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My return, yet again, to takeout and outdoor dining

A hand holds a paper-wrapped double cheeseburger.
Double cheeseburger from the Win-dow Silver Lake.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

At the beginning of this week, a colleague and I had dinner at a restaurant we left feeling excited about. On-point cooking, friendly staff, lots more on the menu to come back and delve into. This particular place didn’t have any outdoor seating, but the crowd was sparse that night and the tables were generously spaced.

The next morning, I opened my laptop and tumbled down the familiar rabbit hole of news about rising coronavirus cases and ultra-contagious Omicron. Hospitalizations in Los Angeles County, where nearly 250,000 positive cases of coronavirus had been reported between Jan. 2 and Jan. 10, have doubled since 2022 began. “Health experts are now warning that you can test negative even if you’re infected and contagious while still being visibly healthy,” Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money wrote in The Times. An article in the Atlantic by Katherine J. Wu detailed the dangers of latching on to the narrative that Omicron is “mild.”

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This particular deluge of information gave rise to a thought: I need to stay out of restaurant dining rooms again for a couple of weeks.

My reasoning is anchored in personal circumstances. My partner and I are both triple-vaccinated, but he has a close family member living with a chronic illness whom he goes to see monthly. He can’t bring COVID-19 into that house.

In my professional life, a temporary return to focusing on takeout and outdoor dining is no hardship. As food writer friends in freezing Chicago and Pennsylvania with whom I was recently Zooming reminded me (with appropriate finger gestures) when I casually mentioned it was 75 degrees outside, Los Angeles is the place to be in the wintertime.

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So a strawberry milkshake at the new Win-dow Silver Lake a couple days ago registered as not only delicious but also refreshing on a warm, sunny Wednesday afternoon. It’s the spinoff of the Win-dow at American Beauty in Venice, and we’re all there primarily for a double smashburger griddled on the flat-top with a fistful of sliced onions and melted American cheese cascading down its sides. I can also recommend the lush patio at Cobi’s in Santa Monica; you’re surrounded by foliage and carefully placed heat lamps while eating beef rendang, nasi goreng (even better with the optional pork belly) and (the evening’s surprise hit) dal simmered in coconut milk.

The Win-dow's Silver Lake storefront, with diners seated outside.
Customers at the Win-dow Silver Lake wait for their orders.
(Bill Addison/Los Angeles Times)

For excellent takeout I’ll direct you to Ceci’s Gastronomica in Silver Lake, the 5-month-old operation by chef Francesco Lucatorto and his wife and business partner, Francesca Pistorio. I remember loving their lasagna al ragù, light from homemade noodles and creamy with bechamel, when the couple was running a pop-up early in the pandemic. It’s still the centerpiece of a meal; order it alongside a savory pie full of greens and Parmigiano, onion focaccia and a slice of the pine nut-studded torta della nonna that’s best when given a little time to come to room temperature.

Hankering for the flavors of Sri Lanka, one day I picked up lunch from Kurrypinch in Van Nuys. Pre-pandemic its kitchen crafted Sri Lankan staples such as crepe-like hoppers and the complete meal bundled in banana leaves known as lamprais. The menu is simplified for now, but a dish simply called “rice and curry” hit all the nuances I was looking for: It includes a thick dal; curries of beets, jackfruit, green beans and kabocha; a kale salad flecked with coconut; and a dusky sweet lamb curry (among options of beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetable).

And in case you missed last week’s newsletter, check out the new Blossom Market Hall in San Gabriel, which has more than a dozen vendors, for on-site outside dining or takeout.

The quesabirria tacos from La Olla at Blossom Market Hall in San Gabriel.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It’s important for me to say that I’m not encouraging everyone to stop eating inside restaurants. I’m advocating for each of us to stay aware, even though the very real fatigue of this two-year crisis can make our brains feel like sludge. Certainly, dining rooms continue to fill. Take a perfunctory scroll through the online reservation services: You’ll note the restaurants that receive plenty of media attention are booked at prime dinner hours most nights. The restaurants that exist outside the high-beam visibility? I’ve seen many of them looking mighty empty.

A few lines in a recent article by Ed Yong in the Atlantic about Omicron’s distinctions have stayed with me: “Here, then, is the most important difference about this surge: It comes on the back of all the prior ones. COVID’s burden is additive.” This couldn’t be truer for restaurants. They need our business. Government aid was never sufficient for most operators, and the chance of additional forthcoming assistance is slim. I think about the food industry’s exhausted, depleted workforce. I think about the daily news that restaurant owners have to close their businesses for days or weeks because too many staffers tested positive and the business simply can’t function.

Guidance from leaders has been garbled throughout this crisis. I applaud the continuing vaccination mandate for indoor dining, primarily as a measure of protection for workers. With too many unknowns and unsolvable calculi to decipher, we’re largely on our own. If I had an important occasion and had snagged a rare reservation at Hayato for an evening among six other diners, I’d assess the risks and very likely keep that booking.

In the meantime, I’ll continue reviewing restaurants but will highlight places with substantial outdoor dining and takeout. Hopefully the Omicron wave, as some experts are predicting, will flatten by February. Soon enough you’ll be reading all about the place that so impressed me recently — just a few weeks later (hopefully, anyway) than I’d anticipated telling you about it.

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The week’s must-read story is by Rax Will, who details how Indonesian cuisines thrive at houses of worship in L.A., and how cooks share their masterpiece dishes via WhatsApp.

Jean Trinh has a great piece on the new Yangban Society in the Arts District, opened by Katianna and John Hong and intended (as Jean writes) as “a casual deli and super mini-mart that they say will challenge notions of what it means to be Korean American.”

As part of the “173 Ways to Thrive in 2022" project, Jenn Harris and Stephanie Breijo culled a list of 24 vegetarian and vegan restaurants to try in L.A.

Garrett Snyder seeks out new cafes serving the best Vietnamese coffee in Little Saigon.

Finally, Ricardo Zarate — formerly of Rosaliné, Picca, Paiche, Pikoh and others — has a new Latin America-meets-California restaurant opening in the forthcoming Short Stories Hotel, and other news from Stephanie.

Nasi kuning, an Indonesian dish made for special celebrations, served at Masjid At-Thohir.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)


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