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Ready to eat inside a restaurant again?

Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin sit on a couch in front of a bar
Owner Caroline Styne and chef Suzanne Goin, photographed in September 2018 inside their now-closed restaurant, Lucques. The business partners also own A.O.C. wine bar and the Larder Baking Company. Styne is on the advisory board of the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

It’s been more than eight months — July 1, 2020, to be exact — since restaurant dining rooms in Los Angeles County have been open to customers.

But yesterday afternoon, county officials gave the green light for restaurants, starting Monday, to serve indoors at 25% capacity, which is in line with the “red tier” level of opening that L.A. County and 13 other counties meet, as prescribed by the California Department of Public Health.

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A March 11 L.A. County press release states that “Public Health strongly recommends that all restaurant employees interacting with customers indoors are provided with additional masking protection (above the currently required face shield over face masks); this can be fit tested N95 masks, KN95 masks, or double masks and a face shield.” It seems like this should be required rather than strongly recommended?

It’s hard not to feel cynical or wary after the 12 months of catastrophe that have rewired our brains, but I think we might just be at a juncture of positive momentum.

The most encouraging news has been the recent prioritization of vaccines for the nearly half a million restaurant workers in L.A. County. (If you’re employed at a restaurant and want to schedule a vaccination appointment, here’s one place to start.)

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My colleagues and I hear more and more about staff from restaurants of all kinds receiving their shots. One happy example from yesterday morning: I DM’d Holbox, the wondrous Mexican seafood counter inside Mercado La Paloma in Historic South-Central, to see if they had transitioned from the strictly to-go menu they have had since fall. Not yet, chef and owner Gilberto Cetina Jr. responded, and when I said I hoped he and his staff were well, he replied that “the whole crew is vaccinated (some have their second dose) and everyone is healthy.” Nothing is more important.

Baja California blood clams on a bed of ice
Baja California blood clams on the half shell from Holbox.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Almost as good: The $1.9 trillion economic relief package that President Biden signed on Thursday includes a $28.6 billion relief fund aimed at independent neighborhood restaurants, bars, food trucks and street vendors. “We’re thrilled to get whatever we can at this point, and I think the money will go quickly because there’s just such a dire need out there,” restaurateur Caroline Styne told my colleague Stephanie Breijo this week. Styne is on the advisory board of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, an organization formed in March 2020 that has since been lobbying for support on behalf of the pummeled hospitality industry.

So. As we all squint at the pinhead of light we might glimpse at the end of the tunnel, am I rushing back to eat indoors? No. Health officials warn that it’s still risky. I’m waiting my turn to be vaccinated, then I’ll assess. Until then I remain a takeout warrior (there are still so many astounding pop-ups to continue trying, for one thing), with perhaps the occasional, cautious foray into outdoor dining.

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Our stories

— For those of us in the throes of cooking burnout, Ben Mims has introduced a new series: “Week of Meals,” bringing you five weeknight dinner recipes with tips for planning and strategizing. Each meal makes four servings, comes together in less than an hour and requires 10 or fewer ingredients. The first round of recipes includes sticky orange chicken thighs with chile-cucumber salad, spiced rice and fish with minty peas, Swiss chard and melted Swiss cheese on toast with radishes and fish cakes with salsa verde and roasted cauliflower.

— Nowruz is a week away, and “Bottom of the Pot” author Naz Deravian has a piece about sweets for Iranian New Year, with a recipe from Fariba Nafissi of Simi Valley bakery ZoZoBaking. (I love Nafissi’s date cookies.)

— Lastly, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand enters the food delivery business fray with Goop Kitchen, and other news from Stephanie Breijo.

Sticky orange chicken thighs with cucumber salad for Ben Mims's first "Week of Meals" series.
Sticky orange chicken thighs with cucumber salad
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)


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