We ate so much takeout. So. Much. Takeout. As the restaurant critics for The Seattle Times, Tan Vinh and I spent a lot of the seemingly endless past two years of the pandemic driving around to pick up food. Sometimes, to taste it at its best, the food got eaten in the car in a parking spot in the rain; sometimes we did our best to resuscitate it in our kitchens at home, maybe even using real plates. We knew we were so lucky for the privilege — lucky to be alive and lucky to have jobs, and especially to have jobs that might bring some measure of happiness to others. To encourage support of our restaurants as the time went on (and on, and on), and to keep connecting through food when connections were so hard to come by — it has been our honor.

But with masks officially off and dining in looking viable longer term (that said with an ocean’s worth of salt thrown over shoulder!), we’re reviewing restaurants again. It is so, so good to be back — the joy is intense. The sights and the sounds, the smells and the tastes, the other people and the hot food, being able to eat somewhere besides home and being able to thank the people making it happen, maskless face to maskless face — it is incredible. Let’s hold onto this gratitude forever. Let’s remember to give voice to it always.

Things are different, though. The restaurant industry has suffered tremendously, and staffing shortages and supply-chain issues have not magically resolved. Menus may be shorter or prix fixe only, both easier for strapped kitchens in terms of labor and food costs (and a new, tighter focus can be a good thing). Service may be slow or otherwise sideways (not good, but people are working hard, both front and back of house, under difficult circumstances). We will make note of such issues, but we won’t dwell on them when we find much to be happy about. And we won’t be giving starred reviews — that kind of blunt gradation makes even less sense now than it did before.

Tan and I are also renewing the commitments we made when we began reviewing restaurants, way back before COVID-19. We’ll review all kinds of places at all kinds of price points, because all kinds of restaurants run by all kinds of people make superlative food. We’ll honor those people by telling their stories, not confining the narrative to just the plate or the paper wrapper, and we’ll highlight the contributions of women and people of color to our dining scene. We won’t belittle or fetishize cultures with “food trend” stories. To enable everyone’s enjoyment, we’ll provide info on accessibility, the bathroom setup and noise. And because some will still be cautious about going out — and rightfully so, and sorry about it — we’ll include details on outdoor seating and takeout.

We’ll be writing about new places, newish ones we may have missed during all this, classic favorites and unsung heroes — anything goes.

First up: my review of Seattle’s storied Canlis. With the first female chef in its 71-year history — as the pandemic looks to be (maybe, possibly, hopefully) in the rearview mirror — it’s a place to newly celebrate.