacted me as soon as I downloaded the show app. I didn’t have anything to say to the bot, but the app seemed to work well enough. However, I ended up taking a pretty low-key, holistic approach to the show, meandering its three massive halls to see what surprises I would find.

Plant-based everything

This wasn’t a surprise: There was a ton of plant-based protein at the show. There was the old-fashioned kind made with legumes and grain smashed into patties or textured into crumbles that might possibly be perceived as meat-like if you don’t normally eat meat and have a good imagination. And there were the higher-tech kinds, like those made by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods that — well, they still don’t taste like meat, but they’re improving steadily and if you put enough condiments on them they’re close enough.

I think the award for most improved plant-based protein goes to Just, formerly known as Hampton Creek, inventor of the egg-free Just Mayo. Last year they rolled out Just Scramble, which is mostly made out of mung beans but behaves like scrambled eggs. People were wowed by it last year, even though it tasted like mung beans. But this year it was renamed Just Egg and it tasted more neutral, and the people running the booth cleverly sprinkled the omelets they made with black volcanic salt that contained traces of sulfur, so the product actually smelled like eggs.

“Plant-based” has become such a popular term that Country Crock was handing out chocolate chip cookies made out of its product instead of butter. There’s nothing new there except for nomenclature: Apparently the company that used to sell margarine is now selling “plant butter.”

CBD and spice

My credulity challenged, I wandered over to the Wisconsin dairy booth for some actual cheese, some of it with CBD added to it because of course it was, and then over to the New Mexico section for some Hatch green chile quesadillas. You had your pick of Hatch green chile stands at the show, Nancy, with at least four booths offering it. In fact, I think it was the chile of choice on the floor, despite new varieties of hot sauce, including Swamp Dragon, which has alcohol as its base instead of vinegar, and assorted variations of the fermented Korean chile paste gochujang.

Other spicy items were in abundance, including Tyson’s new Nashville hot chicken and Hormel’s new line of pre-cooked bacon in glazes such as spicy guava.

On a sour note

I was quite taken with La Colombe’s new coffee shandy. Named after the beer-lemonade combination, it combines cold brew coffee and lemonade. It doesn’t sound particularly appealing, and it probably isn’t to everyone, but it surprised and delighted me as a quirky one-off product. Then I saw that Lavazza was making a beverage with cold brew coffee, orange juice, honey and rosemary. Coffee and citrus aren’t unheard of. In fact, it’s customary in parts of Europe to accompany espresso with a sliver of citrus zest, but it will be interesting to see how sturdy the legs are of this coffee shandy trend.

Or the shandy trend in general: Michigan-based Saugatuck Brewing Co., said their most popular beverage at the show was their Blueberry Lemonade Shandy.

Cold brew 2.5

Then there was the cold brew trend, which has now extended beyond coffee: Tiesta was proffering its cold brew tea, which can be made in just two hours instead of the 16 hours or more often required for coffee, and Twin Engine was making a cold-brew drink out of cascara — the fruit that surrounds the coffee “beans” (seeds, really) that we roast. Normally cascara is discarded, although Starbucks and other brewers have been making drinks out of it, and Twin Engine was steeping the cascara of a particular coffee varietal, which they’ve dubbed Caturra, into a tea-like cold-brew drink.

Sea-based protein

While plant-based meat analogs were clearly proliferating, so were new presentations of another type of protein: seafood. Those ranged from the value-added, pre-cooked frozen octopus that at least two companies were offering, to Trident Seafoods’ new protein noodles, made from pollock-based surimi seafood, to the products from Vancouver-based Simply West Coast, which included tasty salmon sausage and attempts at ham and bacon made from that same fish.

May 29, 2019 Update: This article has been updated to reflect a change in the name of Just Scramble to Just Egg.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@knect365.com
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary



Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News.
E-mail her at nancykruse@aol.com

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The lesser-known cousin of ceviche has grown in U.S. menu mentions by 80%

Escabeche shares quite a few common elements with the more widely popular ceviche, but with one key difference — seafood and other meats are lightly seared or sautéed before being tossed with an acidic marinade and served cold or at room temperature.

It’s a term used in the Mediterranean, particularly Spain, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean.

It’s a premium dish that is gaining traction in the United States, particularly at fine-dining restaurants and ethnic independent concepts. Escabeche’s appearance on menus has increased by 80% over the past four years.

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<p><span style="color:black">Typically, escabeche is prepared with fish, but modern applications include chicken, beef, and vegetables.</span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">Escabeche is in the Inception stage. It’s considered a premium dish that can be found on mostly fine-dining menus and at ethnic independent concepts.</span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">Atrium, a Los Angeles restaurant that <a href="https://www.restaurant-hospitality.com/new-restaurant-concepts/restauran... target="_blank">debuted in October</a>, serves a crispy whole fish with a blood orange escabeche marinade, carrot-turnip salad, cilantro and lime.</span></p>

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Senior food and beverage editor Bret Thorn looks at mung beans that taste like eggs, salmon that tastes like sausage, umami in cookies
 

Alternative proteins:

 
 
 

Alternative dairy:

 
 

Low-carb and gluten-free crust:

 

CBD:

 

Bold flavors:

 
 

Contact Bret Thorn at Bret.Thorn@informa.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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Senior food and beverage editor Bret Thorn looks at mung beans that taste like eggs, salmon that tastes like sausage, umami in cookies
 

Alternative proteins:

 
 
 

Alternative dairy:

 
 

Low-carb and gluten-free crust:

 

CBD:

 

Bold flavors:

 
 

Contact Bret Thorn at Bret.Thorn@informa.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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Jeremiah Tower inducted into hall of fame while Taco Bell, Military Sealift Command and others are honored

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2019 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 18-21. Visit NRN.com for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

“This really is the Academy Awards of Food,” said Liz Matthew, global chief food innovation officer for Taco Bell as she accepted the MenuMasters Award for best new item for the chain’s Nacho Fries.

At a gala event sponsored by Ventura Foods and hosted by Nation’s Restaurant News at the Drake Hotel in Chicago Saturday, culinary innovators were fêted as attendees enjoyed the winners’ food paired with beverages selected by the hotel’s staff — or with Champagne handed out by Jeremiah Tower, the chef and former owner of Stars in San Francisco, who was inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame.

It was Tower’s custom at the famed restaurant in the 1980s and ’90s to greet guests with Champagne.

The Nacho fries were paired with Modelo Negra beer, while the country-fried morels with crab salad and butter pudding offered up by Innovator of the Year Paul Kahan were paired with 2018 Château d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé from the Côtes de Provence in France.

Kahan, chef and partner in One Off Hospitality, based in Chicago, credited Blackbird executive chef Ryan Pfeiffer, executive chef of Blackbird, with creating the dish.

Kahan, who has mentored many of the city’s great chefs, told the audience, “the future of restaurants and the future of the culinary arts is with the youth.”

The MenuMasters Award for Best Menu Revamp went to Piada Italian Street Food, based in Columbus, Ohio, for transforming its offerings from the usual fast-casual style of infinite customizability to more curated dishes developed by director of culinary Matthew Harding and his team. Their Summer Avocado Piada, a wrap stuffed with pancetta, avocado, arugula, basil aïoli, mozzarella and tomato, was one of the crowd favorites of the night. It was paired with a Banfi’s 2018 San Angelo Pinot Grigio from Tuscany in Italy.

“I truly believe that you never accomplish anything alone,” Harding said in accepting the award, telling the crowd that you have to listen to people who don’t like your food.

“When you find your prickly-pear people [who will tell you what they really think], you know you’re in the right place,” he said.

Bonefish Grill, which won the award for Best Menu Line Extension for its new brunch, served crab cake rancheros — a take on huevos rancheros — with greens, eggs and ham, paired with 2018 Scarborough Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

Justin Fields, director of research and development for the chain, a subsidiary of Bloomin’ Brands Inc., based in Tampa, Fla., said he drew inspiration from the late painter Bob Ross, host-instructor of the PBS television series of the 1980s and ’90s The Joy of Painting.

Fields said Ross would create paintings on TV from the same palette, in the same way that he used Bonefish Grill’s existing palette of ingredients and flavors to develop the brunch menu.

“Each [restaurant] concept has its own palette,” he said, adding that he was glad that he stuck with Bonefish’s strengths rather than go for “a shiny new toy.”

The award for Healthful Innovation went to Military Sealift Command, which provides seaborne logistical support to the United States military and consulted with its nearly 6,000 crew members to develop more healthful menu items.

At the gala they served chile lime shrimp with roasted corn and black beans, paired with a Casamigos Spicy Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita.

“I am truly humbled to stand before you among the culinary greats tonight,” MSC foodservice director Roberta Jio said. She said quality meals are key to quality of life for the mariners who spend up to 270 days at a time at sea.

Culver’s, based in Prairie du Sac, Wis., was honored with the MenuMasters Award for best limited-time offer for its Pretzel Haus Pub Burger, which is two burger patties topped with pickled red onions, two slices of bacon, Wisconsin cheddar, Wisconsin cheddar cheese and bistro sauce made of mayonnaise, horseradish, and mustard, all on a pretzel bun sourced from Milwaukee, Wis.

It was paired with Hacker-Pschorr, a Weissbier from Munich, Germany.

Quinn Adkins, the chain’s director of menu development, said winning the award had been a dream of his since he attended his first MenuMasters party ten years ago. Along with thanking his development team, he also acknowledged his supply chain team, “who get the products where they need to be when they need to be there.”

The award for Trendsetter of the year went to Seamore’s, a six-unit chain in New York City that provides sustainable, mostly local, seafood in simply prepared dishes, such as the tuna poke they served paired with Gekkeikan sake.

CEO Jay Wainwright, who accepted the award with executive chef Chris Cryer and Vinny Milburn, owner of Greenpoint Fish and Lobster and Seamore’s main supplier, said the restaurant started when founder Michael Chernow asked, “Why can’t I find a great fish taco in New York City?”

Chernow soon realized that the great fish he would catch when fishing off the coast of Long Island couldn’t be found in local restaurants.

“That’s the genesis of Seamore’s,” Wainwright said, adding, “We wouldn’t be here without chef Chris.”

Jim Goggin, Ventura Foods’ senior vice president for national accounts and culinary, congratulated the winners and praised their food.

“What you’re serving out here is so fantastic,” he said, adding that food, flavor, entertainment and camaraderie are what the foodservice industry is all about.

Sarah Lockyer, group publisher for the Informa Restaurant & Food Group, which includes Nation’s Restaurant News, said “NRN has been proudly doing this for 22 years … in partnership with Ventura Foods.”

Hall of Fame inductee Jeremiah Tower was welcomed to the stage with a rousing standing ovation from the audience. He told them that when he started cooking he didn’t know anything about this business — a fact he didn’t realize until he saw his first copy of NRN. He spent his years working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., reading the publication, so that by the time he opened Stars, “I knew what a P&L was. Thanks to NRN, I was finally able to make a bit of money.”

He said he’d spent the evening “pouring Champagne for hundreds of people who told me how great I am, which I already knew, but it was nice to hear.”

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@informa.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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Shuckin' Shack, Slapfish and Prawn take casual approaches

Not so long ago those who didn’t live near the water but who wanted to eat fresh seafood had to choose between expensive fine-dining restaurants or fry-it-all fast-food joints.

Now, a wave of multi-unit, fast casual seafood concepts are stepping in to fill the gap.

“We’ve seen the space grow significantly in the 12 years we’ve been around,” said Jonathan Weathington, CEO of 16-unit Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar. “Because consumers are being more health conscious, they’re learning there’s a lot of benefit to eating things from the ocean.”

Similarly, chef Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish, a 19-unit concept committed to serving sustainable species, credits the shift toward more consumption of seafood to a growing awareness of its benefits.

“I think we’re going to see a massive increase in consumption of seafood,” he said.

That increase isn’t only for the short term, said John Shin, CEO of Prawn, a 2-unit seafood concept in Southern California developed by fine-dining chef Mark Peel. He predicted that seafood would be the protein of choice in the decades ahead.

May 1, 2019: This story has been updated with the correct location and opening date of the first Shuckin' Shack.

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<p>Shuckin' Shack's first location, a 900-square-foot space in the beach town of Carolina Beach, N.C., opened in 2007<span style="color:black">, with a focus on</span> <span style="color:black">“doing things people like [and doing them] as simply as possible,” he said. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">The oyster bar’s average unit volume is now around $1 million, and rising: Same-store sales were up by 20 percent in the first quarter of 2019, and are on track for a similar increase in the second quarter, Weathington said. He attributes the growth to repeat business and new customers brought in by regulars.</span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">The menu includes a best-selling lobster roll topped with a spicy mustard rémoulade, cold crab dip, fried shrimp, an oyster sampler and buckets of steaming shrimp, corn and clams, as well as a wide selection of craft beer and cocktails.</span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">Now with locations in Georgia, Md., and S.C., as well as its home state of N.C., Weathington is looking to franchise the brand, with potential expansion to Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; as well as Columbia, S.C. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">“Nothing is easy about growing, but the decision to grow was easy,” Weathington said. </span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">Slapfish, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., starts with what sustainable seafood is available and then uses it in signature applications such as tacos, fish &amp; chips or, as pictured here, mac &amp; cheese topped with tilapia. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">“We search for fine-dining-quality seafood and do enough volume to do it at a fast-casual price range,” Gruel said. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">Recently, Gruel has taken inspiration from health-focused contemporaries in the segment and doing seafood riffs on popular bowls. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">For example, last year the chain introduced Slapfit Bowls to its menu, including a Power Bowl with <span style="background-color:white">mixed-grill seafood, brown rice, vegetables, avocado and extra virgin olive oil. He also offered a </span>poke bowl with tuna, seasoned rice, chips and greens.<strong> </strong></span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">Gruel is also looking to expand the menu to include vegan products intended to imitate seafood. Such as plant-based tuna surrogates.</span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">‘That’s something we want to push big time,” said Gruel. “It’s about the flavor profile and introducing an alternative protein.” </span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">Slapfish has average unit volume of about $1.5 million, and plans are underway to continue to grow primarily through franchising. Gruel said they’re on track to grow to 30 locations by the end of the year. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">He said they’re seeking out franchisees who understand the chain’s values around sustainable seafood, regardless of the market.</span></p>

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<p><span style="color:black">Prawn has two locations, one in Pasadena, Calif. (pictured), and the other in Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles, with a commissary kitchen that serves both. The commissary produces most of the menu items, with nearly daily delivery to the restaurants. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">Shin said the commissary model would allow Prawn to consider sites with little or no kitchen space, such as food halls.</span></p>

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<p>The fine dining-inspired concept offers a menu of seafood dishes previously considered “fancy,” such as a paella with shrimp, mussels, house-made pork sausage, and a spicy chicken drumstick; Seattle fish stew with shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, salmon and bacon in lobster broth with bacon rouille served over rice; and clam chowder with bacon and potatoes in a creamy clam broth swirled with a kabocha squash purée.</p>

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<p><span style="color:black">“We’re trying to do something easy and delicious,” said Shin, like the lobster roll pictured. </span></p>

<p><span style="color:black">“We want to be major players in the fast-casual space.”</span></p>

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Fast-casual concepts tap interest in the category

Not so long ago those who didn’t live near the water but who wanted to eat fresh seafood had to choose between expensive fine-dining restaurants or fry-it-all fast-food joints.

Now, a wave of multi-unit, fast casual seafood concepts are stepping in to fill the gap.

“We’ve seen the space grow significantly in the 12 years we’ve been around,” said Jonathan Weathington, CEO of 16-unit Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar. “Because consumers are being more health conscious, they’re learning there’s a lot of benefit to eating things from the ocean.”

Similarly, chef Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish, a 19-unit concept committed to serving sustainable species, credits the shift toward more consumption of seafood to a growing awareness of its benefits.

“I think we’re going to see a massive increase in consumption of seafood,” he said.

That increase isn’t only for the short term, said John Shin, CEO of Prawn, a 2-unit seafood concept in Southern California developed by fine-dining chef Mark Peel. He predicted that seafood would be the protein of choice in the decades ahead

Shuckin’ Shack

Shuckin' Shack's first location, a 900-square-foot space in the beach town of Carolina Beach, N.C., opened in 2007, with a focus on “doing things people like [and doing them] as simply as possible,” he said.

The menu includes a best-selling lobster roll topped with a spicy mustard rémoulade, cold crab dip, fried shrimp, an oyster sampler and buckets of steaming shrimp, corn and clams, as well as a wide selection of craft beer and cocktails.

The oyster bar’s average unit volume is around $1 million and rising: Same-store sales were up by 20 percent in the first quarter of 2019, and are on track for a similar increase in the second quarter, Weathington said. He attributes the growth to repeat business and new customers brought in by regulars.

Now with locations in Georgia, Md., and S.C., as well as its home state of N.C., Weathington is looking to franchise the brand, with potential expansion to Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; as well as Columbia, S.C.

“Nothing is easy about growing, but the decision to grow was easy,” Weathington said.

Slapfish

Slapfish, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., starts with what sustainable seafood is available and then uses it in signature applications such as tacos and fish & chips.

“We search for fine-dining-quality seafood and do enough volume to do it at a fast-casual price range,” Gruel said.

Photo: Lobster roll at Prawn.

Recently, Gruel has taken inspiration from health-focused contemporaries in the segment and doing seafood riffs on popular bowls.

For example, last year the chain introduced Slapfit Bowls to its menu, including a Power Bowl with mixed-grill seafood, brown rice, vegetables, avocado and extra virgin olive oil. He also offered a poke bowl with tuna, seasoned rice, chips and greens.

Gruel is also looking to expand the menu to include vegan products intended to imitate seafood. Such as plant-based tuna surrogates.

‘That’s something we want to push big time,” said Gruel. “It’s about the flavor profile and introducing an alternative protein.”

Slapfish has average unit volume of about $1.5 million, and plans are underway to continue to grow primarily through franchising. Gruel said they’re on track to grow to 30 locations by the end of the year.

He said they’re seeking out franchisees who understand the chain’s values around sustainable seafood, regardless of the market.

Prawn

Prawn has two locations, one in Pasadena, Calif., and the other in Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles, with a commissary kitchen that serves both. The commissary produces most of the menu items, with nearly daily delivery to the restaurants.

Shin said the commissary model would allow Prawn to consider sites with little or no kitchen space, such as food halls.

The fine dining-inspired concept offers a menu of seafood dishes previously considered “fancy,” such as a paella with shrimp, mussels, house-made pork sausage, and a spicy chicken drumstick; Seattle fish stew with shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, salmon and bacon in lobster broth with bacon rouille served over rice; and clam chowder with bacon and potatoes in a creamy clam broth swirled with a kabocha squash purée.

“We’re trying to do something easy and delicious,” said Shin. “We want to be major players in the fast-casual space.”

May 1, 2019: This story has been updated with the correct location and opening date of the first Shuckin' Shack.

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