Dining out. In Ohio, when I was six or seven, we did it, once. In my memory there was a Chinese restaurant on 4thstreet, down the block from the Muskingum County Courthouse, slightly below street level. I’m sure it was out of business before I turned eight. I have no memory of the interior, the pork dumplings or the smell of the green tea. But I do know that we went there. Exactly once.
Dining out in Los Angeles is for dates, birthdays, and business meetings. Unless you are young, single, work at WME as a junior agent, live in WEHO and can walk to Sushi, you do not, as a rule, dine out. Yes, we have lunch out on occasion, near the office or studio. But more often than not lunch is “brought in.” There is no enjoyment in the consuming of mid-day sustenance. Since the advent of Uber and Lift dining has become more of a casual option, but old habits go down hard.
In New York, dining out is not a treat or a special occasion. Going to a restaurant is not for birthdays or Saturday nights. Restaurants in New York City are a large and vital part of the social fabric. One does not ask, “What shall we have for dinner?” one asks, “Where shall we go for dinner?”
I once commented to a life long New Yorker that our kitchen was sort of just bolted on to one wall of our apartment. He shrugged and said that most New York kitchens are bolted on to one wall. He now lives in a high rise in Battery Park City and proudly stated that over 300 meals per day are delivered to their concierge desk. Not only do most New Yorkers not cook, they are proud to announce their dubious dysfunction.
Almost immediately following this conversation I spotted a lifestyle article about how a woman had converted her “bolted on kitchen” to her main closet. I think she stored shoes in the oven. There is no end to the excuses to dine out. But there really need be no excuse at all. New York has 26,500 restaurants. The oft-told tale says that if you tried to eat at one per day for the rest of your life that you would never visit them all. And, if you did happen to manage the feat, there are seven new ones coming on line each week.
There are multiples of 1,2 and 3 Michelin Starred restaurants lining the streets of mid-town, towering over Columbus Circle and hiding in the West Village, East Village, SoHo and Tri-Beca. Mom and pop, or pop and pop, or mom and mom restaurants dot every avenue, speckle the streets of Harlem and support the lives of most of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. The restaurants aren’t just there for the lazy media buyer or the Bridge and Tunnel theatregoer; they are an urban eco-system that sustains the lives of everyone that crosses their thresholds. Bus boys, waiters, chefs, customers, neighbors, suppliers, butchers and fishmongers, or in terms that every New Yorker understands: family.
I refuse to mourn the shrinking stock market, or the greedy landlords missing a few months rent, but if we lose even one restaurant in this unfortunate health crisis, we should all bow our heads and say a quiet word of thanks. Then every last one of us needs to go to our local and order everything we can afford, tip too much and buy the owner a drink. Because, if he or she got it together to open again, you can rest assured that everything that he or she has is on the line. Don’t ever take these folks for granted. In New York anyway, they are family.