People are fond of telling us to remember the past, lest we repeat it. But we wouldn't mind letting the meatball trend slip our minds if it meant more of the same in 2012. And history isn't always such a great predictor of future patterns: Tell us where all the friggin' macarons came from in 2011!
Now isn't the time to get overly pensive, though. There are more than enough exciting restaurants on the horizon for 2012, each one surely harboring a must-eat dish or quirky trend you didn't see coming. Here's where you'll be eating and drinking this year.
Gangs of New York
It's not exactly the Natives versus the Dead Rabbits, but mini-empires led by young and very talented chefs and restauranteurs are expanding their reach across the city, sometimes replacing old neighborhood haunts with their contemporary versions. Last year, we mentioned Gabe Stulman taking over Fedora; this year there's speculation—though their publicist declined to comment—that the Torrisi Italian Specialties team will replace 90-year-old West Village red sauce joint Rocco when the lease expires in the New Year.
Meanwhile, Stulman himself (who also helms Joseph Leonard and Jeffrey's Grocery) is also opening another restaurant where Bellavitae, another West Village Italian place, used to be. It'll be called Scopa and, if his other restaurants are any indication, you can likely expect oysters and fine American bistro food.
We don't really know of any Spanish gangs—if you're wearing espadrilles and eating gazpacho, why fight?—but there will be some non-violent Iberian expansion happening early 2012. Paella specialist Socarrat will add a Midtown East location and a cafe in Nolita. Socarrat East will have two levels, a full liquor license for cocktails (the other locations are just beer and wine), sidewalk seating, and some fresh tapas ideas. La Churreria, located right next door to Socarrat Nolita, will serve sandwiches, ensaimadas (Mallorcan sweet bread dusted in powdered sugar), churros with melted chocolate, chucos (pastry filled with pastelera cream), coffee, and hot chocolate made from Mariebelle confections.
Speaking of expansions…
The expansion business isn't limited to the majors: Noah Bernamoff's cult smoked-meat joint in Brooklyn, Mile End, will open a sandwich-focused version at 53 Bond Street in Noho. And good news from another place with a dedicated following of its own: longtime Nolita hang and recent addition to the Jane Hotel, Cafe Gitane, will open an Italian joint called Antonioni's on Chrystie Street. Details are scant, but it'll definitely be a good place for long lunches while everyone else is at work.
The import business
It's been said that everything begins in California; there's a certain energy that blows out of the West, a confidence lingering along the frontier. There's also a burger joint that stakes its claim to the fifth taste, stacking meat with shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, parmesan crisp and umami ketchup. (There, you're salivating.) Although Umami Burger says they have nothing concrete to announce, owner Adam Fleischman told the New Yorker he plans to expand here in 2012.
Also from the West: James Beard Award winner and Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker will open a wing shop any day now in the tiny basement-level shop where Eddie Huang's Baohaus used to be.
Two other restaurants are coming in from the (Far) East, and both will be worth a visit, preferably on somebody else's dime. Korean entertainment mogul J.Y. Park is set to open Kristalbelli in K-town over the next few weeks. It's a restaurant and lounge where diners cook on proprietary crystal grills, and a down-draft system keeps fresh duds from smelling like charred wagyu. A few blocks up, the London-based modern Chinese restaurant Hakkasan will open an 11,000-square-foot job that's not your typical Cantonese takeout. Expect dishes like roasted silver cod with champagne and Chinese honey, and stir-fry black pepper rib eye with merlot.
A little closer geographically, if not spiritually, is New Jersey–based candy shop Sugar and Plumm and its offspring American BBQ and Beer Co. Both will open in downtown Brooklyn (which at this time last year was preparing for Shake Shack).
Top Chefs are moving, shaking, collaborating
Dale Talde's eponymous collab with the Thistle Hill Tavern folks, which was expected to open in Park Slope last fall, still has paper in the windows. When it finally debuts, Talde will serve Asian fusion made with local ingredients. Season 1 "Top Chef" winner Harold Dieterle will add a third spot, The Marrow, to damn good portfolio (Perilla and Kin Shop) at the yet-to-open Hotel 718 in downtown Brooklyn. The menu will be New American and focus on—but of course—meat. And recent "Top Chef Masters " winner Floyd Cardoz is set to open the North End Grill in Battery Park City with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group.
Back in the game
Some notable returns to the restaurant scene are chef David Waltuck of the sorely missed Chanterelle. He's the executive chef with ARK restaurants (Bryant Park Grill, Canyon Road), which in early 2012 is opening a sports-focused spot in Midtown West called Clyde's with Knicks legend Walt Frazier. The other veteran is Alison Price Becker, restauranteur and minor celebrity who once presided over the well-respected Alison on Dominick Street and Alison By The Beach. Her new spot, Alison Eighteen, will open in early 2012, serving French-American fare in the Flatiron.
Also of note
Former ballerina Mihoko Kiyokawa plans to open Mihoko's 21Grams, a high-end French-Japanese restaurant in the Flatiron in February. Any day now, Motorino chef Mathieu Palombino will open Bowery Diner, a '50s-style canteen serving American classics with subtle flourishes. And an Italian restaurant cheffed by Luigi Celentano of Gigino Trattoria will drop in Tribeca. It'll be called Piccola Positano and should open by the new year.
Photo by Natasha Ryan