Remember the great Seattle restaurant boom, when more than one new place debuted in our busy, shiny city per day? It wasn’t that long ago, though one’s sense of time in the coronavirus era seems stretchy, sketchy, overall unreliable. Then just at the beginning of this already very long year, the industry began contracting in a way that caused alarm.
We didn’t know what alarm was. Now the streets are quiet with coronavirus quarantine while everything tries its worst to fall apart. The loss of life is, it goes without saying, devastatingly and entirely paramount. But with it comes the loss of livelihood for an uncertain duration for so many, especially in the intertwined arts and restaurant communities. For the latter, the situation is increasingly dire: 75% of our independently owned restaurants are predicted to never open again, while legions of laid-off workers try to get unemployment that, if and when it comes, is likely inadequate.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s given some help to those struggling, including temporarily disallowing residential evictions and offering small-business grants. Amazon and Vulcan donated funds to support small businesses and restaurants in their home neighborhoods, though with their absurdly deep pockets, I wish they’d cough up more than $5 million and $100,000 respectively in our city’s time of true desperation. Meanwhile, we the people who love restaurants can sign the change.org petition “Seattle Restaurants United: Save Restaurants & Bars, Save the City,” put together by 100-plus of our best local chefs.
And we can eat. Many of Seattle’s shuttered restaurants are still serving takeout and/or delivery. It’s far from a sustainable business model, but it keeps a fraction of the industry’s workers employed. Those of us with the means — the privilege of working from home or the sheer wealth — may be finding that food from our restaurants has become sustaining in a strange and beautiful new way. Isolation and fear get surmounted, at least momentarily, by smell and taste and texture, by the inescapable sense that when someone else cooks for you, you are loved.
Following are five special choices from The Seattle Times’ list of local takeout-and-or-delivery options — if their phones are busy or they’re sold out, just find another. Note that restaurants’ currently extra-thin profit margins get further eaten away by app-based delivery service fees, so unless it’s in-house delivery, it’s best to get takeout (and tip big). But, of course, stay as safe and as sane as possible: Make the right choices for you. If that’s patronizing places with no-contact pickup, or just delivery, or neither, well, onward and sideways, along with the rest of us.
CAFE JUANITA AND THE BEST-EVER SALAD
Order a day in advance at cafejuanita.com, then pick up in the parking lot at 9702 N.E. 120th Place, Kirkland.
The scene: James Beard award-winning chef Holly Smith runs Cafe Juanita in a midcentury Kirkland abode featuring a sylvan view and fantastic service. It’s a pricey, luxe Northern Italian experience, so having food brought out to the open maw of your trunk in the parking lot counts as the most surreal Seattle dining experience of the coronavirus age (except maybe the Canlis burger drive-thru). But Smith is taking health concerns extremely seriously. “We are acting like a hospital,” she says.
The best-ever salad: By all means, order some of Cafe Juanita’s handmade pasta, whether angelic strands or plumply filled ($10-$19 per serving, cooked at home). But the transporting thing from this to-go menu turned out to be a salad of pristine, pale green leaves of romaine with 30-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and an impossibly delicate anchovy citronette ($15 for two portions, mixed at home). A salad this good makes you feel, however briefly, that things make sense.
KEDAI MAKAN’S ENDLESS DELICIOUSNESS
Check facebook.com/kedaimakanseattle for hours, then order in-person at the restaurant at 1802 Bellevue Ave., Seattle.
The scene: The wonder of Malaysian food that is Capitol Hill’s Kedai Makan originally operated from a mere window. It sure is weird to find it back to that, with carefully chalk-marked places to wait at social-distancing measure, but everyone’s gratitude to be here — patrons, staff, birds chirping in the trees — is practically palpable.
Get the frog legs: All of Kedai Makan’s food reminds you that you’re alive via spicing and complexity and greatness, with just-as-excellent vegetarian options, too. The kerabu timun nanas ($9.25) — a salad of pineapple, cucumber, red onion, peanuts, toasted coconut and more — hits with a gorgeous tart-sweet zing. The Malaysian-style fried chicken ($15.50) is rightfully popular. But trust me: You want the fried frog legs ($12.50) with their plethora of peanuts, roasted chilies, fried shallots, green onion and more, and you want to transfer that extra super-spicy stuff onto some rice and eat it all up, too. Now more than ever, thanks for being here, Kedai Makan.
BAR DEL CORSO’S SUPREME COMFORT FOOD
Order a day in advance at bardelcorso.com, then pick up curbside at 3057 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle.
The scene: Things are different right away when you pull up to Beacon Hill’s Italian greatness Bar del Corso — it’s got a special city-sanctioned load zone reading “FOOD PICK-UP PRIORITY.” They’ve switched from a grab-and-go situation to taking orders online and actively discouraging walk-up business for precaution’s sake.
Maybe just order one of everything: “Dishes made with love while we get through this together,” the website says, and it’s true, the food made here feels like a hug when you need one most. And while chef Jerry Corso is changing the small to-go menu regularly, the value will remain huge. One day last week, slabs of two kinds of lasagne, each big enough to share or save some for later, cost $7 and $10 each, with the gooey mushroom, English pea and fontina veggie version possibly besting the rich pork ragu. A big rectangular cushion of focaccia strewn with roasty cherry tomatoes, olives and rosemary was just $5.50 — enough for a lunch or supper when matched with a salad. And if the cookie box is available — a very pretty, generous and good assortment, including some that aren’t oversweet, for only $5 — get it! Any cookies leftover are for breakfast the next morning … why the hell not?
BATEAU’S BURGER SPLURGE
Find the menu at restaurantbateau.com, then place order via phone at 206-900-8699 from 3-7 p.m., or email email@example.com until 3 p.m.; pick up from 4-8 p.m. at 1040 E. Union, Seattle.
The scene: The emptiness of Renee Erickson’s upscale, Frenchy steakhouse and its adorable adjoining oyster bar on Capitol Hill feels a little eerie until you encounter the quaint sidewalk to-go table with a candle flickering, a flower-shaped ceramic dish by local artist Jeffry Mitchell, little brass trays, wine lists and hand sanitizer for after you touch any of it. The friendliness and grace of the skeleton crew still working here provides a few moments of joyous connection, augmented by the joy of finding out that wine by the bottle is half off the regular list price.
The burger splurge: Bateau’s painstakingly sourced, grass-fed, dry-aged steaks may be had to grill at home, complete with bone-marrow butter, for half off the dine-in price, and there’s a menu of accompaniments such as extremely creamy kale gratin, too. But the thing to get here is the Bateau Burger Kit. Yes, it costs $40 for just a pound of burger, two buns and a couple sauces, but the meat is from the happiest of cows and ground exactly rough enough, while the buns attain a cloudlike fluffiness while retaining the structure to stand up to the buttery juiciness of this superlative hamburger that’s even more superlative in times of trouble. Caveat: If you are not a fairly confident burger-griller, you might mess up the cooking here, and then you will be less happy instead of way more so.
THE JOY OF TSUKUSHINBO’S SUSHI
Find the menu at twitter.com/tsukushinbosea, then call in your order at 206-467-4004; in-house free delivery or pickup at 515 S. Main St., Seattle.
The scene: Back in the day, the interior of longtime Chinatown International District sushi favorite Tsukushinbo felt a little bit divey in the best possible way, with autographs of fans such as Ichiro Suzuki inked directly on the walls. But then the fact that it got a little fixing up is irrelevant at the moment, because none of us will be going in there anytime very soon, will we? The nice thing here is that Tsukushinbo is running its own in-house delivery service — meaning none of the scant profits are going to an app — and that delivery service is, amazingly, free.
The joy: Sushi is good in every season, but right now in this strangest of Seattle springtimes, with the cherry blossoms waving their fluffy pink branch-arms over the nearly empty streets, having it made for you at a little family-owned spot and brought to your door feels like a minor miracle. You’re supporting them just by eating their reasonably priced, nice and fresh nigiri and rolls and maybe some slippery seaweed salad … a thing gone right in an upside-down world.