Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a dreadlocked dad whom I used to see strolling around Jimi Hendrix Park. He always belted “Easy Like Sunday Morning” while pushing a baby stroller around. It didn’t matter if it were wet or windy outside. It was always sunny in his mind. He was always singing that Lionel Richie song and smiling.
I haven’t seen him lately on my morning run. And I badly need his optimism now.
Our neighborhoods look so soulless when our restaurants sit empty. And dining rooms have been empty since March 17 when Gov. Jay Inslee banned dining-in due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The most optimistic thing I’ve seen is how quickly chefs have gotten up and dusted themselves off for their second act, becoming more efficient, running shorter, smarter menus. (It’s not a coincidence you’re seeing roasted cauliflower and chicken in one out of three takeout menus. Those are high-profit-margin items that hold up well in to-go containers.)
In the new normal of restaurant dining, I do takeout and not delivery apps because I want those mom-and-pop shops to get all of my money.
I often walk to the Japanese-French bistro Iconiq in Mount Baker not only for rice bowls but for a dish of optimism from chef and owner Toshiyuki Kawai. Toshi, as regulars call him, opened his restaurant in 2017 to critically acclaimed reviews but had to shut down seven months later to head back to Japan due to a family emergency.
He reopened a year later. Just as the business was entering the black, the coronavirus outbreak struck. Though back to square one, somehow he’s peppy as ever.
He can’t wait to see his regulars again, he said.
He’ll wait this out however long this takes, he said.
We may be down, but never underestimate the human condition, he said.
His optimism is contagious.
There is much wrong today, but we know all that. If you pull your eyes away from the bleak headlines, there is also a lot of good happening. As I walked back home, I waved hello to the couple walking their shih tzu across the street. I never used to do that.
I heard someone say “hi” and looked up to find a woman in her front yard, repotting her plants.
Then I heard a low but familiar murmur a block away. It was the man in dreadlocks. He was coming my way, with a bounce in his step and a new tune in his repertoire. He channeled the recently departed Bill Withers:
Then I look at you
And the world’s all right with me
Just one look at you
And I know it’s gonna be
A lovely day
A lovely day
Food writer Tan Vinh lists the five best takeouts he’s had this month
Takeout and delivery daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; 18005 N.E. 68th St., A-150, Redmond; 425-556-5972, pomegranatebistro.com
The first time I ordered the lasagna, that family pack came with sides of roasted Brussels sprouts, a Caesar salad and a complimentary pack of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Taken another way: Buy hand sanitizer and toilet paper and you get a lasagna for free! Seriously, the family food here is really good and kid-friendly, a lineup of comfort food from Bolognese lasagna to saltine-cracker-crusted, buttermilk fried chicken (six pieces) balanced with healthful sides including roasted green beans and salads. Most family packs (about $45) come with two large sides, usually a starch and a veggie and can feed four. Note, the menu changes weekly.
Koku Cafe + Market
Takeout and delivery Tuesday-Thursday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m., Friday-Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m., closed Monday; 1417 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle; 206-285-1352, kokucafemarket.com
The secret to getting Americans to eat fermented food is not to rhapsodize about it in your sales pitch. Fermentation isn’t a sexy food term to the mainstream. But Koku’s rice bowls burst with acidic, bright and sharp flavors thanks to all those hush-hush, fermented ingredients — miso butter, Koji ranch and pickled root veggies. You will be a fermentation convert. These rice bowls are umami bombs. The chicken leg gets confited in sake and mixed with a medley of sauteed mushrooms. The pork shoulder tastes smoky but is actually brewed with Lapsang Souchong tea and served with garlicky sauerkraut. The food here is so distinctive with such clarion flavors that after your first bowl, you will be able to pick a Koku rice bowl out of a lineup blindfolded.
Pair and Frank’s Oyster House
Takeout 5-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2615 N.E. 55th St., Seattle; 206-525-0220, franksoysterhouse.com
Both Ravenna mainstays have consolidated under one roof so you can get all their greatest hits curbside in front of Frank’s Oyster House. The Robuchon-inspired mashed potato at Frank’s is like a stick of butter bound with a smidge of starch. It’s like indulging in a pint of cookies and cream in your jammies; just what we all need right this minute. Two favorites at Pair: I love to hear that potato-chippy-crunch when I chomp into the crispy skin of that seared confit duck leg. My lips glistened in duck fat. Don’t miss the buttery, caramelized floret of cauliflower with salty specks of fried prosciutto. Each bite transports me back to my favorite bar seat by the front door at Pair and makes me forget I’m cooped up at home.
Takeout and delivery Thursday-Sunday 4-8 p.m.; 6307 24th Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-397-3263, rupeeseattle.com
One of the newcomers who seemingly could do no wrong out of the gate: We anointed this one of Seattle’s best new bar openings. The wait for a seat was over an hour after its fall debut, and it seems like yesterday that the James Beard Foundation named chef Liz Kenyon a “Rising Star Chef” semi-finalist. But the future of this promising newcomer is now in jeopardy if this coronavirus pandemic runs into summer, the owners said. What a shame. Talented chef Kenyon is worth a visit or three. Slivers of naan get fried up with Technicolor root veggies and fortified with a poached egg for a Sri Lanka-inspired street food that’s like a hybrid of stir-fried noodles and chilaquiles. Jackfruit curry gets a fiery kick and roasted cauliflower gets drenched in a funky eggplant paste with raisins — some of the best vegetarian dishes I’ve had in recent months.
Pickup only Wednesday-Saturday 4:30-7:15 p.m.; 1421 31st Ave. S., Seattle; order online at iconiqseattle.net
Of course, the ideal takeout is the one in your neighborhood. If you want your corner bistro to stay open, if you want the cook who knows you prefer your eggs runny to still be around, then support your local restaurant. Or buy a gift certificate to help them make rent. I love walking to this Mount Baker bistro where chef Kawai, formerly of Harvest Vine and the late Book Bindery, runs a well-curated menu of Japanese-French inspired dishes, elevating street food with unusual flavor combinations. A briny uni mac and cheese made with lobster bisque is just about the best damn version of that comfort food. The humble ground-meat-and-rice combo turns supernova with Iberico ground pork bathed in a soy-Madeira sauce. Iconiq runs a rotating, three-course dinner for $28.
Check our extended list of neighborhood takeouts here.