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A Fresh Start

Is there any point in summing up the past year? It doesn't seem to matter what we're talking about -- dining, music, politics -- all trains of thought lead to the wreck of September 11. For most of us, it's as if the first eight months of the year didn't even happen. So to put it bluntly, I'm not even going to try to tax my culinary memory. Instead, I'm going to do something uncharacteristically optimistic: I'm going to look ahead at the gastronomic trends that I think will occur in this new, palindromic year.

Starting with the resolution that everybody makes on January 1, of course: the diet. Listen up, Dr. Atkins disciples. Pay attention, Zoners. Kiss apple-a-day theories bye-bye. You're going to want to give it all up for salmon. Yes, as in the fish. Apparently, there's some newfound belief that eating the stuff for two meals per day will result in (get this) protection against aging and defense against terminal diseases like heart conditions and Alzheimer's. Indeed, salmon-diet proponent Nicholas Perricone, M.D., recently told Vogue that nearly invisible inflammation of the cells in our bodies caused by stress and our diets results in "aging and many of the diseases we're aware of." Apparently, the fatty acids in salmon reduce that inflammation, treating everything from wrinkles to brain cells.

Now, I'm not one to sneeze at anything that will help me drop a few age spots. And hey, I like salmon: Lox and such is pretty much scripted into my genes. But as a member of a family that's rife with early-onset Alzheimer's and as the wife of a doctor with a firm stake in Western medicine (read "medical school debts"), I tend to doubt that double servings of salmon are the miracle cure. That said, however, has anyone seen my keys? They're around here somewhere.

OK, I know I said I was going to be a glass-half-full kinda girl, so let's look at something more cheerful. Like the co-branding that's gonna go on. Frankly, I get the warm and fuzzies when I can order Pizza Hut in Taco Bell, Arthur Treacher's in Miami Subs, etc. And I think our local independent restaurants should take a lesson from this way to save money and face in these lean, corned-beef kind of times. After all, who wouldn't want to have a little Darrel & Oliver's Cafe Maxx at Angelo and Maxie's, a bit of KISS at Rumi, a Touch of Pacific Time at Mark's South Beach/Las Olas/Mizner Park/CityPlace? If you don't believe this could happen, check out South Beach's Shore Club -- I hear the signature restaurant, Sirena, has already started to serve sushi from its sibling (rival?) Nobu. It won't be long before they're cohabiting or Nobu stages a successful coup.

Certainly, restaurants will be looking for other ways to market themselves and improve business, and this year, I think they'll be taking their cues from the year's high-earning movies as well. In other words, I definitely foresee a Harry Potter's Pub, complete with butterbeer on draft; Lord of the Rings dinner theater, hosted by Frodo; and even A Beautiful Mind and Body Restaurant and Spa, offering organic/vegetarian cuisine, chai tea, and tableside massages. Hey, we already have Moulin Rouge, a French restaurant and cabaret located in Boca Raton. Could a Vanilla Sky's the Limit ice cream parlor, Ocean's Eleven Seafood Hut, or Not Another Italian Restaurant really be that far behind?

Marketing minds will probably stop short of renaming restaurants Bin Laden, the way a joint in China did to cash in on the curiosity value. But the war on terrorism will play more than a role in eatery economics. I envision a spate of Afghan eateries to open in Fort Lauderdale and western Broward County, where we currently have the best ethnic mix in the tricounty area. Indeed, I think Afghan cuisine will be so popular nationwide that Bon Appetit will award it "Cuisine of the Year" for 2002 (Moroccan food won for 2001). After all, we are a politically correct nation. We have nothing against the Afghan people. And hey, we've introduced them, via airdrop to wonderful American treats like peanut butter and Pop-Tarts, which they proceeded to feed to their livestock. (Smart move.) In 2002, we're going to see if they can cook too.

On a local level, we will see a continuation of two trends that have already started in Miami-Dade -- the wine bar and the back-to-the-French influence. Given the blossoming of Cafe del Mar, Cafe le Glacier, Lunel, and the forthcoming Southwest Brasserie, to cite just a few, I'd say the dining gods want us to revisit the '80s. Which could be comparable to what the gods have decided for Broward and Palm Beach counties, except that there, they want us to eat as if we're cast members of That Seventies Show. Yes, my friends, the Japanese steak house has returned. Not only is Benihana leading the charge of sharp knives versus sirloin steak, but traditional sushi spots like Sushi Yama and Kansai in Boca Raton have added hibachi tables. I kind of like the retro aspect going on here, but let me tell you, my Sweet Sixteen party was held at a Benihana. Could any dining trend make me feel older?

Apparently, yes -- or at least look older: The breaking trend toward drinking hard alcohol. Consumers have been requesting mixed drinks more often these days, especially following the attacks, and the restaurant industry has taken notice, predicting liquor sales to be higher next year than in recent history; Bon Appetit is already lauding the Delano hotel for its caiprinhas and Ortanique on the Mile for its mojito. In fact, given the culinary climate, I'm almost tempted to take Baleen's Robbin Haas up on his challenge: At the Miami Life Saveurs event for the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, he dared me to drink him under the table. But first, I need to stop sipping the wine and cut my teeth on something with a bit more, well, punch. A drink that will make me forget September 11 and yet constantly remind me at the same time. A cocktail named in honor, say, of the Twin Towers. A drink built for two, served in tall glasses, garnished with American flags. Could there be a better way to welcome 2002? Could there be a more perfect gastronomic salute?

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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