Americans love their chain restaurants. There's something comforting about being able to access a favorite dish that incorporates a uniform taste and texture, anywhere in the country--in some cases, the world. The popularity of Asian flavors is beginning to shine through, as many chain restaurants are expanding their menus to include Asian ingredients and dishes that stretch beyond the standard fare of teriyaki chicken and "oriental" salads.
Popular mainstream chains like TGI Fridays, California Pizza Kitchen and The Cheesecake Factory are infusing their food with the influences of China, Japan, Thailand and India --strong flavors that are becoming in creasingly familiar to the Western plate. Combining Asian ingredients with the feel of American comfort food is a great way to introduce food novices to new dining experiences, without having to step outside their culinary comfort zones. Executive chefs at these restaurants are jumping on the chance to create new dishes that will change it up for their customers while still making mouths water.
"I think it's common to the industry that, like strawberry, vanilla and chocolate are mainstays of any ice cream, Italian, Asian and Latin flavors will always be "the big three" for restaurants," says Chef Bob Olura, corporate executive chef and vice president of culinary development for The Cheesecake Factory,"The Asian cuisine category seems to have so much more to offer [to mainstream American diners] today that it's just sort of breaking the surface."
California Pizza Kitchen is, without a doubt, a pizza pionneer. Diners went nuts for the innovative pies, which are inspired by food from all over the world. CPK officiated the marriage of Thailand and Italy with their "Thai Chicken" pizza, a spicy montage that includes chicken, peanut-ginger and sesame sauce, carrots, cilantro, bean sprouts and green onions. The response was overwhelming; people couldn't get enough!More Asian-inspired pizzas foolwed, including the unusual (but delicious)" Mango Tandoori Chicken"pizza, another spicy delight that features Tandoori chicken coupled with mago,red peppers, a spicy curry sauce and a sweet mangochili sauce. It's a smooth introduction to Indian food for people who might not otherwise let their taste buds venture east of the Atlantic.
TGI Fridays is ubiquitous for fried finger foods, succulent meats glazed with Jack Daniels and mammoth frozen cocktails. Over the past few years, the chain has made a conscious effort to offer a spectrum of healthier dishes, several of which are inspired by popular Asian flavors. Though they now go by a different name,"Zen Chicken Pot Stickers" have been a long-time staple of the TGI Fridays menus, and the low-fat chicken and vegetable dumplings are gaining popularity as a healthy treat. Dipped in Szechwan sauce, they're a flavorful, healthy treat. A more recent addition to the menu is the "Dragonfire Chicken,"glazed with Kung Pao sauce and served with brown rice and broccoli.
It may be surprising to learn that Asian flavors feature prominently on the menu flavors feature prominently on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory. After all, this restaurant first became famous for its rich, creamy cheesecakes(hence the name, of course).Okura prides himself on putting both subtle and powerful Asian twists on American classics.
"It excites us when we can come up with an item that isn't mainstream Asian, but has a little bit of an Asian touch to it , like hidden middle ingredients,"Okura says." Take our Firecracker Salmon Roll --it's wrapped up in a spring roll wrapper, and and Asian pepper blend . Those little ingredients make it unique and special, and we're finding that guests really enjoy it, even if they're not fully aware of what they're enjoying"