‘The golden age of takeout’: fine dining restaurants are now sending haute cuisine into homes

Many restaurants face long-term losses or extinction, and to survive, thousands have converted into makeshift restaurant operations – with extraordinary results

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The best bite of food I’ve ever eaten at home came into my mouth last Friday night before sunset. It was a generous piece of hamachi sashimi with green olive, beans, potato and ramp, sprinkled with a whisper of what sounded like toasted breadcrumbs. I cannot adequately express how delicious this dish was, how ecstatic I felt when I tasted that first bite. I’ll just say that I didn’t think it was possible to eat so well in my living room, and if anything positive has come out of the lockdown, it’s the opportunity to stay home and eat that food.

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It’s been almost three months since restaurants across the country closed to curb the spread of COVID-19. In some cities, they have begun to reopen cautiously, often at reduced capacity or with restrictions put in place to promote physical distancing between diners and staff. The outlook in Ontario is even less promising. In some parts of the province, patios and outdoor dining areas are clear to resume operations, but in Toronto bars and restaurants are only allowed to serve take-out and delivery – and even if infection rates are starting to level off, it looks like the dining halls will continue to remain closed for some time.

Now that we can’t leave the house anymore, haute cuisine comes to us

Lockdown has increased our appetite for takeout. I’ve used Uber Eats and Door Dash more in the past 90 days than I’ve used in the past year, and while I’ve always treasured home-cooked meals, the complete absence of traditional restaurants has created something of a void. culinary that the takeaways had to fill. For the most part, takeout itself hasn’t really changed: we’re still ordering burgers and pizza, butter chicken and pad Thai. The cuisines of the world that already lent themselves best to delivery – Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Thai – still dominate, and undoubtedly the family-run pizzerias and teriyaki joints whose businesses have always been largely geared towards takeout are booming.

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But with dining halls closed, many restaurants face long-term revenue losses or, worse, extinction, and to survive, thousands of restaurants that had never sent a meal out the door will are converted into makeshift restoration operations. The result has been extraordinary, at least for those of us who crave delicious food and have mourned the loss of our most beloved restaurants.

Recently, I spoke with Phil Rosenthal, host of the food travel series Somebody Feed Phil, and one of the world’s biggest restaurant enthusiasts, about this sudden change. He called it “the golden age of takeout”. Before, you had to leave home to eat well. Now that we can no longer leave the house, haute cuisine is coming to us.

Before, you had to leave home to eat well.
Before, you had to leave home to eat well. Photo by Jonathan Adediji

In Toronto, an array of exquisite cuisine is available for take-out. In March, I ate roasted cauliflower, Provençal chicken and onion soup from Le Phenix, the French pop-up that opened in Parkdale earlier this year to temporarily replace Chantecler , under renovation across the road. I had an extensive platter of ume and nigiri from MIKU, the famous sushi restaurant near the Toronto waterfront. I had foie gras torchon and Korean fried chicken at 416 Snack Bar, one of my favorite places to eat in town, right across from my apartment near Queen West. And I had burgers, miraculously, from Harry’s Charbroiled – Toronto’s best burgers, which closed in the fall, but have been reborn, from the kitchen of owner Grant Van Gameron’s other restaurant, Bar Isabel. , for take-out only. This system is so good that it brings restaurants back from the dead.

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These meals were excellent. But nothing could compare to what I ordered last weekend from Alo. If you’re interested in fine dining in this country, you’re likely familiar with Alo, which is widely regarded as the best restaurant in Canada and also regularly appears on top global lists. I’ve only eaten at Alo once, for the simple reason that it’s expensive and because it can be difficult to reserve a table, but it was among the four or five most memorable meals I’ve ever had. have ever eaten, and by the standards of flavor, ingenuity, technical skill, presentation, etc., nothing in Toronto has ever come close to its level. The meal I had last weekend at Alo’s house was of this level.

It's remarkable how well the Alo experience translated into takeout.
It’s remarkable how well the Alo experience translated into takeout. Photo by John Bunner

Alo is not available on Door Dash or Uber Eats. They use Tock, an online reservation system that has converted into a take-out app to help small local restaurants during the pandemic. They don’t deliver food. I had to walk to Queen and Spadina’s restaurant to get the meal outside their front door. To start, the take-out presentation: the food is served in an elegant black bag, and each dish is delicately wrapped, with instructions in some cases for heating. The menu, which has been individually personalized, includes a link to a playlist on Spotify, to better replicate the ambiance of the dining room at home. And there’s an extra bag containing a bottle of wine – in this case, an incredible Métis Rouge by Pearl Morrisette from Niagara, whose availability as an on-the-go complement is another lockdown win.

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It’s remarkable how well the experience translated into takeaways. Not only the level of cooking, which was astounding – especially this hamachi sashimi with olives and beans, but also the vongole cavatelli with manila clam and chilli, and the zucchini salad with basil pesto, and the peach cobbler with bourbon and shortbread. But more importantly, how the integrity of the meal was maintained. You expect to lose something when food of this caliber is stuffed into plastic containers and transported from restaurant security across town to someone’s house. But if something was lost, I didn’t notice it. I reheated the roast octopus and pork belly in the oven and plated them myself. It was as if it had come straight from Alo’s kitchen onto the table.

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Of course, eating out isn’t strictly about food. There are things about the restaurant – the lighting, the decor, the service – that the home dining experience inevitably lacks. You are taken care of in a restaurant; at home, even when ordering, you have to take out the trash and do the dishes. Above all, you miss the people: the waiters and bartenders, the sommeliers and chefs, and especially the other diners, laughing and enjoying the lively conversations around you. But even though takeout can never replace dining out, this is truly the golden age of takeout. Thanks to the nimble efforts of fine dining establishments, eating well at home has never been easier.



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