The Year in Review: Cronuts, Ramen Burgers, and the Rise of BuzzFood
For our last issue of 2013, SF Weekly staffers looked back on the ups and downs of the past year. Amid drunk marmots, BART sex, America's Cup, and overwhelming musical nostalgia, we identified a troubling new trend in the culinary world: BuzzFood.
Twitter/Nombe The Ramen burger.
2013, Our Year of the Cronut, was the year the culinary mashup exploded onto the scene like so many Pop Rocks. Most of the unholy concoctions cooked up by enterprising chefs were devoured by the Internet with relentless enthusiasm: ramen burgers, cheeseburger ramen, burgers with grilled-cheese-sandwich buns, burgers with mac-and-cheese buns, ramen wings, Cronut burgers, on and on it went. It didn't matter that many of these items weren't especially practical or even good. Novelty trumped substance, at least when pageviews and social-media followers were involved.
Not that there's anything wrong with novelty; without it, the culinary scene would never move forward. But novelty for its own sake is meaningless. Six a.m. Cronut lines continued at Manhattan mothership Dominique Ansel Bakery not because the Cronut was supposed to be too delicious to miss -- many New York food writers decried the doughnut/croissant hybrid as too sweet -- but because trying the Cronut had become a form of social currency, measured in likes. The Cronut's trickle-down effects were seen in the Bay Area knockoffs (the Fauxnut, the CroNot) that San Franciscans dutifully lined up for, even though many of them were sorry approximations of the real thing.
Then there was the frenzy over the ramen burger at Nombe, which drew a block-long line at August's San Francisco Street Food Festival, fed by hype from a similar burger at Brooklyn's hip food gathering Smorgasburg. The ramen burger turned out to be merely okay, its greasy, crunchy "bun" of deep-fried ramen noodles no substitute for a fluffy bread roll. A few weeks later, the ramen burger beget the cheeseburger ramen at a Hapa Ramen pop-up. Its complex, meaty broth tasted good, but the whole thing was so rich that even though I shared a $15 bowl with a friend, we only got through half of it.
But it didn't matter, because I went to eat cheeseburger ramen that night not to review it, but to tweet about it. I posted a photo of the menu on Twitter and Instagram, a menu that included a ridiculous litany of add-ins like bacon, uni, crispy pig's ear, chorizo gravy, kimchi, and whipped lardo that I'd gleefully ordered. And I was rewarded for my performance when I was retweeted by Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times. "For the time capsule," he wrote to his 60,000 followers. Come to think of it, burial is probably the best outcome we can hope for.