Richard Foss

Brave plans for new eateries, unusual strategies for established ones, and more Good Stuff

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A La Carte column for 16 April 2020

La Playita server Mayro Angulo shows how the new face of South Bay dining wears a mask. Photo by JP Cordero

For the first time since I started writing this column almost 20 years ago, there isn’t a single restaurant opening to announce. That’s not particularly surprising given the current circumstances, but it’s still sad. There are new places on the horizon, of course, since construction work has continued at many projects that were already in the works.

Captain Kidd’s Glen Miciano. Phopto by JP Cordero

There are even two new enterprises recently announced. Ensenada’s Surf & Turf Grill, which has popular locations in El Segundo and Lawndale, is taking over the former Yellow Vase on PCH in Hermosa. It’s the end of a conspicuously unsuccessful attempt at creating a local mini chain, as the Yellow Vases in Manhattan and Hermosa lasted less than a year. The Hermosa spot is a hard location that was a failure for a frozen yogurt shop before Yellow Vase moved in, but Ensenada’s has been very successful elsewhere… The other newcomer is more of a surprise. The owners of Baran’s 2239 bought the former Marie Callender’s takeout operation on PCH in Redondo. They plan to offer artisanal Mexican food, including fresh tortillas from masa ground in-house, ceviche, and turkey leg carnitas, which is quite a departure from the Italian-inflected contemporary cuisine at their current place in Hermosa. They are hoping to open in two to three months, by which time things may be going a little better for the local restaurant scene…

Good Stuff owner Chris Bennett with meals he and his customers are donating to front line medical workers. Photo courtesy of Good Stuff

Good deed: Good Stuff owner Chris Bennett and his crew have delivered over 700 meals to workers at the Providence Little Company and Torrance Memorial medical centers in the past week. The meals are delivered in bags decorated with the names of Good Stuff customers whose $20 donations cover the costs of two meals. Bennett’s daughter Cassidy,  a teacher at Tulita School in Redondo Beach, proposed the medical workers’ meal service to her dad after reading about a similar program hosted by another Los Angeles area restaurant. Among the many donors have been the Palos Verdes Rotary Club, which donated 100 meals. To sponsor meals for front line medical workers, visit eatgoodstuff.com/frontline-support… 

Unlikely options: It was no surprise that a lot of restaurants would decide to close rather than even try going the takeout route. Some offer cuisines that don’t travel well, others have tiny kitchens that are unsuited to high volume and also make it hard to give their staff safe spaces to work. Those restaurants that have stayed open are sometimes doing so with a remarkably different business model than they had just a few weeks ago. A case in point is Baran’s 2239, which has changed from a dinner-only operation to offering a different lunch option each week, and is currently serving only on Wednesday and Thursday. The selections have been eccentric, such as a roast beef banh mi sandwich, meat lasagna, and chili. The ones I have tried were excellent. They have reportedly sold out whatever they offered each week, which suggests that they might want to look at continuing lunch service in the future…

Big Wok co-owner Mark Yen. Photo by JP Cordero

Another unlikely takeout option is Big Wok in Manhattan Beach, since one of the attractions of Mongolian barbecue is the fun of selecting all of your own items before giving it to someone else to cook. A difficulty is that the restaurant is usually all you can eat, which obviously isn’t a possibility when everything is takeout. They are offering a checklist in which you mark the ingredients you like and they make it for you. They smartly have priced this well below their usual rate, and offer quantities from a pound and a half to four pounds for prices from thirteen to seventeen bucks. Since four pounds of Mongolian barbecue will feed several people, this could be the best lunch or dinner bargain in the South Bay…    

Given situations like this where the profit potential seems small, why are places like this even trying to stay open? Some  are probably doing so with no expectation of actually being profitable, they’re just hoping to cut the

Baran’s chef Tyler Gugliotta and owners Jason and John Baran. Photo by Kevin Cody

amount that they lose. Other restaurateurs are operating on a break-even basis to maintain their connection with their customers and also keep their culinary teams together. Many are giving servers shifts doing deliveries, and if you want to help restaurants stay in business you should use this option rather than commercial delivery services. It will cost you less, and help keep servers associated with the places where they’ve been building a career…

Meals for four of what? One trend on the current scene is that many restaurants that previously catered to an upscale wine and cocktail crowd are now offering family meals. Radici, Gabi James, Barsha, and Zinc at Shade are all examples, with some offering only a single entrée per night and others giving diners several choices. I have become a fan of Barsha’s Sunday chicken dinner, which comes with cheddar cornbread and mashed potatoes.

Adnen Marouani of Barsha delivers take-out to the curb. Photo by Richard Foss

Add some greens in the form of a salad and something for dessert and you have enough for two adults and two kids for 50 bucks, which is a deal. Empty nesters might be more attracted to the three-course menus from Dominique’s Kitchen for $30, which offer the chance to shelter in style. There are many more options, and we’re doing our best to keep them up-to-date on the list you’ll find on the following pages and at EasyReaderNews.com…

Speaking of websites: It might seem important at this time for restaurants to make sure that their online menus reflect what they’re serving now, but that is more difficult than you might expect. Some restaurants had their websites managed by companies that are currently shut down because they’re not regarded as essential businesses. Some of these are in India, home of many of the world’s website and software developers, where a very strict shutdown is in place. As much as restaurants used to push people to online ordering, it can be imperative to call ahead before placing an order based on either the food selection or the operating hours posted on a website. The person at the other end might enjoy actually talking to some of their customers after being cut off from the world for a while…

Mickeys Deli Gonzalo Diaz. Photo by JP Cordero.

Is yesterday’s successful strategy still working? Given the lines to get into grocery stores, you might assume everyone in that business is doing very well. If you actually go to a lot of them, you’ll find that things have been variable. Stores like Lazy Acres that devoted substantial floor space to buffet-style takeout operations or to in-store dining have empty spaces at a time when the rest of the store is crowded. The so-called “groceraunt” phenomenon had been looking like a winning strategy, but while those operations are on hold, it’s a liability. Stores that instead had a large produce department and a range of grab and go offerings are generally doing well. Bargain hunters are advised to go to the fresh fish department wherever they shop, because seasonal fresh seafood is going quite inexpensively. Many people have been focused on stocking their freezers but are not even paying attention to this section, and it’s their loss…

Take  out something different: One bright spot as long as our schedules are all disrupted is we might look into varying some things we’ve been doing just out of habit. The takeout place that you have been patronizing for years mainly because it’s on your way home from work? Since you probably aren’t going to work these days, why not investigate something different? You probably aren’t as crunched for time as you used to be, so go a little further afield and check out that little hole in the wall restaurant you’ve been passing for a while.

Addis Darbar server Sanjay Khadka. Photo by JP Cordero.

If you’re doing a lot of cooking at home, order something you never think of cooking because it’s too difficult or uses so many spices you don’t keep in stock. An example is Indian food, which I have been enjoying as a change of pace. I recently had an excellent meal from Addi’s Darbar, including shrimp masala, a vegetarian biryani, onion kulcha bread, and a modern item called Gobhi matar artichoke. Curries are a great choice for takeout, since stewed and braised dishes don’t deteriorate while going home in the car, unlike pizza or burgers. A sumptuous meal for two with plenty of leftovers for the next day ran less than 60 bucks, and was a delightful change of pace. Pick up a bottle of “Silk and Spice” wine to go with it – it’s a red that is an elegant companion to spicy Indian Food. Addi’s is a local treasure and can use the support… call them at 310-350-7121…  

Beach Hut’s Angie Romero. Photo by JP Cordero

Unorthodox Strategies: The R6 Distillery in El Segundo is turning out high-volumes of hand sanitizer, which is very much in demand. I’m fairly sure that the whiskey that they usually make would also sanitize your hands, but at the cost of drying your skin out if used regularly…

And To Close: I usually write this column only once a month, but in the current situation with so many things changing I’m going to do it more often. Your advice helps make it possible for me to do this. Are there any fantastic deals on takeout or delivery, any local producers of wonderful items we can use in the home cooking? Do you know how to find me – I am at richard@richardfoss.com. ER

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