Kathryn Rem: Mini-desserts on top of 'what's hot' list

Kathryn Rem

I’m begging restaurants — pretty please with sugar on top — to start offering bite-size desserts.

Nearly every time I go out for dinner, someone in my party wants a taste of dessert. But no one wants a big glob of it rumbling in the tummy after a more-than-adequate meal. So the group either orders one portion with multiple forks or passes on the sweets altogether.

I wrote about this last year after I noticed bite-size desserts were No. 1 on the National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot & What’s Not” annual survey. Guess what? Mini-sweets take the top spot on the 2008 survey as well.

Each year, the association queries American chefs about trends they predict will be popular in restaurants. More than 1,200 chefs responded for the 2008 survey.

That many toques can’t be wrong.

No. 2 on the list of 2008 trends is locally grown produce. No surprise here. Farmers markets are booming, and groups such as Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Slow Food Springfield and Illinois Specialty Growers Association are working to unite growers and consumers with similar ZIP codes.

In the same vein, organic produce turned up on the list in third place. Americans are thinking green, and that includes their greens.

No. 4 is tapas, or small plates. Just as diners want a nip of dessert, many want a main course made up of multiple dishes that offer tastes without the heft.

Next on the trend list is the specialty sandwich. Quiznos has flatbread “sammies” filled with Angus steak, mozzarella and peppercorn sauce. Panera sells all-natural pepper-mustard chicken with field greens, roasted tomatoes, red onions and sun-dried tomato pesto on three-cheese bread. And the grilled panini sandwich has inched its way onto nearly every menu west of Tuscany.

Microbrew and craft beers have a head on No. 6. Just as with bread and cheese, diners are looking for artisanal specialties.

No. 7 is sustainable seafood. Sustainable fisheries remain healthy and productive because of successful management, responsible harvesting and advances in contained fish farming. It’s an inconvenient truth, one that diners are starting to ask about.

Grass-fed protein is next on the list. Beef, poultry, dairy, pork and other foods from grass-fed animals are derived from a natural diet of grazing, and it fits with the ecological concerns of consumers.

No. 9 is the energy-drink cocktail. It makes sense that imbibers of energy drinks want to fuse them with something more sophisticated than a Red Bull can.

Salts have been a topic of attention for several years, and now they hit the list at No. 10. What used to be called “gourmet salts” are now available in supermarkets. Various colors, grinds, origins and finishes can add unique flavors and textures to dishes and are fun to play with.

Other notable up-and-comers in the trend list’s top 100 include flavored martinis, pomegranates, Asian appetizers, organic wine, ciabatta bread, aged meats, pan searing, fresh-fruit cocktails, exotic mushrooms, Cuban cuisine, dragon fruit, flatbreads, braising, smoked foods, edamame, lemon grass, figs, sake, vegetarian meals, Belgian beer, gourmet pizzas and duck.

Stay tuned. Next week I’ll write about food trends you’ll be seeing this year that don’t have to do with restaurants.

Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520 or