Midpriced moves, Mitla mourns, Memoir manners, and more...

Family Meal - Friday, July 31st, 2020

Hello Friday,

First, thanks so much to everyone who sent feedback on subscriptions and sponsorships this week! Still thinking it through (and still need to reply to some of you), but should have an announcement on that front soon. Bated breath, folks, I know.

Let’s get to it…

The Relief – Quick update from DC: “The Senate on Thursday dissolved into partisan bickering over a sweeping economic stabilization package, clashing over dueling proposals but failing to reach an agreement to prevent the expiration on Friday of jobless aid that tens of millions of Americans have depended on for months.” SNAFU.

Quote of the week in this NYT summary of the situation from Emily Cochrane: “‘The proposals we made were not received warmly,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said after a meeting on Thursday evening on Capitol Hill with top Democratic leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He added as he left the building, ‘I wouldn’t say that optimism is the word I would characterize the negotiations.’”

The End of an Age? ­– Headline in the NYT: “The Pandemic Could End the Age of Midpriced Dining.” Anecdotal trend from the Australia bureau’s Besha Rodell: “Melbourne’s food scene thrives primarily thanks to the casual gastronomy found in its cafes, pubs and wine bars. But I saw a distinct trend in the opposite direction as the restaurant industry emerged battered from months of closings. And this wealthy, creative, diverse city — with access to all kinds of fresh food — could be a bellwether for other cities around the world…. In Melbourne, at least, I’m seeing more and more owners decide that food should be served either quickly and casually and cheaply, or in a format that is lengthy and expensive. The middle ground is falling away.”

Makes sense, but a lot of owners have been thinking that way for a while now, right? Fast casual’s potential to scale vs tasting menu check averages?

And then of course there are counterpoint anecdotes like this from the SF Chronicle’s Janelle Bitker: “The husband-wife team behind San Francisco’s upcoming Marlena Restaurant is striving to find a balance between approachable and, potentially, Michelin-starred dining…. ‘We want to be a place you can come to on a Tuesday and also celebrate your birthday.’ [Serena Chow] and her husband, David Fisher, have taken over the former Hillside Supper Club space in Bernal Heights and hope to debut Marlena in mid-August. At the center of the dining experience will be a constantly changing, three-course prix-fixe menu for $40.”


LA Gold –  Announcing the LA Times Food award named in honor of her late husband, editor Laurie Ochoa writes, “I am thrilled that the founding and current driving forces behind Post & BeamBrad and Linda Johnson, Govind Armstrong and John and Roni Cleveland — are this year’s recipients of the Los Angeles Times Gold Award.” They join past recipients Wolfgang Puck, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, and Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng. And alongside that announcement, critic Bill Addison named Josef Centeno’s Orsa & Winston the LAT Restaurant of the Year this week. Congrats, all!

The Memoir Treatment – Having been online a little bit lately, I thought for sure we had fallen fully into a PC, cancel-culture hellscape, where no one can ever say anything they think ever again because YOU (in particular) are too sensitive. But then I read an excerpt from Lisa Donovan’s new memoir Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger in Eater, and am here to inform you: Fake fucking news. In just this one chapter, Donovan appears to show some space in her heart for the kind of leadership we don’t usually read about in a positive light anymore (“I do not get brought to tears easily. Yet [chef Margot McMormick] got me there at least once weekly, often thrice weekly.”), and seems very happy using transactional oenophile coitus as a metaphor for her coworkers’ Maldonado knowledge: “They were able to talk about wine as if they had all been fucking vintners in the vineyard while eating and studying every variety of grape at the same time, bent over an oak barrel, little wine whores who could tell you about a Uruguayan Tannat grape as if they were as common as a Concord.”

Family Meal book club?!

The Blaze – ICYMI: “A five-alarm fire near San Francisco’s Central Freeway destroyed six buildings Tuesday morning, including a commissary kitchen used by restaurants like Nigerian spot Eko Kitchen, Indonesian pop-up ChiliCali, and… French catering operation Crepe Madame, plant-based food delivery service Green Tiffin, Japanese snack spot Oyatsuya, and other delivery-only fare.” Only one minor injury, though Eve Batey’s Eater SF piece has embedded photos / videos showing the blaze got very, very bad.

Some sad news – “If ever there was a San Bernardino resident who deserved a fiesta for her funeral, it was Lucy Reyes.” So sayeth Gustavo Arellano in his obit of Reyes in the LA Times this week. “She worked at Mitla Cafe, the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire, for 68 of its 83 years, retiring in 2018. Her loyal customers included the mighty — politicians, athletes, Cesar Chavez — and multiple generations from hundreds of families in the city’s West Side barrio. There was also the young World War II veteran who showed up nearly every night in the early 1950s to eat Mitla’s famous hard-shell tacos. That nice Glenn Bell, Reyes always cracked to the many food reporters who trekked to Mitla in recent years, sure had a hit with his Taco Bell.… Reyes died July 13 of a heart attack at 86.”

And in the Dallas Morning News from Sarah Blaskovich and Amanda Albee: “Luis Dominguez, a career chef in Dallas, died from COVID-19 on July 22 after spending 18 days in the hospital, his last five on a ventilator. The chef, described as hard-working and reliable in his roles at more than a half-dozen kitchens in Dallas, had been working most recently as executive sous chef at HG Sply Co. in Dallas. Dominguez was 38.” Thirty-eight.

And last but not least – “Bars, strip clubs and breweries discover how to survive during the pandemic: Reopen as restaurants.” More competition might be tough for everyone, but neat that the longstanding practice of dancers asking strip club customers to buy them high-priced, watered-down drinks has now migrated to food, according to Tim Carman in the Washington Post. “‘The girls are always hungry, so [customers] always want to keep the girls happy,’ [Warren Colazzo of Thee Dollhouse] says. ‘So it works out well for everybody.’”

You know what I’d really love, sweetheart? Grey goose and soda. And a wedge salad. With truffles.

And that’s it for today. Remember how I said on Tuesday that Hong Kong had banned indoor dining starting Wednesday? Well they reversed that on Thursday. Keeping COVID on its toes out here in the SAR!

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

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