by Ryan Ross, Contributing Editor
Side dishes. Even the name sends a message: they’re there to complement the main dish, the Robin to the main dish’s Batman. And because of their historical second-class status, it’s easy to overlook side dishes or think of them as nice additions to a meal, but ones you could do without if it came down to it.
Once upon a time, sides were nothing more than a way for restaurants to fill up a plate without having to make the main dish larger. Sides were more cost-effective and easier to make, and not a lot of thought was put into them. And for decades, this approach to sides worked just fine. But more and more, restaurants are looking at sides in a whole new light. Rather than treating them like an afterthought, chefs are putting the same care and attention into their sides as they are with their main dishes. Not only does this lead to a better overall menu, but it also opens up tons of new menu options from a chef’s standpoint.
Using our list of the Top 25 New York City restaurants, today we’re going to take a look at some of the side dishes that are making a play for center stage on their menus. Read on!
At Marta, the focus is on creating “fresh takes on classic pizza standbys as well as original inventions showcasing seasonal and local ingredients.” And while their pizza is marvelous, their sides are becoming more and more popular options for guests. Marta’s sides include grilled broccoli and apricot puttanesca; plancha-seared greens with garlic and lemon; and baked spaghetti squash with pecorino, fontina and black truffle. The commitment of the kitchen at Marta to making their side dishes stand on their own is paying dividends, as the side items are among some of the most popular on the menu.
At ABC Kitchen, the side dishes are crafted with the same amount of care and attention as the entrees. So it's no surprise that Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's side items are plenty popular in their own right. Sides at ABC Kitchen include roasted brussels sprouts with prosciutto and pear mustard; tender broccoli with pistachios, chilies and mint; sauteed dandelion greens with sweet and sour onions, hazelnuts and lemon; and their signature house-cut fries.
You might think that a seafood restaurant wouldn't be known for its side dishes. After all, most seafood restaurants focus more on the main dish, and as a result, the sides are an afterthought (think fries, coleslaw, or potato salad).
Well, think again — Catch NYC is as popular for its sides as it is for its great selection of entrees. Side items include sauteed Israeli couscous with golden raisins, toasted pumpkin seed and white balsamic; charred broccolini with chili, garlic and lemon; shaved brussels sprouts with butternut squash and honey-roasted almonds; lobster mashed potatoes; Chinese water spinach with crispy garlic chips, sesame and hoisin sauce; and charred cauliflower with preserved lemon vinaigrette, capers and caramelized onion.
Charlie Bird's approach to side dishes is a little unique: they don't even list them as sides on the menu. At Charlie Bird, the sides are as important to the overall taste of a dish as the main ingredient, and one can't exist without the other. With such a unique approach, it's no surprise that Charlie Bird is one of the most highly-regarded restaurants in New York City.
Sides include black truffle & crispy bit salad; citrus broth with calçot onion and mint; and escarole with capers and lemon.
These restaurants aren't the only ones that are beginning to take sides more seriously. In an increasingly competitive industry, restaurants have to do everything they can to set their menus apart from the competition. And while plenty of restaurants have embraced new, different approaches to food, some (like the ones listed above) don't want to reinvent the wheel- they just want to make the wheel a little better.
Luckily for us, this approach doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.