Lettuce Cups Go Upscale

Shrimp "Louie" lettuce cups from Bourbon Steak's lounge menu.

A few days after downing several crunchy lettuce cups filled with stir fried lamb at The Source, I cracked open the September issue of Food & Wine and saw this recipe for spicy Asian chicken salad lettuce cups.

Not a week later, a press release landed in my inbox touting Bourbon Steak's new fall lounge menu, including a whole line-up of lettuce cups. They come filled with tempura lobster, pulled pork barbecue with pickled watermelon rind, shrimp salad, chopped chicken with coconut curry, and Thai crispy rice.

Then on Bravo's Top Chef, Michael Voltaggio won an episode's elimination challenge with braised pork belly with soy mustard sauce served in ... that's right, folks ... lettuce leaves.

Ok, so lettuce wraps have been around a while — a long while in Asian cooking (see: ssam). They were certainly popular during the carb-cutting diet madness and are still popular on chain restaurant menus (see: P.F. Chang's). But that really belies their foodie cred.

Now, thanks to the ascension of street food, some of the hottest chefs are elevating the leafy packets to high-end menus. In addition to The Source and Bourbon Steak, you can find upscale versions in DC at Zentan, where lobster and shrimp dumplings are wrapped in greens, and at TenPenh, where the lunch menu offers stir fried chicken with mustard sambal in lettuce.

I love that a fresh lettuce leaf can turn foods like The Source's delicious stir fried lamb into a portable dish. And for crunch fans (potato chips on your sandwich, anyone?), you can't beat that cool, crisp snap.

Here's a few lettuce-wrapped recipes to try at home:

Michael Voltaggio's braised pork belly in lettuce cups from Top Chef
Jean-Georges Vongerichten's mushroom spring rolls
Wolfgang Puck's stir-fried chicken lettuce cups