Taking a cue from other menu parts, chefs amp up the flavour and value proposition for entrées
With so much attention paid to flavourful shareables, bowls and bar bites, consumers’ expectations have shifted. Chefs are taking a second look at how they develop the modern entrée. In our most recent research tour we saw hundreds of examples. Based on observations from our research tours, we’ve pinpointed a number of entrée updates.
1) Seafood stars
With fish and shellfish shining bright as healthful protein choices, chefs are giving seafood a modern, flavour-forward treatment.
First, we noticed salmon dishes boasting complex flavour layering, with aromatics, interesting veg-centric sides, at least one sauce, and varied cooking techniques, creating dramatic plate presentations.
- Duo of BC Halibut & Salmon with sweet pea and smoked bacon risotto, Chilliwack corn nage—Flying Pig, Vancouver
- Saumon Poché: Lightly poached Atlantic salmon served cold on a salad of red quinoa, with fennel, candied ginger and asparagus sauce—Le Select Bistro, Toronto
Secondly, we saw an increase in skin-on fish entrées, with most of cooking on the skin side, on a flat grill, char-grill or sauté pan, allowing it to cook until crispy.
- Arctic Char with cauliflower purée, shaved celery—Fairfax, NYC
- Crispy Arctic Char with Japanese soba noodles, toasted sesame seeds, grilled peppers, and pickled carrots—Chew, Winnipeg
2) Beefing it up
There were a lot of entrées built around value cuts and smaller portion sizes, with more intriguing garnishes, sauces and accompaniments.
The short rib is a favourite, slow cooked until tender. (We also encountered the chuck flat, from the shoulder, that’s reasonably priced and yields the same texture.) This classic comfort food was served in a variety of ways.
- Guava BBQ Beef Short Rib with guava BBQ sauce, chimichurri, topped with crispy onions—La Cubana, Toronto
- Beef Short Ribs Bowl with sweet potato noodle—Gyodonya, Vancouver
Value cuts that yield great flavour also are finding favour, with modern dishes starring skirt steak, flank steak and the bavette, cut from the sirloin.
- Bavette with chimichurri and grilled lettuce—Tanto, Toronto
- Steak & Fries: Beef flank steak with maître d’hôtel butter and vegetables of the day—Taverne Gaspar, Montreal
3) Pork power
We saw braised pork shoulder getting play on menus, like the Pork Butt with a Dark and Stormy Glaze, red peas, and fried pecans at Roister, Chicago, but it’s the pork chop seeing a menu makeover in many restaurants. The presentation of a thick-cut chop standing up in its whole state has morphed into new plating.
- Pork Butt with a Dark and Stormy Glaze, red peas, and fried pecans—Roister, Chicago
- Double Thick Pork Chop with garlic bread, kosher dill pickles and crisp french fries—Barberians, Toronto
4) Playing chicken
Chicken is another entrée where flavour innovation and plate presentation are really astounding. Two techniques stood out.
First, chefs are serving chicken as whole as possible, spatchcocking (removing the backbone), or splitting the chicken and semi boning it, roasting or grilling it or even deep-frying. Second, there’s stuffed chicken. At Eden in Chicago, boneless skin-on breast was rolled around a stuffing of leg meat, then roasted. At a Roqa in New York, the leg was stuffed with ground chicken, then roasted.
- Stuffed Chicken Supreme with spinach and goat cheese stuffing, herb potatoes, chef’s vegetables, confit garlic demi—The Maple Leaf, Banff
- Mediterranean Chicken: Skinless breast of chicken stuffed with spinach, feta and fresh dill in a creamy white wine sauce, served with a choice of potato and fresh vegetables—The CattleBaron, Alberta
- Stuffed Chicken Breast Supreme, grilled then oven-baked and stuffed with spinach, goat cheese, roasted peppers and pine nuts—Eden Trattoria, Toronto
- Chicken leg with za’atar stuffing—Fairfax, NYC
5) Duck, Duck, Delicious
Duck leg innovations continue. Instead of confiting, you can just roast them in the oven and get a crispy crunch on the outside with a moist and tender inside.
- Smoked duck leg with carrot, soy marinated honey mushrooms, field peas, asparagus and smoked pecan grenobloise—Laloux, Montreal
- Pappardelle and Duck Ragù—Ask for Luigi, Vancouver