It’s barely been three weeks but seems like a lifetime since I sat down for a meal in a restaurant. It was churro waffles with powdered raspberries over dulce de leche in the cozy dining room of the Cork Fire Kitchen in Temecula. I will always remember that as my last supper before the great pandemic of 2020 that resulted in the closure of some of the best restaurants in the country.
We asked a few L.A. chefs and restaurateurs to reflect on their last dine-in experiences and what they dream of sitting down to once the COVID-19 crisis is over.
“My last meal at a dine-in restaurant was March 15, at the Centinela location of Coni’Seafood,” Michael’s Santa Monica executive chef Brian Bornemann tells L.A. Weekly. “ This was the day after pivoting to create to-go and heat-at-home menus for Michael’s, the day before we all realized and decided we needed to shutter.
I’ve been to the Inglewood location countless times; it is one of my favorites places to eat in L.A. My fiance and I were going to the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market to stock up on veggies but needed to grab lunch. Marlin tacos were all we wanted. We enjoyed the smoked marlin tacos, langoustines and tostaditos as much as ever. We washed them all down with a pair of Modelos. We are already at the point, that we were more aware of what we were touching and who was touching our plates, but there was such a sense of satisfaction to being served still and our server was so warm. While some restaurants provide experience and added value with their interior and service, it too is true that the simplicity and unmanicured nature of Coni’Seafood is as warm a reminder of what hospitality does as the Michelin-starred, tasting menu, style of service. What I look forward to when we reach the other side, is the ability to shake someone’s hand and to feel uninhibited service. I look forward to a renewed appreciation for our industry and what that means for the people who work in it and how that gratefulness is translated to the guest.”
During his time off while Michael’s Santa Monica is closed, Bornemann is helping Employees Only with providing free staff meals for anyone in the food industry that has lost their jobs. Donations can be made here: gofundme.com/f/weho-staff-meal-free-meals-for-the-industry
“Mine was at Pizzana in Brentwood,” Bryan Kidwell, chef and co-owner of Piccalilli tells L.A. Weekly. “Macks and I both love pizza and watch too many of the Barstool Sports pizza videos so I crave pizza all the time. I miss seeing the creativity of chefs and weekly produce from the farmers market that they use in their menus. I love going to Hatchet Hall because the menu is constantly changing with what is available at the market, and you see it in the menu. I can’t wait to go back for a stiff cocktail and some of his incredible food. All the great chefs will have amazing menus when we come back.”
“Our last meal out was at The Raymond,” says the restaurant’s co-owner Leslie Levy. “We had pasta bolognese, a pork chop and a celery salad. We will miss sitting by the fireplace and having conversation and cocktails with great friends, which is what we miss most and look forward to sharing again soon.”
“The last meal out Lene and I had was at Connie and Ted’s,” Open Face Food Shop owner Mark Houck tells L.A. Weekly. “Everything was delicious as always, the only things that were different were the looks on the faces of the people responsible for the care of the guests and the competence of the kitchen. They were immensely appreciative we had chosen to come visit, but like the rest of us in the industry, the look of concern about the unknown was written on everyone’s faces.”
“I think what I will miss the most is the sense of ease in a place that we know so well. The willingness of everyone to speak to each other across tables or to share a joke with a stranger are the kinds of things that feel the most palpable. Everything will get back where it needs to soon enough, I hope,” he adds.
“I’m going to miss having Santa Barbara uni any time I want,” chimed in wife and executive chef Lene Houck.
Restaurants Care, which is part of the California Restaurant Association, helps restaurant employees with all hardships and currently is focused on coronavirus. Donations can be made here: calrestfoundation.org.