1. Because the seafood wave is rising
Seafood has long been a staple of Italian cooking, but now that health-conscious Americans are eating more fish—at last count the U.S. ranks second only to China in its seafood consumption (even topping Japan!)—menus are swimming in it. “I focused on the seafood found in and around Italy’s coastal areas, which inspired the salad here,” says restaurateur Michael Schlow, chef-owner of Washington, DC, restaurant Casolare. “These dishes are light, uncomplicated and delicious.”
Try Chef Michael Schlow's Capri-Style Seafood Salad (above)
2. Because it plays well with others
Food mash-ups are here to stay (oh, hi, Cronut!), and the latest are global—see: kimchi tacos, ramen burgers. Italian food is especially suited for this kind of mixing and mashing, says Jason Vincent, chef-partner at Chicago restaurant Giant. “Pasta is such a blank canvas that it’s an easy thing to jazz up, plus it’s the perfect vehicle for really flavorful sauces,” he says. “This dish pulls inspiration from Italy and North Africa. Sounds weird but it works!”
Try Chef Jason Vincent's Tagliatelle with Merguez & Saffron (above)
3. Because pasta’s getting fresher
Italian joints all over the country have gone noodle crazy. Fresh pasta is a top trend for 2017, or as foodie website Eater explains it, “we’ve entered a golden age of pasta.” One restaurant at the center of the revolution is San Francisco’s Flour + Water. “As a young chef, I was obsessed with pasta,” says CEO and culinary director of Ne Timeas Restaurant Group Thomas McNaughton, who honed his skills in a rustic “pasta lab” operated by women in Bologna. “I knew that I wanted the heart of the kitchen and menu to be the many different textures of pasta we could bring to the table.”
Try Chef Thomas McNaughton's Burrata Triangoli with Lemon, Summer Squash & Mint (above)
4. Because the food is all over the map—in a good way!
Move over, Tuscany. As diners crave more authentic eating experiences, lesser-known regions are getting their time in the sun. “I have two places that are more pan-Italian,” says Andrew Carmellini, chef-partner of buzzy eateries in NYC, Miami and Baltimore. But he named his restaurant Leuca after the southern Italian town in Puglia, a coastal region known for its orecchiette, white beans, mussels and fish. “It’s important not to try to translate the cuisine exactly, but to get a sense of the ingredient or dish and cook in the spirit of it,” Carmellini says.
Try Chef Andrew Carmellini's Tuna with Stewed Chickpeas & Tomato Vinaigrette (above)
5. Because Italians went green before it was trendy
Unless you’ve been hiding under a kale leaf, you’ve heard that veggies are hot. They’ve always had a place in Italian cooking, but now that everyone in the food world is moving them from sides to center stage, Italian restaurants are really ramping up their plantbased plates. “Thanks to their vibrant colors and textures, vegetables provide the perfect building blocks in any dish,” says restaurateur and executive chef Michael Schwartz of Miami and L.A.’s Fi’lia. For Schwartz, it’s less about cutting out meat than it is about complementing it: “It’s all about balance for us.”
Try Chef Michael Schwartz's Farmers' Market Pizza with Fava Pesto, Asparagus & Ricotta (above)