In 2021, Let's See More of This, Everyone

kuma-chirashi.jpeg

Some of the most dazzling takeout of the year has been the stunning chirashi presentations from our city’s Japanese restaurants. This box of treasures was from Kuma Sushi + Sake. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

For the past 14 years (since 2007!), I’ve been writing my annual end-of-year snarkfest, the bore, bitching about 10 overexposed/overdone things I don’t want to see in the new year, from fried chicken sandwiches to bone broth to NOmakase.

This year, obviously, things are painfully different. Our remaining restaurants are fighting their damnedest to hang on by a straggly thread, and I don’t have the spirit to take down avocado toast if it’s helping a place keep the lights on. If you’re a regular reader of tablehopper, you know I’ve set the dial of positivity over here to 11 this year. So, in that big mood, I’m changing the bore this year to the more: ten things I want to see more of in 2021. Let’s roll.

  1. With restaurants currently depending upon takeout (and delivery) as their sole and desperate attempt at survival, I know we’re all dealing with so much disposable takeout container waste. It’s mind-boggling how many quart containers and lids and clamshells and boxes and bags and chopsticks pile up at home (and into the trash). Sometimes, I scream—inside my head, with all the other things I am screaming about, like people who just can’t seem to keep their nose covered with their mask, or who don’t tip—when I witness how much waste can be generated from one meal. Which is why I’m so thrilled to see restaurants like Zuni, Voodoo Love, Azucar Lounge, Square Pie Guys, and Kasa Indian Eatery turn to solutions like Dispatch Goods, with reusable metal containers (kind of like a tiffin) that get picked up or returned after you enjoy your meal. In a recent post, Zuni said, “This is week two of reusable containers with @dispatch_goods. Last week we used 1,708 reusable containers instead of 1,708 compostable boxes. Thank you for your support.” More of this, please!

  2. I’ve been blown away seeing all the charitable programs and aid restaurants have been part of this year, from starting their own fundraisers to feed frontline workers, to cooking for the community out of the goodness of their heart, to offering free meals to industry folks, to running weekly food pick-ups for their out-of-work and undocumented employees (hey, Gavin, how about another round of disaster relief for them?), to being part of charitable meal programs, like the groundbreaking SF New Deal (paying restaurants over $13M to serve over 1,353,179 meals for neighbors in need as of 12/30/20, huzzah), Great Plates, Food Runners, World Central Kitchen, and many more. The generosity, commitment, and lion-hearted efforts to take care of our most vulnerable—even in the hardest times—has been incredible to witness, although so much of those efforts go unseen.

  3. The collaboration. I’ve been watching restaurant owners work together like no other time, from sharing resources to intel to PPE protocol to PPP advice to how to get the best deal on propane or where to find Mason jars. Some even created their own hybrid takeout projects together, like Lord Jiu’s (Lord Stanley and Mister Jiu’s), or are working with their neighborhood bars to offer food service. Restaurants are hosting pop-ups and featuring side hustle products and projects from their out-of-work staff and friends, and offering their spaces for them to prep and cook and serve. Way to take care.

  4. The activism. Many restaurants have become so much more vocal and visible about their political beliefs, showing support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out about racial injustice, having their own internal reckonings, working with their employees to implement changes, and help co-create a more just and aware and safe workplace for all.

    We have also seen how the federal government continues to abandon the restaurant industry, and not provide the aid that is so desperately needed and clearly articulated. In order to have a voice that gets heard, we’ve watched the formation of the Independent Restaurant Coalition (on a national level), and locally we saw the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition spring to action, and the GGRA has become an indispensable source of up-to-the minute information, representation, guidance, and advocacy for the industry. I’d like to give a shout-out to the two badass women who have been overworking tirelessly for both of these organizations: Gwyneth Borden (BAHC) and Laurie Thomas (GGRA). They are strong leaders, and we owe them tremendous gratitude for all their efforts and endless unpaid hours to help shepherd the industry through this pandemic. (Listen to the On the Fly podcast episodes with each of them, and be sure to listen to co-founder Trinh Banh of Good Good Eatz, another admirable organization that sprung up to assist Oakland’s Chinatown businesses.) Go fempire!

  5. I need something in my glass so I can raise it to everyone. Okay, that’s better. (It’s The Summit from Yanni at Nopa, it keeps you healthy.) Let’s pause for a moment and say “Cheers!” to the wondrous addition of to-go cocktails. Come to mama! From Tommy’s margaritas (gracias, sweet baby Jesus), to The Morris’s chartreuse cappuccino in a can (coffee-a-go-go!), to a Seven Stills park-ready pouch of Keep On the Grass, we’re seeing some rather innovative and fantastic cocktails designed to travel. I adore having a quart container or bottle (or can!) of ready-to-pour cocktails on hand in my fridge. Bartender, another round!

  6. While we’re at it, the addition of affordable family-style dinners has been so good—parents have had a particularly rough go in this pandemic, so anything to help them out is appreciated (and the meals also make you popular with your pod, roomies, and neighbors). Pans of lasagna. Whole chickens and sides. Quarts of goat birria. Prime rib dinners. Platters of enchiladas. Parm from Spruce?! Abbondanza! Thanks for feeding us. (All the meal kits and pantry options have also been a godsend, from quarts of ragù to aged ribeye to flour and yeast and TP when we needed them most.)

  7. The boxes! Big kudos to La Cocina for launching their weekly Community Food Box, created to support their roster of talented entrepreneurs who suddenly had all their catering disappear, which in turn inspired the Bayview Bistro Box, designed to support Black-owned and Bayview businesses. Please support these weekly box programs, they have a positive and tangible effect on so many businesses.

  8. The takeout innovation! We’ve had some downright stellar new takeout dishes rise out of this brutal pandemic landscape, including the Nopa fried chicken (and their take-home French toast kit, whut), the stoner garlic bread from Zero Zero (dude), pretty much everything from Lily (yes, chef Rob Lam is my friend, but his food is bangin’), the breakfast katsu sandwich from Liholiho, all the beautiful chirashi bowls (like Wako, Kuma, and Ju-Ni), the workers’ wreath at Reem’s, and pop-up sensations like Basuku cheesecakes, Tarts de Feybesse, and Mark ‘n’ Mike’s at One Market (oh, the No. 18…). We’ve had some real winners, folks. Comfort me with Palm City hoagies. I have also been so touched by the hand-written messages and hearts on the takeout bags. Cute. BIG LOVE.

  9. The backlash to using third-party delivery apps. (Or at least awareness of the harm they do to a restaurant’s bottom line.) Obviously, delivery is better than not ordering anything at all, and some people just don’t have the option to leave their abode, so do what you gotta do. But I’m heartened to watch so many people making a concerted effort to do takeout instead of defaulting to convenience, to walk a few blocks to support their neighborhood restaurants, or at least order through a restaurant’s website instead of through an app (sometimes it can be less of a commission fee). Please continue to do your part to help restaurants keep as much of every dollar you spend on their food as possible—it all adds up.

    We’re seeing some restaurants offer their own delivery—although I keep waiting for new delivery service alternatives to arise, like locally owned Candlestick Courier Collective, based on an ethos of actually caring about their workers—but in the meantime, I’ve been happy to see grassroots and volunteer-driven initiatives like North Beach Delivers, and new options like Feastin and Third Place help restaurants reach customers in new ways.

  10. The resilience. We have witnessed our hospitality industry leap through endless hoops, from adding outdoor dining and building creative (and costly) shared spaces to suddenly having it all taken away, to dealing with curfews, Covid exposures, daily supply chain challenges, turning their dining rooms into food factories, figuring out an entirely new takeout menu and the Toast app, upping their social media presence and becoming email marketing experts, creating employee and customer and delivery pickup safety protocols, launching cocktails to go, and putting together so many special takeout dinners (the holidays were remarkable)—all while hemorrhaging money. Most have just tried to stay open for their employees, and keep as many on as they could. It has been exhausting to witness, but also immensely inspiring.

    You can really see who takes safety to heart, both for their team and their customers. There have been so many unknowns about this virus—it’s a terrifying memory to recall where we were when this all started—and yet our hospitality industry still managed to show up on the frontline to serve, to feed, to take care, to support, to survive, to be an indispensable part of the community. There are so many heroes we don’t even know. So much generosity that goes unnoticed. So much taking care that goes unseen. So, we thank you. We feel you. We’re grateful for you. We love you.

More more more! How do you like it, how do you like it?

From the bottom of my heart, I’m wishing all of you a Happy New Year. 2020 was an utter dumpster fire, and it’s tempting to want to burn it all to hell, but there were a number of phoenixes who flew out of the ashes and piles of discarded PPE and are leading the way into 2021. Look up. Hold tight. And order some takeout.