Restaurants may come in Western New York, and restaurants may go, but nationwide the industry is booming.
The National Restaurant Association's 2007 forecast, made public last week in Washington, D.C., was optimistic, to say the least. The association sees next year as an "economic powerhouse and an essential part of Americans' lifestyle."
Americans will spend almost 48 percent of their food budget in restaurants next year, the group said. "The restaurant industry will enter its 16th year of real growth in 2007 and will have a total economic impact that will exceed $1.3 trillion," the report said.
And you were wondering about all those takeouts and sit-down cafes in supermarkets and book stores.
You and I, however, are probably less interested in the number of plates that will be served up next year than in learning what will be on them. The National Restaurant Association had some things to say about that, too. The association talked with more than 1,000 chefs, and here are some of the menu trends they are predicting for 2007. (I've added a few personal comments.):
* Increased popularity in grass-fed and free-range meats.
This is not going to happen overnight. Grass-fed beef, for instance, tends to be more expensive than corn-fed and it's a lot harder to get.
The flavor is distinctly different and the meat must be cooked for shorter lengths of time to be palatable.
There's a growing interest, too, in what some people call "hand-raised" meat. It is very expensive and can be found only in upscale restaurants.
Japanese Kobe and Waygu beef fit into this category. They are fed vegetarian diets, free of hormones.
And then there is Kurbota Pork -- a genuine wonder.
Four times the price of regular pork, we are told. BUT -- at least four times more juicy and flavorful.
The interest in this kind of protein is a reflection, I think, of the E. coli food scares we had this year. Like it or not, we Americans are becoming uneasy about our food supply. So this trend, too, is also on the horizon:
* Increased popularity in organic and local produce.
These kinds of fruits and vegetables tend to turn up in more upscale restaurants, to be sure, but interest cuts across all economic groups.
* The phasing out of trans fats.
Because of government regulation, this is a trend that's easy to foresee.
With New York City virtually outlawing those artificial fats last month because of their injurious effects on health, trans fats are on the sharp decline.
In this case, it affects mostly fast-food restaurants.
What will trans fats be replaced with? Well, some experts are worried that the chosen alternatives (like saturated fats) may well prove to be equally unhealthy.
* Increased popularity in Latin American food.
Mediterranean and Pan-Asian foods have been with us for quite some time, and while we still love them we are a restless, if hungry, people -- constantly looking for variety.
So -- are you ready for: Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce, my friends? (Chimichurri is spicy parsley sauce.)
Are you ready for Caribbean Sour Orange Marinating Sauce? And, oh boy ...
Are you ready for Brazil's meat-heavy Feijoada?