YES, RESTAURANTS!

ORSA&WINSTON, GIGI, THE BARISH, OSTE, SPARTINA, ROSSOBLU, KALI, KISMET, BRERA, OSTERIA MAMMA, CITRINE, SPARTINA, BIRRIA CHALLIO, SYCAMORE KITCHEN, ROSSOBLU, RÉPUBLIQUE, CHEEBO, AND VAN LEEUWEN FOR ICE CREAM WITH MY GRANDSON CHARLIE.  I DIDN’T REALIZE UNTIL I STARTED MAKING A LIST ALL THE PLACES WHERE WE’VE EATEN SINCE PFIZER FREED US FROM THE PLAGUE.

AND ABSENCE DOTH INDEED MAKE THE HEART GROW FONDER.  THIS RESTAURANT-LESS YEAR DID IMPROVE MY COOKING BECAUSE IT FORCED ME TO STRETCH MY WINGS SIMPLY TO KEEP FROM REPEATING THE SAME DISHES.  I BOUGHT A WOK, A GOOD ONE, CHINESE, FLAT-BOTTOMED, CARBON STEEL, WITH A WOODEN HANDLE.  SO I’VE VENTURED INTO STIR FRY AND PLAN TO EXPAND MY PANTRY AND MY REPERTOIRE.  I BONED OUT A CHICKEN SO I COULD COOK IT SKIN-SIDE DOWN IN A NON-STICK PAN, SO IT’S ALL CRISPY SKIN AND JUICY MEAT.  TO LIMIT MY VIRAL EXPOSURE, I SHOPPED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY AT THE HOLLYWOOD FARMERS’ MARKET EVERY SUNDAY, ACCOMPANIED BY MY DAUGHTER SOPHIE.  THE MARKET ALLOWS THE SENIORS A FIFTEEN-MINUTE WINDOW, SO WE JOIN THE LINE AT 7:47 AND ARE OUT BY 8:15.  MCCALL’S STAYED OPEN AND SAFE FOR ALMOST THE DURATION, SO WE WERE NOT DEPRIVED OF GOOD FISH OR GOOD MEAT.

I DIDN’T REALIZE HOW MUCH I’D MISSED GOING OUT TILL WE STARTED GOING OUT AGAIN, FEARFULLY AT FIRST BUT ONCE VACCINATED, WITH JOY AND DELIGHT.  THE RESTAURANTS RESPONDED IN KIND.  EVEN MASKED, GLOVED AND FACES COVERED WITH PLASTIC SHIELDS, THE WAITERS SEEMED AS HAPPY TO SEE US AND SERVE US AS WERE TO BE THERE.  CERTAINLY, THEY WERE HAPPY TO BE EARNING A PAYCHECK AGAIN, BUT THEY’D ALSO MISSED INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE, AS WE HAD.  THE CONVIVIALITY WAS INFECTIOUS.  EACH MEAL WITH FRIENDS WAS A CELEBRATION.

AND I SWEAR THE FOOD IS BETTER.  PERHAPS WE MISSED OUR OLD FAVORITE DISHES.  PERHAPS AFTER SO MUCH TIME, THEY DIDN’T SEEM OLD ANYMORE AND WE WERE EXPERIENCING THE EXCITEMENT OF DISCOVERY.  KALI AND ORSA&WINSTON HAD CLEARLY USED THEIR FORCED HIATUS TO RE-INVENT THEIR MENUS, ADDING NEW DISHES, NEW TASTE COMBINATIONS.

WE ALSO NOTICED THE JUMP IN PRICES.  IT WOULD BE UNFAIR TO BEGRUDGE THE RESTAURATEURS MAKING UP FOR LOST INCOME, BUT I FEAR THE $100 RIBEYE IS HERE TO STAY.

UNTIL THE SMOKE CLEARS ENTIRELY, I HAVEN’T ASSESSED THE DAMAGE TO THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS ITSELF.  THE TALENTED JOSEF CENTENO WAS FORCED TO SACRIFICE BÄCO MERCAT, HIS FLAGSHIP IN CENTENOVILLE AT 4TH AND MAIN, BUT ORSA&WINSTON AND THE ADJACENT BAR AMA REMAINED OPEN.  HIS NEW PLACE IN CULVER CITY, WHICH HAD JUST OPENED AND WAS THRIVING, ALSO TOOK A HIT.  IKE SUSHI IS BACK, THANK GOD, AS WELL AS SANAMLUANG NOODLE ON HOLLYWOOD AND KINGSLEY.  THE RESTAURANTS WITH LARGE OUTDOOR SPACES (RÉPUBLIQUE, CONNIE AND TED’S, ROSSOBLU, BRERA, CITRINE, GIGI) SURVIVED AND THRIVED.  TAKEOUT SAVED MANY MORE.  IRONICALLY, THE PANDEMIC FORCED A CITY IDEALLY SUITED TO OUTDOOR DINING TO DISCOVER OUTDOOR DINING.  GIGI, A LITTLE GEM ON SYCAMORE HAD BEEN FORCED TO DELAY HER DEBUT, BUT DOUBLED CAPACITY BY ADDING TABLES ON THE STREET.

WINE STORES WERE BOOMING.  WHEN I WENT TO PICK UP A MIXED CASE AT DOMAINE L.A., JILL BERNHEIMER, THE OWNER, TOLD ME WITH A KIND OF EXHAUSTED GRIN THAT SHE’D NEVER WORKED HARDER IN HER LIFE.

EARLY IN THE QUARANTINE, LARRY WRIGHT PUBLISHED A PIECE IN THE NEW YORKER ABOUT THE CHANGES WROUGHT BY PAST PLAGUES THE BLACK DEATH AND THE SPANISH FLUE ON WESTERN CIVILIZATION, MOSTLY FOR THE BETTER.  IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO ASSESS THE LONG-RANGE EFFECTS OF COVID-19, BUT IN THE SHORT TERM, IT BROUGHT DOWN DONALD TRUMP AND GAVE US JOE BIDEN.  FOR NOW, I’M HAPPY WITH THAT.  AND, OF COURSE, RESTAURANTS.

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