Many members of this season’s class of Trending Tables have a celebratory swagger about them. As overall restaurant traffic remains stagnant and many customers remain leery about spending money, anecdotal evidence suggests that many restaurants at the higher end are doing well — and they can flaunt it.

Elizabeth in Chicago and Trois Mec in Los Angeles have followed the lead of Grant Achatz’s Next restaurant in Chicago, and are selling non-refundable tickets for dinner rather than taking reservations. Visitors to neMesis in Miami are told, “Those lacking imagination and a sense of humor are not welcome.”

Gussied-up comfort food remains the order of the day at many trendy restaurants, including the “refined rusticity” offered up by Watershed on Peachtree in Atlanta, the pâté with hardtack at Puritan & Co. in Boston, or the beef cheek burger at Tongue & Cheek in Miami.

High-concept cuisine is making a bit of a comeback, as Angelenos sample the latest offerings of David Myers of Hinoki & the Bird and Ludovic Lefebvre of Trois Mec, and New Yorkers flock to the latest ventures of Wylie Dufresne at Alder and Paul Liebrandt at The Elm.

Ever-popular Italian cuisine remains so at restaurants such as Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano in Atlanta, Lucia in Dallas, RivaBella in Los Angeles, Scarpetta in Miami and Artusi in Seattle. But food from the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean is also getting play, either subtly, with the use of feta, dates and harissa at King + Duke in Atlanta, and the pistachio and yogurt at Found in Chicago, or more directly, such as at Mamnoon, which declares that it serves a “modern union of Middle Eastern cuisines.”

Korean, Central European, Thai and Macanese food also are emerging this season as customers at independent restaurants continue to expand their culinary horizons — a trend for all restaurant operators to follow.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary