Leaves tumble down, frost sparkles on the ground and a chill hangs in the air. Fall is here, and whether you realize it or not, the foods you want to eat change.
Just as our fashion tastes turn toward darker colors, warmer clothing and heavier layers, our food tastes draw us to the comforts of richer, deeper flavors, creamier textures and warmer temperatures.
And every fall many area restaurants respond with new menus to reflect the change of season.
Climate is one of the things that controls our palate. You get chilled and suddenly your body tells you to eat richer, heartier foods, says John Berryhill, owner of Berryhill and Co. in Boise.
“It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a fun conversation to have because you don’t always realize it’s happening,” he says.
That also explains why people who live in temperate climates year-round — such as Hawaii — have created a different cuisine with a lighter flavor profile.
In Boise, where we have hot summers and cold winters, we get to experience both.
Of, course there are perennial favorites — things such as mac-and-cheese and Caesar salad sell all year long — but many chefs swap some of their offerings with each season.
At Cafe Vicino, you’ll find winter squash, French lentils, braised meats and rich sauces on the menu.
“We have not used a cream sauce on our menu since last spring,” says Cafe Vicino owner-chef Richard Langston. “Now it shows up in a Parmesan cream sauce on the butternut squash pasta.”
You’ll also find the flavors of fall on the Vicino menu in pomegranate reductions, smoked pork, roasted duck, braised winter greens such as kale and chard, and spicy sausages.
At the Arid Club, chef Chris “Mac” McDonald swaps out summer fish for rich sea scallops and richer meats such as lamb and pork.
“October is the last time of the year that I will put halibut on the menu,” McDonald says. “We should see it again next March.”
Fortunately, much of this goes hand in hand with what’s available as the fall harvest rolls in.
“Apples, pomegranates, pears, squash — butternut, acorn, banana, kabocha — and root vegetables will have a more prominent role,” he says.
Berryhill not only changes out specials and menu items — such as replacing the citrus-marinated chicken with herb-roasted — but he retools his wine list for the season, too.
It’s partly to pair with the heartier dishes but also because, “people drink differently in the fall and winter,” Berryhill says. “If you drink pinot noir suddenly you want a super Tuscan.”
And more people drink red wine when the weather turns colder.
Fork owner Cameron Lumsden sees his red wine sales go up in the fall, he says.
He’s also developing winter cocktails with warmed liquors and glasses rimmed with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Desserts also get winterized at Fork. You’ll find a warm peach cobbler and whiskey-bread pudding on the new fall menu that debuted this week.
Lumsden tweaks in response to customer requests.
“We do a lot with social media, so I post a lot asking, ‘What do you like? What do you want to see on the menu now?’ ” Lumsden says. “For fall, people said they want soups. So, you’ll find a daily chef’s special soup on the winter menu.”
At Fork — a restaurant with an emphasis on the farm-to-fork philosophy — the seasonal shift is a chance to highlight local produce.
“We’re doing a local wild mushroom and herb pasta and adding a local butternut squash puree as a side,” he says.
WHY WE TASTE DIFFERENTLY
Technically, taste is what happens when something — good or bad — hits your tongue, but for this discussion think of it as something more.
Culinary taste involves the input from your taste buds, but it is accentuated by aroma, texture and eye appeal, McDonald says.
“Those elements all factor into making something taste delicious and feel seasonal, even through some of the ingredients might not be strictly in the season,” he says.
Staying strictly seasonal is difficult these days, McDonald says. So much food is available now — such as summer berries and pineapple — that the expectation of seasonal cooking has changed.
But you can please a fall-inspired palate by the way those products are handled.
“I might do a fresh pineapple salsa or salad in June. In November, I'll do a pineapple gastrique or chutney,” McDonald says.
Cooking techniques such as pan roasting, slow roasting and braising can create a fall-like texture.
“How a food feels in the mouth speaks to its seasonality, too,” McDonald says.
For example, instead of thin-cut salmon quickly pan-seared in the summer, he uses a thicker, square cut in the fall. He pan roasts it in a short stock and savory bouquet garni and finishes it in the oven.
Even though it’s a fish we eat year-round, it feels heartier on the front part of the palate when it’s prepared this way.
That’s when it all comes together.