Trend Alert: Vietnamese Cuisine, Epic Menus, and Man Food

This past week, my colleagues from Village Voice Media had a good showing the Association of Food Journalism awards, which I attended in Charleston. Around tables at dinner and during speaker sessions, topics such as how soon to review a restaurant after it has opened, the role of critics in the rise of social media, and whether fine dining is dead fueled many a discussion.

Though he was not in attendance, Sam Sifton of The New York Times weighed in on one topic this week: Fine dining is not in fact dead, with his final review focused on the most epic and epically expensive restaurant in New York. 

The collective of newspapers in this group focuses elsewhere. Here's a rundown of what writers have eaten and written about, from the round-up of 13 papers across the country.

Number of reviews on 
Asian cuisine: 7
Vietnamese restaurants in particular: 3
Neighborhood bar/grill/urban diners/gastropub/cafes: 5
Wildcard: Greek

Price range per item
$7 to $30: 6 reviews
$4 to $15: 7 reviews

After the jump, five trends and the most popular words of the week:

5. Eating with your hands
"We dabbed bits of laing onto rice, pressed it together, and popped the small mounds into our mouths." SF Weekly

"'Have you rolled with rice paper before?' my waitress asked. Of course I had." Dallas Observer

4. Clubby restaurants
"If, inside this inferno of feasting, you desire an appetizer before dinner or a snack before Bonfire gets techno-fied and clubby late into the evening, there are several scrumptious choices." Phoenix New Times

"At the bar off to the left, speakers that would dwarf a child pump beats so loud you feel it in your chest." Broward Palm Beach New Times

3. Epic menus
"Bar snacks are for the bar; the regular menu has its own "small plates" section." Miami New Times

"The restaurant's signage and menus hype four categories of fare: burgers, whiskey, oysters, and eggs." City Pages

"The menu reads well. It offers no appetizers. There's something reassuring about that, in contrast to the current practice of making you comb through a half-dozen categories to assemble your dinner with no idea what the outcome will be." Village Voice

2. Strip mall dining & spartan digs
"House of Sisig, in a Daly City strip mall decorated with a Greek-ish statuary and anchored by a Korean grocery store, serves all the dishes non-Filipinos have heard of as well as less-familiar dishes..." SF Weekly

"The endless concrete pavement and strip malls, all heavily guarded by expansive parking lots, aren't inviting for exploration..." Dallas Observer

"The main item of decor is what appears to be a big clock on a wall behind the counter, although it seems to have been stripped of its hands." LA Weekly

1. Most tenacious trend: man food
"'It's man food,' the lone male in our group suggested, noting the masculine aesthetic of the eatery's black leather booths." City Pages

"The succulent chunk of meat had been encrusted with smoky bacon bits and came with greens that had been sauteed with garlic, sweet apple sauce, and a perfectly al dente risotto hit with just enough sriracha to make it spicy." Westword

"At Hiro, this moment struck after I read about the 'Crunchy Pig' roll (pork belly, bacon, and shredded pork but before I made it to the 'Buffalo' roll (grilled chicken and 'wasabi ranch' sauce." Riverfront Times

Word choice
From the 3700 distinct words from the combined reviews, minus pronouns as well as  "restaurant" and "food," for example:

bar 35/whiskey 11/cocktail 9/wine 10
meat 29/pork 25/beef 18/
fish 27/shrimp 14/oysters 9
chicken 25/eggs 11
sauce 27/rice 18/cheese 13/salt 11/fried 18/vegetables 9

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart