Transitioning a restaurant’s menu to more winter-appropriate items takes some advance planning. Here’s how F&B experts from hotel restaurants and bars make the switch from warm- to cold-weather food-and-drink offerings.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Restaurant menus naturally have to change with the seasons because of the types of ingredients available, and switching over from food-and-drink options for warmer months to food-and-drink options for colder months takes a bit of planning, sources said.
At the Renaissance Philadelphia’s Chez Ben restaurant, Chef Patrick D’Amico said via email that his team does “major updates to the menus twice a year to prepare for the seasonal ingredient changes that come with late fall/winter and spring/summer.”
Fall/winter menu updates are put on the menu in mid-October to “highlight seasonal ingredients,” he said.
“We start the menu planning process about five weeks prior to launch and spend time reviewing market trends and seasonal products available from local suppliers, as well as top-and-bottom sellers,” he said. “Then we brainstorm dishes and test them as specials to see how they are received and to get the service team familiar with them. Once the dishes are honed and the recipes are fully developed, we’ll launch them on our set menu.”
On the Chez Ben winter menu at the Renaissance Philadelphia, you’ll find options made from “root veggies, heartier meats and warm, thick sauces like ragouts and purees,” D’Amico said.
“On the beverage menu, we focus our cocktails around darker spirits, spiced accents and seasonal fruits, like apple and citrus. The cocktail menu designed by beverage manager, Rachel Kovenetsky, highlights these ingredients in such drinks like the ‘Winter Thyme’ featuring bourbon, grapefruit juice, thyme simple syrup and aromatic bitters, and the ‘Cidre Royale’ made with Calvados, spiced rum, sparkling wine and apple cider.”
Items on the winter menu are available throughout the season, but changes are made occasionally depending on what produce is available, he said. To keep repeat guests coming back, D’Amico said the restaurant runs weekly specials “to take advantage of seasonal items that may be selectively available or of special-run items from a farmer or purveyor we have a special relationship with.”
“Specials also give me the freedom to be creative and test some more unique dishes and see how guests respond,” he said. “The same is true of the drink menu; when specific wines or local spirits become available in limited supply, we’re able to take advantage of them and offer them as specials.”
The Plume restaurant at The Jefferson is offering a King Salmon Yew Wood “Bento” made with Amish beeswax and brown butter emulsion on its seasonal “First American Holiday” menu. (Photo: The Jefferson)
The Michelin-starred Plume restaurant at The Jefferson in Washington, D.C., launched its “First American Holiday” menu on 8 December and will run the menu until 30 December, excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Plume Chef Ralf Schlegel said via email. Specialized menus will be offered on those days.
The menu is a collaboration between The Jefferson’s in-house historian Susan Lagon and Schlegel, he said, and will feature cold-weather options.
“During the winter, guests are looking for more hearty and warm dishes like soups, wild game and poultry. For this reason I've included menu items like the ‘Sir James’ Mock Turtle Soup, the Wild Boar Wellington and the Virginia Quail,” he said.
Plume has a farm-to-table relationship with small farms in the area that “source a limited supply of their goods,” Schlegel said, so some items on the menu stay while “some last a while before they are replaced by another item” because of the reliance and dedication to serving farm-to-table options.
Winter served up early
The Deer Path Inn is located in Lake Forest, Illinois, where the cold weather creeps in early sometimes.
For that reason, the hotel’s restaurant starts serving “foods that warm the soul” and are “reminiscent of your childhood,” such as soups, stews and braised and roasted items in September, Matt Barba,innkeeper at the Deer Path Inn, said via email.
The hotel usually spends two months planning and getting the winter menu together, he said, and cold-weather items are rotated on the menu throughout the season.
Starting on 18 December, The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, will start serving up winter cocktails at the bar, Brad Buchanan, director of food and beverage at The Spectator, said via email.
In-house mixologist Allen Lancaster has been working on the winter cocktail menu for three weeks, and tested out some of the drinks at a recent event, Buchanan said.
“We are featuring a clarified milk punch amongst other winter weather cocktails,” he said. “The milk punch is a great choice for us because of its southern origin and the rum, citrus and spice create the perfect island Christmas vibe. From watching our mixologist (Lancaster) put it together, it is a laborious cocktail to prepare, so is best meant to appreciate and savor.”