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A bunch of stuff nobody saw coming

New York

We beeped a bunch of notable food and drink honchos around town, and then they called us back and told us what they thought the biggest surprises of 2012 were, from the fact that kale is cool to the popularity of Brooklyn. Actually, those are kind of similar.

John McNulty, Co-owner of Swine
"Sandy. That’s probably a generic answer. It snuck up on us, we were just starting to get our stride, and hitting our momentum, but it hasn’t come back. Also I’m always a little surprised by how adventurous our guests are. We sell a good amount of chicken liver mousse, head cheese, etc. Maybe it’s a sign of some of the other items we can put on the menu in the future."

Luis Bollo, Executive Chef at Salinas
"The popularity of Americanized Asian casual eateries like Mission Chinese Food, Red Farm, and Danji. Many Asian-American chefs want to pay homage to their bi-cultural traditions and their way of cooking is well-rooted in reality -- just like the Korean taco phenomenon that was drawn from Korean store owners in California mixing their lunch with that of their Mexican employees."

Toby Maloney, Partner at Pouring Ribbons
"Empellon Cocina is so absolutely amazing. The clarity of flavor that Chef Stupak achieves is wondrous. The flavors are tangled together like earbuds at the bottom of your bag, but you can still taste each despite the complexity."

Mary Giuliani, caterer and event planner to the stars named things like Matt Damon and the Rolling Stones
"That eating kale is cool!"

Manuel Trevino, Executive Chef at Marble Lane at Dream Downtown
"The number of restaurants outside of Manhattan that got reviewed by the Times. Lots of Brooklyn spots.”

Nick Bennett, Bar Captain at Booker and Dax
"I was surprised to see Zebulon go. The little French venue in Williamsburg looked packed all the time, so I would be surprised if they were closing for financial reasons. With all the construction that's been going on in Williamsburg and fancy expensive spots opening up left and right, it was nice to have a simple place to go and listen to some relaxed jazz with a Campari and soda."

Nick Anderer, Executive Chef at Maialino
"The rooftop at the Pod Hotel. It’s definitely a hidden gem. When you get out of the elevator on the top floor it’s like you’re thrown back in time. It’s got a very cool, rustic look, almost like medieval ruins. And some awesome views of downtown NYC. Totally didn’t expect to find a bar like that on 39th street."

Hari Nathan Kalyan, Partner at The Randolph and Randolph Beer
"Surprise #1: Hurricane Sandy. It was truly shocking to see the city in such a vulnerable state, but it was truly reaffirming to see everyone coming together. We brought a generator down to Broome Street and a charcoal grill. We were cooking up burgers and chicken soup and hot coffee. It reminded me why I came here in the first place and got into this business.

"Surprise #2: The level of growth and expansion to areas like Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, etc, and how on point these places are. It takes true passion to consider foot traffic an ancillary benefit. Take Peaches Hothouse, for instance. They know what they want to do and are pretty confident customers will just come. That's some real chutzpah and its really cool to see it work.

"Surprise #3: How much fire Guy Fieri received for his new place in Midtown. It's way over the top and kitschy and cheesy, but I also don't think its trying to take itself that seriously as to warrant the type of attacks it received. I actually liked the food, but then again, I also like McDonald's. A lot."

Alex Guarnaschelli, Executive Chef at The Darby and Butter
"I was pleasantly surprised that we enjoyed a great growing season for produce here. In the wake of hurricane Irene and with the threat of Sandy, I was grateful to see farmers have a great year. The heirloom tomatoes and the herbs are the ingredients that make cooking fun."

Eben Freeman, Director of Bar Operations and Innovation at Altamarea Group
"Three stars for Atera despite no tablecloths, minimal service, and avant garde cuisine."

Victor LaPlaca, Executive Chef at Isola Trattoria and Crudo Bar
"The death of Twinkies!"

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