Ahhh Ahi

Introduced to the menu on the coattails of sushi’s popularity, ahi tuna appeals to many restaurant segments and consumers. According to Mintel Menu Insights, the 123 new ahi menu items over the past two years represent a 19% increase in the number of menu occurrences. Ahi varieties such as Hawaiian Yellowfin, Pacific Ahi, Atlantic Ahi and Wild Yellowfin Ahi are satisfying the desire for fresher menu items.

Ahi’s most popular preparation is seared, leaving the rare, tender, sweet flesh of the tuna to be enjoyed. The tuna is paired with fresh fruits and vegetables and light vinaigrettes. Steakhouse favorite Outback Steakhouse appreciates the need for fresh fish on the menu. It serves an appetizer of Seared Ahi Tuna made with sashimi-style yellowfin tuna, spice-rubbed, seared and served with soy dressing and wasabi vinaigrette on the side.

While the majority of ahi tuna menu items are prepared with Asian flavors, the fish can also be found in Italian, Caribbean and French preparations. Andiamo put a twist on traditional carpaccio with its Carpaccio Di Tonno: thin slices of ahi tuna marinated with extra virgin olive oil and lemon dressed with capers and shallots and served with Belgian endive and grilled asparagus. Aqua Restaurant serves an entrée of ahi tuna with Sausalito watercress, yucca au poivre and coconut rum sauce.

Flavor Craze

With popularity comes innovation. The tropical flavors of man-go, passion fruit, pineapple, banana and co-conut have been added to Mai Tais. Joe’s Crab shack offers a Schooner Mai Tai made with Malibu coconut rum mixed with tropical juices and topped with Myer’s dark rum. Claim Jumper mixes Malibu rum, Midori, Chambord Bacardi 151 and its own Mai Tai mix to create its Hawaiian Mai Tai.

“Maita'i Roa”

Tropical drinks are offering vast variety on the cocktail menu these days. According to Menu Insights, Bahama Breeze, P.F. Chang’s Asian Bistro, The Cheesecake Factory and Señor Fred’s are just a few chain restaurants to add the ageless tropical drink to the cocktail menu. Señor Fred mixes a Classic Rum Mai Tai with light and amber rums, orange juice, pineapple juice, Crème de Noyaux and a float of Meyers dark rum. 

One of the most well-known tropical drinks is the Mai Tai. Legend has it that the Mai Tai--the preferred cocktail of the Hawaiian islands--was created at Trader Vic’s Polynesian restaurant in 1944. Trader Vic (Victor J. Bergeron) created the drink for friends visiting from Tahiti. Upon tasting the new drink, one friend reportedly said, “Maita’i Roa!” This literally translated to “very good,” and the name Mai Tai stuck.

Mai Tais are as visible as rainbows in the Hawaiian Islands. This tropical drink--traditionally made of Jamaican 17-year-old J. Wray & Nephew Rum, Orange Curacao, Orgeat and lime over shaved ice--is becoming increasingly popular on mainland menus.

Strawberries'N Cream

Strawberries ’n cream is a timeless combination. The tartness of the berries pairs perfectly with the sweetness of cream. Restaurant menus are serving the classic flavor combination in fresh fruit desserts and creamy beverages.

The combination of strawberries and cream in a simple strawberry shortcake will stand the test of time. The Cheesecake Factory made room on its decadent dessert menu for the simple, yet mouth-watering Fresh Strawberry Shortcake. The Cheesecake Factory’s own shortcake is topped with vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and whipped cream. 

Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub serves the original recipe Strawberry Shortcake made with a traditional biscuit filled with creamy Edy’s Vanilla Bean ice cream and strawberries, then topped with whipped cream. Chez Panisse simply serves Crème Fraiche ice cream with Lucero Farm Strawberries.

The strawberry milkshake is another nostalgic way to enjoy strawberries and cream. The cool, fruity flavors bring back memories of hot summer days and soda fountains. According to Mintel Menu Insights, strawberry is the third most popular flavor of milkshakes (preceded by vanilla and chocolate, of course). Many popular beverage outlets and restaurants have recognized the popularity of the frozen beverage and have it as part of their core menu. Starbucks created a Strawberry version of the Frappuccino. Cheeburger, Cheeburger will create an Ice Cream Float with Strawberry Soda, and Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon created its Strawberry Buckaroo made with strawberry smoothie blended with creamy Piña Colada.

Mintel Menu Insights tracks menu trends from the nation’s 350 largest chain restaurants, 150 independent restaurants and top 50 chefs, offering insight into pricing, menu items ingredients, preparations and entirely new menus. For more information, visit www.menuinsights.com or phone 312-932-0600.