Photo: Sifu Renka, Flickr
But for diners who enjoyed the last 10 years in small doses, the aughts were downright delicious -- thanks to local sourcing, a vigorous insistence on fresh and seasonal ingredients and, yes, all those pork products.
If there was one trend that defined the first breaths of this millennium, it was a general resistance to trendiness. In years ruled by buzzwords like "authentic," "heritage," "artisanal," "traditional" and "classic," what was deemed cool at the decade's outset pretty much stayed that way: If there's an organic greens and sustainable seafood backlash brewing, it hasn't perked yet.
Still, we're pressing ahead with a restaurant trend-by-year taxonomy. Nitpickers will notice that the assignments are sometimes rather arbitrary: Was 2003 or 2004 the year that celebrity chefdom raged most fiercely? Is it fair to call 2005 the year of foam, considering it was already old hat in big cities and still years away from arriving in small towns? Argue among yourselves.
2001: Fast Casual
What better concept for a nation plagued by uncertainty about the future? Fast-casual eateries, which took off at the dawn of the decade, fused a fast-food tempo and price point with a high-end commitment to quality. Chains like Panera Bread, Chipotle and Cosi "combine the best of both worlds," an industry watcher told Nation's Restaurant News in 2001.
Who needs a professional chef? Consumers on both ends of the dining spectrum were empowered to make their own culinary choices in 2002. Trend-watchers will remember it as the year when the James Beard Foundation bestowed "best new restaurant" honors on Tom Colicchio's Craft -- where diners selected their own sauces and sides -- and Burger King reinstated its "Have It Your Way" slogan.
2003: Square Plates
Not every fad was fated to survive. Driven by presentation-obsessed chefs and Asian cuisine-infatuated diners, the tableware industry straightened out the edges of its dishes. "Gold-rimmed tableware is giving way to simple white geometrics," Food & Wine reported in 2002. While restaurants have lately been going round again, nothing says early 21st century trendiness better than a circular plate or bowl.
2004: Celebrity Chefs
By 2004, what was on the menu didn't matter half as much as who was cooking it – or, more aptly, who put their name on it. Familiar faces greedily expanded their empires, with Wolfgang Puck opening his first Ohio outpost and Bobby Flay venturing beyond New York City. With so many big names competing for attention, it's no wonder Food Network rolled out Iron Chef America in 2005.
So many kitchens were masquerading as chemistry labs by the mid-2000s that in 2006 Ferran Adria and friends issued an official statement clarifying that there was more to "molecular gastronomy" than turning corned beef into a liquid or making sausage taste like eggs. But the most popular trick by far was creating flavorful foams, which graced what seemed like every plate that year.
2006: Deconstructed Dishes
What happens when customization and molecular gastronomy meet? Food falls apart. Diners were left to their own devices in 2006 when restaurants confronted them with deconstructed Caesar salads (a clump of lettuce here, a heap of shredded cheese there) and chicken noodle soup. But chefs weren't just breaking down, they were also building up by stacking food into PVC pipe-molded towers.
2007: Small Plates
Tapas-style service wasn't new in 2007, but it managed to pick up a new crew of adherents -- many of them foamers who needed more stages on which to showcase their bright ideas. Adventurous diners who chafed at confining themselves to a single entrée embraced the concept, which still hasn't gone out of style.
2008: Expensive "Cheap" Food
Blogs were abuzz in 2008 about burgers that cost more than a day's pay. The Wall Street Burger Shoppe started sprinkling gold leaf on its patties just so it could claim the title of New York's most expensive burger at $175. But it wasn't just burgers that got fancy. Diners became accustomed to shelling out outrageous sums for foie gras-topped hot dogs, caviar-sprinkled lobster rolls and single-origin chocolate cupcakes.
2009: House-Made Everything
Once upon a time, a chef's job was to cook food. That concept was demolished by young chefs like Sean Brock of McCrady's in Charleston, who raises his own hogs, smokes his own hams and serves them alongside vegetables from his garden. The word "house-made" is now appended to everything from ketchup to ginger ale.