How I Worked My Way Back into Eating Restaurant Food

Living life through a pandemic has produced some startling aha moments. My most significant revelation came at the very beginning of this crisis when high risk categories were being defined. And there it was…elderly.  I wasn’t even at the low end of the category.  Yikes!

I don’t think of myself as “elderly.” My pre-Covid lifestyle was frenzied. Most days included a full day of work (at an actual office outside of my home), frequently followed by a drive or Metro ride to a restaurant or theater or some other activity that kept me out of the house for at least 12 hours a day.  

COVID-19 meant we all needed to figure out how to adapt to a new lifestyle. But being identified as part of a vulnerable population hit me hard. I prepare to hunker down at home for the long haul. Among other things, I must figure out what this means in terms of my relationship with restaurants. 

At the beginning, my husband and I, like so many others, fully embrace the joys of cooking. We dive deep into our cupboards and freezer and experiment with new recipes. I bake a cake- which trust me- is a very big deal. But it doesn’t take long before I yearn for restaurant food.

I read multiple articles which address the potential risks and rewards of carryout and delivery. My daughter and son argue vehemently against it, and I reluctantly accede to their wishes. A CNN article on food safety turns the tide, and we are convinced that ordering from restaurants can be done relatively risk free. I return to my normal pre-Covid state of indecision. Where should we eat- or in this case- where should we stop at the curb and thrust containers filled with prepared food into our car?

Carryout from Sfoglina and Anju

CIELO ROJO

Our first foray into carryout is the excellent Cielo Rojo located in Takoma Park. Owned by Chef David Perez and his wife Carolina McCandless, Ciolo Rojo’s Mexican food attracts fans with fresh ingredients, an attention to detail, and some wow-inducing tortillas made with heirloom corn from Oaxaca. 

There is a lot of zing in the food at Cielo Rojo, which is just what I need after some in-home isolation. I’m not sure if the tears I shed are due to anxiety, relief, or the sheer joy brought on by the burst of flavors in tostados with refried beans and nopales, quesadillas with chicken tinga, guacamole, tacos with potatoes and poblano peppers, drunken mushroom quesadillas, a fish taco platter, and finally a small container of pozole.

Cielo Rojo recently announced a brunch family meal with scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes with poblano peppers, fried plantains, pinto beans, queso fresco, guacamole, pico de gallo, chile de arbol salsa, and fresh tortillas (serves four for $65; serves six for $95).  I look forward to checking this off my to-do list, even though we are just two people.

Order online or through the Cielo Rojo app. The restaurant confirms how long the food will take and give you a pick-up time. A better option- order online well in advance and select a time. When your food is ready, it’s placed on a table outside the restaurant. Listen for your name to be called, grab it, and go. It’s tough to resist feasting in the car, and if you can’t, no judgment. 

Cielo Rojo, 7056 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 

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SHOUK

I have long been a fan of the Shouk burger. It’s a crunchy, plant-based patty made from beans and vegetables bound together with flaxseed. Alas, the DC-based Israeli/vegan/kosher restaurant Shouk is too far from our Silver Spring home to consider as an option for carry-out or even delivery.

In an effort to expand their customer base in these trying times, Shouk begins to promote “hood drops” outside of DC proper. I am elated. A neighborhood drop-off means that you coordinate an order with at least a few other families and voila, they bring your food to a single doorstep. They seem to have shifted this model and are no offering designated drop-off days and times in specific suburban locations including Rockville, Potomac, and Silver Spring. (Check their website for days and locations.) 

One of the considerations in ordering carry-out is how well it will travel. Will the Shouk burger, falafel, eggplant burger, or mushroom shawarma do well if it’s prepared on pita, or better to skip the bread and order a bowl? I vote for the latter. Sides from Shouk are a must. I highly recommend the roasted cauliflower bowl with tomato, tahini and scallions. It’s a generous portion that works well for a follow-up lunch. Other options include salad, fries, red lentil soup, and four varieties of hummus.

This is a meal that is fresh, hearty, and healthy. I’m all Shouk up, and ready to do it again.

Shouk, Multiple Locations

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FRANKLY PIZZA

I think about Frankly Pizza when I have a hankering for good food but don’t have a reservation anywhere. I don’t get there as often as I’d like, but it comes to mind a few weeks into the pandemic as we are about to de-flour for Passover and I have a powerful craving for pizza. I like that I can jump online to the Frankly Pizza website at 4:00 pm, enter my order, and wait for the allocated time to pick it up.

My favorite Frankly Pizza offering is the Hot Mess with pickled jalapenos, caramelized onions, house-made bacon, and three kinds of cheese. According to the restaurant website, the pandemic has affected the jalapeno supply, so the Hot Mess is a no go. We opt for a white pie with mushrooms and a margherita pizza. The wood-fired pizzas with perfectly charred crust and just the right proportion of toppings, sauce and cheese provide us with a much-needed win.  

Mental health experts say it’s critically important to acquiesce to your food cravings during a crisis. Actually, I just made that up but it sounds about right. Since I’m still feeling like a Hot Mess, I’m prepping for a return to Frankly Pizza.   

Frankly Pizza, 10417 Armory Ave. , Kensington, MD

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ROSES AT HOME

Roses Luxury Pork Lychee Salad

Rose’s Restaurant Group (Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple and Pearls, Little Pearl) expanded last year with Rose’s at Home, a catering service that comes to you to do the cooking. Their pandemic pivot is to offer delivery of three nights worth of food for $120 per person, plus a service charge and tax. If you live within 20 miles of the restaurant, delivery is included. My admiration for Chef Aaron Silverman and his team goes way back to the early days of Rose’s Luxury, and so supporting this effort is a no-brainer.

The three 3-course offerings change weekly. Ours includes entrees of fried chicken, brisket, and rigatoni. Heating and serving directions are very specific and clear. The pasta is paired with Rose’s Luxury’s famous pork (or a meatless substitute) lychee salad, one of the restaurant’s most well-recognized and lauded dishes.

This single dish is like a floodgate opening onto memories of better dining days. For a time, I can turn off the news and revel solely in what’s on my plate. I miss the food at Rose’s Luxury, along with its “Awesome” sign, the warmth of the staff, and the thoughtful presentation that I can’t replicate as I shift ingredients from plastic containers to my own plate. Still, I am happy for a breath of fresh air in these turbulent times. 

Roses at Home

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CONVIVIAL

Convivial

Ah Convivial. The name of the French-inspired bistro that chef/owner Cedric Maupillier created in 2015 says it all. Friendly, lively, enjoyable. The words which were meant to capture the entire experience now apply solely to the food. And that’s okay for now. Our delivery includes roasted cauliflower with red beet and tahini puree accented with barberry, dried apricot, and za’atar. Spring pea and quinoa porridge with celery root and crispy sunchoke.  Salmon with lentils. Simplicity and elegance abound. Convivial is also offering a variety of French classics including onion soup, croque monsieur, Beef Bourguignon, and steak frites. 

Orders can be placed online or by phone with delivery available through Caviar, UberEats, and Skip The Line. (Ours comes courtesy of Kyley McGeeney of Mission Michelin who lives in Silver Spring, and is coordinating weekly restaurant deliveries for friends and neighbors.)

Convivial, 801 O Street, Washington, DC

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ANJU

Anju

It took six weeks to work up the nerve, but once we were ready to get in the car and drive downtown for food, my husband and I make a beeline for Anju. The Korean restaurant from Chefs Danny Lee, Scott Drewno, and Angel Barreto earned the number one spot in Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants early this year. Considering Anju opened in August 2019, is moderately priced with a casual vibe, this is remarkable.

I have dined at Anju multiple times and my admiration grows with every visit. If you have been to Anju, you will recognize the dishes on their takeout and delivery menu. Many have earned the restaurant lavish praise, and it’s heartening to see them again. Hooray for pan-fried pork and kimchi dumplings and fried chicken bathed in sweet and spicy gochugang glaze and white barbeque sauce.

Our Anju haul includes pan-fried branzino with braised Korean radish, bibim bap with tofu, Korean sweet potato with sesame honey butter cream, spicy braised chicken thighs with potatoes and onions, and dosirak salad with avocado, butternut squash, walnuts and pomegranate seeds.

My heart quickens as I pull up to Anju to pick up the order I placed online the previous day. Reality – and a tinge of dismay- set in when I remember that I can’t step inside. Instead a masked man calls my name and sets my food on a table just outside the restaurant. Current life feels like a roller coaster, but I’m glad Anju is along for the ride.

Place your order online at least 24 hours in advance and schedule your pick-up time. Delivery options are also available.

ANJU, 1805 18th St. NW, Washington D.C

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Sfoglina

Sfoglina

Sfoglina

Once we decide to venture into the city to pick-up restaurant food, it becomes imperative to maximize the trip and select a second restaurant. I have a few criteria: 1. Food can hold up well enough to be consumed the following night. 2. Restaurant is on the route between our house and Anju. 3. There is curbside-pickup and advance ordering. 4. The menu is enticing, and I know ordering from food here will bring us joy.

Sfoglina in Van Ness checks all the boxes, and their Vegetarian Primavera Dinner captures my attention. The three-course dinner for two is $78. It includes a burrata and asparagus salad, spaghetti primavera, and tiramisu.  A la carte options feature a broad selection of antipasta, pasta, main courses and dessert.

This is a wow dinner from start to finish. I would expect nothing less from a Fabio Trabocchi restaurant. The burrata and asparagus is like a spring awakening. So is the primavera with fresh peas, fava beans, tomatoes, and spring onions. We can only tackle one order of pasta between two of us, and one serving of tiramisu. Dinner for another night is an unexpected plus.

Sfoglina is serious about social distancing. They have a table at the front corridor and decals on the sidewalk marking off the required distance for patrons waiting in line. 

Sfoglina, 4445 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

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With every passing week it becomes clearer that it will be some time before there is a return to restaurant dining- at least as we once knew it. Will it be later this summer, fall, 2021?  Chef Adam Greenberg of Coconut Club tweeted this week” Even if they let me, I wouldn’t want to open right now, or this year. Time to stay creative and hopefully our LL (landlord) will get bailed out or forgive rent.  Either way, 2021 is the goal.” And Chef Kevin Tien of Emilie’s posted this on Twitter: “Honestly I won’t reopen the dining room until there is a vaccine. Our business was already breaking even with 100% capacity and we are barely breaking even with takeout and a reduced staff.  And that’s the truth for a majority of businesses.  I’m lucky to be breaking even.”

Restaurants are about so much more than the food they serve us. But for now, it’s imperative, if we want them to survive, that we keep them alive by ordering food, buying gift cards, and perhaps more importantly, contributing to causes that offer restaurant workers support and hope for the future.

Here are a few to consider:

World Central Kitchen

The Lee Iniative

Hook Hall Helps

The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund

The Power of 10 Initiative

 

 

2019: The Year in Review – Survey for Eater DC

I was delighted to participate in Eater DC’s 2019 year-end survey of local food writers and bloggers. Crafting my responses provides me an opportunity to reflect on a year of dining, and hopefully to provide ideas and insight to others. In reading the collective responses, you’ll find many shared opinions, but also some stark differences. […]

Questions or comments?
Send an email to lorisue6@gmail.com