The Modern Entrée

Taking a cue from other menu parts, chefs amp up the flavor and value proposition for entrées
Salmon and lemon on a cutting board
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With so much attention paid to flavorful shareables, bowls and bar bites, consumers’ expectations have shifted. Chefs are taking a second look at how they develop the modern entrée. In our most recent research tour we saw hundreds of examples of this approach. Based on our team’s observations from visits to restaurants in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, we’ve pinpointed a number of entrée updates. 

1) Seafood Stars

With fish and shellfish shining bright as healthful protein choices, chefs are giving seafood a modern, flavor-forward treatment.

First, we saw salmon dishes boasting complex flavor layering, with aromatics, interesting veg-centric sides, at least one sauce, and varied cooking techniques, creating dramatic plate presentation. 

Menu Examples:

  • Seared Fjord Salmon with watercress pistou, roasted French breakfast radishes, bok choy—The Little Beet Table, Chicago
  • Pan Seared Salmon sautéed with eggplant, peaches and tamarind, with chopped nori—The Albert, Chicago

Second, we saw an increase in skin-on fish entrées, with most of the cooking on the skin side, on a flat grill, char-grill or sauté pan, allowing it to cook until crispy.  

Menu Examples:

  • Arctic Char with cauliflower purée, shaved celery—Fairfax, NYC
  • Seared Halibut with white anchovies, panko, kale, tomato, hollandaise—Lunetta, L.A.

2) Beefing It Up

We saw a lot of entrées built around value cuts and smaller portion sizes, with more intriguing garnishes, sauces and accompaniments. 

The short rib is a favorite, slow-cooked until tender. (We also encountered the chuck flat, from the shoulder, that’s reasonably priced and yields the same texture as short rib.) This classic comfort food was served in a variety of ways.

Menu Examples:

  • Pulled Short Rib Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, malted beef jus, herbs—Forbidden Root, Chicago
  • Grilled Short Rib with roasted poblano purée, blistered shishitos, bonito flakes—Steadfast, Chicago

Value cuts that yield great flavor also are finding favor, with modern dishes starring skirt steak, flank steak and the bavette, cut from the sirloin.

Menu Examples:

  • Grilled Flank Steak with sweet corn elotes, onion salad—City Mouse, Chicago
  • Bavette Steak with porcini demi-glace, potato salad cake—Sweet Chick, L.A.

3) Pork Power

We saw braised pork shoulder getting play on menus, but it’s the pork chop that is getting a menu makeover in many forward-thinking restaurants. The presentation of a thick-cut chop standing up in its whole state has morphed into new plating. At Chicago’s Split Rail, the chop is cut in half, with a gorgeous charred bone.

Menu Examples:

  • Pork Butt with a Dark And Stormy Glaze, red peas, and fried pecans—Roister, Chicago 
  • Thin-Cut Pork Chops with Coleman’s Hot Spicy Mustard, Concord grapes, herb salad, peanuts—El Che Bar, Chicago

4) Playing Chicken

Chicken is another entrée where flavor innovation and plate presentation are really astounding. Two techniques stood out.

First, chefs are serving chicken as whole as possible, spatchcocking (removing the backbone), or splitting the chicken and semi boning it, roasting or grilling it or even deep-frying the bird.

Menu Examples:

  • Whole Spatchcock Chicken with arugula, Calabrian chili, pan sauce—Hearth, NYC
  • Deep-Fried Spatchcock Chicken—Terra Cotta, L.A.

Second, we saw great examples of stuffed chicken. At Eden in Chicago, boneless skin-on breast was rolled around a stuffing of leg meat, then roasted. At a Roqa in New York, the leg was stuffed with ground chicken, then roasted. 

Menu Example:

  • Chicken Leg with za’atar stuffing—Fairfax, NYC

5) Duck, Duck, Delicious

Duck innovations continue, and it’s all about the leg. Instead of confiting, you can just roast them in the oven and get a crispy crunch on the outside with a moist and tender inside.

Menu Examples:

  • Duck Leg with griddle cake, blackberry compote—Salt’s Cure, L.A.
  • Country Fried Duck Leg with Béarnaise sauce, crushed cauliflower, baked artichoke heart, butternut squash—Harold’s Meat & Three, NYC

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