Mandate debate, Atelier petri, Accessible hotness, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, August 20th, 2021

Hello Friday,

I believe we have officially hit the dog days of summer on the restaurant news side of food media. Evergreen-content content is at an all time high, writers’ vacation food Instagrams have replaced vaguely-on-the-job food Instagrams, and even my “restaurant lawsuit” Google alert is unusually dull lately — headlines like “Downtown Restaurant Sues Hotel Over Projectile Shelling of Eatery’s Patio” and “Floating New Hampshire Restaurant Partially Sinks Into Lake Winnipesaukee” oversell their stories, although there is a McDonald’s-Hot-Coffee-esque red sauce incident generating some great ledes in NJ: “There’s no use crying over spilled marinara, unless you're from New Jersey and the beloved sauce gives you second-degree burns.”

So, maybe a bit wordier than newsy these days, but… the hungry ghosts are out and Hong Kong is back to 21 days quarantine for most travelers (unless you’re Nicole Kidman), so I’m not going anywhere.

Stick with me, friends. We’ll get through.

Let’s get to it…

The Mandates – Headline in the BBC: “'New York vaccine mandate could destroy my restaurant'” Rebuttal headline in Grubstreet: “The Vaccine Mandate Will Not Destroy Your Restaurant.” I’ve gotten emails from restaurateurs on both sides of this battle, and I get it. It’s been a very long decade.

But I did not expect the “Suck it up, whiners,” tenor of the Grubstreet piece. Guess it’s supposed to be aimed at some Staten Island restaurateurs suing the city over the mandate, but woo boy… Editor Alan Sytsma took one look at the potential nuance on his plate and sent it back to the kitchen with “SCREW YOU DO BETTER” scrawled in ketchup across the top:

“The other argument against the mandate is that enforcement should not be the responsibility of restaurant workers, despite the fact that the enforcement in question is almost comically simple: A host, or bartender, or server simply looks at a piece of paper or the screen of a diner’s phone. It takes less time than verifying a table reservation. How long did it take you to look at the photo of the kind-looking, card-carrying couple at the top of this page? Like two-thirds of a second? That’s how long it would take to see their vaccination cards IRL, too. The first time I walked into a business that mandated vaccines for its customers, the longest part of the entire check-in process was the 35 seconds it took my phone to download a necessary Excelsior Pass update from the App Store.”

An argument can be made that some of this stuff is easy enough! But am I brave enough to make that case for restaurant workers from the standpoint of a guest? No. I am not.

The Endorsement – SF’s Dominique Crenn is putting her name behind (and presumably cashing fat checks from) a lab-cultured meat company. Per Janelle Bitker in the Chronicle: “San Francisco fine dining destination Atelier Crenn will likely be the first three Michelin-starred restaurant to serve cultured chicken, meat created by growing animal cells in a lab without any need for slaughter. Chef and owner Dominique Crenn has inked a deal with Berkeley’s Upside Foods, the food tech company formerly known as Memphis Meats, that is one of the leaders in the global cultured meat industry. As part of the partnership, Crenn will develop recipes and consult on all things culinary for Upside Foods — and serve the company’s first product, chicken breast, once it gains regulatory approval.”

NB: So far, only Singapore has approved public sales of cultured meat, and the company selling it there is likely losing huge sums of money on each piece sold, so it may be a while before the deal pays off in a retail sense for Upside.

BUT, in the long game of normalizing lab grown food for public consumption, Crenn’s name is pretty perfect PR, in part for reasons which are probably too cynical for me to list here. (If you can’t guess, lmk and I’ll help.)

The Critics Pete Wells’s NYT review this week is almost entirely devoted to the accessibility features of Contento in Manhattan, a restaurant that Eater NY’s Caroline Hatchett also profiled last month. The review has photos and notes on those features, and an admonition that: “Everybody who owns or designs restaurants, particularly in New York City, should spend a night there to see what it looks like when a restaurant goes out of its way for customers who often feel unwelcome or unwanted.” One tip / warning in the kicker: When a guest complained about the grab bars in the bathroom, ownership realized that, “Votive candles in honor of Anthony Bourdain were burning on the tile floor directly below one of the metal bars, and the flames made the metal uncomfortable to touch.” Bourdain, still hot right now.

The Media (Opportunity) – Heads up TX: Those Eater “fellowships” I mentioned a while ago are now up on the Vox careers page, and per one of the official job descriptions: “Eater is looking for a Texas-based fellow to contribute to our daily coverage of the restaurant scenes and food culture across the state of Texas.” Good luck! (The other is an audience engagement thing if you’re into that stuff.)

For Design Fans – Two lighting trends I’m keeping my eye on! (Exclamation point because still feels like we’ve been stuck with mid-century modern atomic stuff, aggressive Edison bulbing, and/or wicker pendants for time immemorial.) First, there are the huge, rigid-cloud pendants at both Alon Shaya’s new place in New Orleans and (from spring) the Lyle in DC. And second, there is the anti-recessed (or mini-pendant?), many bulb style I’ve seen this week at Union Assembly in Detroit and Saga in NYC, the latter of which also has the geometric cloud pendants as a bonus. Design friends, am I reading these right? Thoughts?

And that’s it for today. Except of course for Tuesday’s Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual.

FYI, I finally bit the bullet and applied for the Associate Critic job at the SF Chronicle (details below)! Obviously, I listed my address as my spiritual home (Hong Kong Disney’s Mystic Manor), and did not upload my CV (this newsletter speaks for itself), but the application is in.

Your move, Serena Dai.

I’ll see paying subscribers here Tuesday, and everyone else on Friday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or a Texas-based fellow to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!

Here begins Family Meal from Tuesday, August 17th, 2021, which went to paying subscribers first. If you’d like to get Tuesday editions on Tuesdays…

ERTC countdown, OpenTable MVP, Chronicle critics, and more...

Hello Tuesday,

Before we get started, I have to apologize and admit that my heart was not in this one.

I stayed up late last night drinking bad beer and looking through old pictures from the better part of 2010, which I spent managing some landmine removal work (non-military) around Kabul. It was a big year. I met my future wife in a bar there that summer. For the first time after almost two years on the job in other countries, a deminer on one of my teams died in a minefield, up near the Salang Tunnel. I went to a wedding in one of those huge, LED-lit Kabul wedding halls that I’m sure will be stripped down soon, and to a funeral in a mosque where the sermons will be different now. There were long days hiking farmers’ fields and sleeping in armored cars, and late nights dancing in walled-off compounds. There are stories I might have written last week that I don’t feel comfortable putting in public now.

And I experienced almost all of it with and around people who are stuck there now. People who kept me safe in so many ways. People who don’t deserve this.

Bah. Sorry. Today’s Family Meal is brought to you by a mess of navel-gazing blurred by tears! Not sure what to do with this yet.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – Well, sort of. Just a friendly reminder to my owner-readers that time is running out on what little aid is still available: “The Employee Retention Tax Credit may end on Sept. 30,” Joanna Fantozzi has details on how to take advantage in RH this week. Good luck!

The JBFFABIFFBAIA – FYI: “The application period for the third round of the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans will be open from Friday, August 27, 2021 at 12 P.M. ET to Friday, September 10, 2021 at 12 P.M. ET, or until the maximum application limit of 500 is reached.” An announcement email says: “In this round, the fund will disburse a minimum of 18 grants of $15,000 each. However, we will continue to accept donations through September 30, 2021 and will use the donations received up until that date to make as many additional grants as possible.” Details and FAQs here.

The Passport – “Coming Soon: Get Verified With OpenTable to Make Dining Out Easier.” Basically, OpenTable is launching its own vaccine passport, but to say they’re starting with a minimum viable product feels like a bit of an understatement. The “new tool launching late August that tags a diner as ‘verified for entry’ once they’ve met entry requirements” will only verify the person who made the reservation, will not share verification across restaurant groups, and is not actually tied to any sort of state health database of vaccinations. So, like, big congrats to your regular solo diners who make reservations via OpenTable for some reason.

But for me the weirdest thing about it is that OpenTable seems to think that beyond vaccination records, this could someday be “used for restaurants verifying age, or other health and safety features.”

“Yes, officer, I’ll grant he has no ID and looks 12. BUT according to his OpenTable profile…”

The Media (Opportunity) – Per the SF Chronicle’s Serena Dai on Twitter: “HUGE, HUGE NEWS!!! I’m hiring another food critic. Feeling super grateful to do this. Throw your hat in the ring to join our rockstar food & wine team, including close collab with the one and only [Soleil Ho].” There’s an announcement article here, and a full job description on the Hearst careers page, including a key beat detail: “This role will primarily focus on finding stories in Bay Area cities outside of San Francisco, with an eye on cities in the East Bay (beyond hot spots such as Oakland and Berkeley) and the South Bay.”

Dai says the job will pay minimum $75k / year, and Ho notes that “for ethics reasons the paper covers all restaurant expenses.”

I know what you’re thinking, Bay Area: Andrew should do it! I accept.

And that’s it for today.

I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.

And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or hot spots such as Oakland and Berkeley to andrew@thisfamilymeal.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, become a paying subscriber! If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!