Concept Closeup: Sugar Toad at the Hotel Arista

As the first hotel in Illinois to achieve LEED Certification status, the Hotel Arista in Naperville uses 30 percent less water and 21 percent less energy than hotels of comparable size by adhering to the USGBC's standards. In keeping with this green way of being, the hotel's restaurant, SugarToad, uses organic and natural foods, in addition to produce from an on-site garden. The 95-seat restaurant, headed by James Beard Award-winning Chef Jimmy Sneed, also filters its own tap water, which it serves in glass carafes for guests.

“SugarToad” refers to a type of blowfish from the Chesapeake Bay because of its sweet taste but ugly, toad-like appearance. Sneed serves up these critters in a tempura batter, along with other American regional dishes.

Ice is Nice

As classic and inventive cocktails concocted by modern mixologists continue to set the trend at restaurants and bars across the country, the ice that goes into these hand-crafted drinks is just as important as the ingredients. Perfectly formed cubes, both large and small, along with chunks, shards, crushed, cheater, cracked, block and swizzleice make up the array of sizes and shapes from which these bar chefs can choose.

Larger cubes in rocks glass cocktails melt slower to avoid watering-down the drink, while other types, like chunk ice, produced at colder temperatures, won't turn to slush in a cocktail shaker. Cracked and crushed ice, however, are meant to break down and dilute stronger pours.

A few operators focusing on making the perfect cocktail with the perfect ice include trendy bars like The Drawing Room and The Violet Hour in Chicago, where hand-made classic and pre-prohibition cocktails can take up to 10 minutes to make; the Flatiron Lounge and Milk & Honey in New York City; and Doheny in Los Angeles.

Consumer Dining Trends & The Economy

Despite the challenging economic conditions, consumers continue to choose to dine away from home but are moderating the frequency of their restaurant visits, according to Restaurants & Institutions' 2009 New American Diner study. This chart compares how the average number of times consumers choose to eat away from home in a typical week has evolved over the past two years.

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