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Quinoa and Moscow Mules Are the New Salad Bars and Mudslides

In the chain world where flatbreads, wraps and pretzel rolls are considered innovations, a few brands are trying harder to tap into contemporary food trends, whether a ruse to appeal to the irrationally coveted millennials or simply a desire to appear relevant in late 2013. Some I’ve witnessed firsthand. (I’ve already documented how Cheesecake Factory’s kale salad doesn’t contain much kale.)

Take Maggiano’s Little Italy. Little Italy isn’t a selling point for anyone in NYC who enjoys tasting their food, so adopting this shrinking neighborhood as a concept and transporting it to the suburbs seems misguided at best. I don’t doubt that there are parts of the country lacking in big family-style plates of manicotti and breaded veal cutlets smothered in marinara, and I have family members who insist on dining on Mulberry Street when they very rarely visit. It must be America’s favorite casual dining restaurant for a reason.


It was the Handcrafted Classic Cocktails (as opposed to the plain Classic Cocktails section featuring a lemon drop and long island iced tea), though, that caught my attention and ultimately brought me to Bridgewater, New Jersey. There is an aviation, properly made and just mauve, not jewel-toned like the royal purple version ordered by James Spader in French in Montreal on The Blacklist to show off to the young FBI lady who just wanted a glass of Chardonnay, as if an aviation is the epitome of sophistication. They taste like Sweet Tarts, frankly, but they certainly are pretty and I do appreciate their presence on Maggiano’s menu.

maggiano's aviation

There was a surprising lack of sweet cocktails, the bane of all chain restaurants, and while not yet Fernet-crazed, a Negroni using Carpano
Antica was pretty on point, as was the presence of Aperol, multiple bitters and Fever Tree tonic water. Do note the fat ice cube in my Catcher in the Rye (Knob Creek Rye, Luxardo Marashino, simple syrup, Old Fashion Bitters).

* * *

Until recently, Bonefish Grill was dinner-only, so its decision to introduce a Sunday Brunch (and Bistro Lunch) is certainly more about increasing a day’s earnings (also, the Ruby Tuesday in Times Square advertises breakfast, a feature mentioned nowhere on its site) than trying to attract city folk with unlimited bubbles. Still, what other chains can you think of are doing brunch, the most controversial meal among food-centric crowds, with bottomless mimosas and bellinis? On a gut level I am anti-brunch, but because I can’t articulate why in a convincing matter I cave quietly now and then.

bonefish brunch

The brunch fare isn’t particularly on-brand for a seafood restaurant. Sure, there is a surf and turf eggs benedict with lobster and a crab and asparagus omelet (above) but the toast and au gratin potatoes (or fresh fruit) seem odd, especially coupled with the requisite warm Italian loaf and pesto dipping oil.  $19.9 (Bonefish prices everything in oddball increments) gets you that and unlimited bubbly drinks, provenance unknown, though likely prosecco and not Perrier Jouet “Grand Brut,” the only other sparkler it sells.



For fall, P.F. Chang’s has created “fried rice” from red quinoa and assorted vegetables. It’s topped with an egg. I was about to say that this is crying out for kale, but kale has its own showcase in the also-new Shanghai Waldorf Salad.


Moscow mules have also transitioned. P.F. Chang’s has a tequila jalapeño version, which negates the Moscow. Even Longhorn Steakhouse (I
say even because I’ve never had any interest in this Darden brand because it seemed so bland but am getting itchy to visit all of a sudden–maybe it’s the Snowfall-esque website with a mesmerizing pumpkin spice lava cake that’s sliced and oozes over and over again) has introduced a limited edition montana mule (I can’t get a straight answer on capitalizing cocktails or not, and it’s more problematic when the names contain proper nouns)  Jim Beam, no vodka. So, it seems that the moscow mule is becoming the new martini with ginger, and possibly a metal mug, being the only requirement for the designation.

 The Blacklist photo via The Pegu Blog

Getting My Kix

justin warner cooking

General Mills has been on a tear with its “Hello Cereal Lovers” campaign. Chefs like Dale Talde, Harold Dieterle and Amanda Frietag have developed recipes, and even I was moved to attend a cooking event with Do or Dine’s Justin Warner and I’m pretty certain I haven’t eaten cereal since I was in grade school (which I
probably should’ve kept to myself, if only because saying “I don’t think I’ve eaten cereal in 30 years” aloud only succeeds in scaring the NYU food studies girls who might not even be into their second decade of life).

fizzy trix

Why not Cocoa Puff carbonara, nuggets mimicking ground beef? Or Fizzy Trix cocktails, sweetness tamed with bitters?

ravioli filling

What I really wanted to see was some unnaturally colored food made palatable, and I got my wish during the interactive cooking session. Lucky Charms, marshmallows only was an audience suggestion, which got turned into ravioli, also stuffed with smoked mozzarella and oregano.

lucky charms ravioli

The result wasn’t abysmal, a little sweet and herbal, and most importantly, the shells oozed blue.

cereal swag

The dark (destitute?) underbelly of food media was exposed when attendees began scrounging for leftover raw meat. Heck, I gave in and took the baggie of scallops along with my swag. Even though I rarely blog about cooking anymore, I always make at least two meals a week at home  and a scallop fennel recipe was on the roster for Wednesday. A dusting of crumbled Vanilla Chex actually would’ve worked with this buttery seafood dish, so don’t think that I didn’t learn anything.

No Beaujolais Nouveau?

glade salted caramel

Pumpkin spice’s ubiquity has really taken a beating this year (white girl memes, flavor science proving it’s all spice, no pumpkin) but
there’s something much fouler afoot and I spied it at Target this weekend on the instant headache aisle otherwise known as air fresheners.

Glad is promoting a limited edition fall scents collection, which includes Salted Caramel, as if salt contributes an odor to caramel, which is really just sweet and Cracker Jacky with a chemical undertone. No matter, it’s available in five different formats: jar candle, Plugins scented oil, automatic spray, which differs from premium room spray, and scented oil candles.

The rest of the collection is rounded out by Fall Hayride, a mystery blend, Pumpkin Spice (obviously) and two other foodish scents, Orchard
Apple Cinnamon and Toasted Marshmallow, the latter which is described by an online reviewer as “Makes breathing fun!” Five stars for Toasted Marshmallow. Clearly, I know nothing about how a home should smell (or breathing).

What are the odds that Glade captures the aroma of a croissant-doughnut chimera for 2014?


Chain Links: BoCoCa, Panini in Doha


The world’s love affair with what it thinks to be Brooklyn continues to blossom. We’ve come to expect this treatment from Paris and Tokyo, and now the
Russians (fresh off their taste of Shake Shack) and Slavs are getting into the act. Personally, my favorite is the Kraków restaurant named Bococa, p0ssibly the city’s grossest neighborhood portmanteau. The only words I can make out on the menu are French and Italian (croissant, penne, spaghetti, tagliatelle).

I didn’t even know what Spicy Pickle was, so it may as well open in Doha. It turns out not to be any sort of on-trend lacto-fermentation,
Sriracha-slathered type of affair, but a Colorado-based panini chain. The meat is be halal at the company’s first international location.

ShakeAway, another mystery chain, will be coming to NYC. Yes, it involves milkshakes (one named Jennifer?) and is from the UK, a region I don’t trust whatsoever to do a creamy dessert beverage properly. They probably call shakes puddings.

Russians get burgers and Brooklyn, and we will be getting Ariana, an offshoot of Gallery Cafe in Moscow. Perhaps it will fare better than Brasserie Pushkin. 

Michael White has expanded his empire to Istanbul.