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Outdoor Winter Dining: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Outdoor Winter Dining: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

It’s clear that Americans have had to make incredible sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, we’ve had to adjust to working from home, seeing our friends through a screen, and even canceling major life events. Weddings and graduations have been postponed, while nine out of 10 funeral services held today have loved ones who are unable to attend.

That said, the pandemic has forced us to get creative. Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention — and despite the risks, many are determined to soldier on (albeit in new ways). That’s especially true for the restaurant industry, which was arguably one of the hardest-hit sectors during this health crisis. Things may not be back to normal yet, but we’ve found plenty of ways to support our favorite eateries — and experience something slightly resembling normalcy, in some cases.

Outdoor Winter Dining: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

igloo dining @nyc via  Instagram

Is Winter Outdoor Dining Safe?

One of the main questions being asked is whether winter outdoor dining is actually safe. Not only are the temperatures rather frigid in many parts of the country, but temporary structures are being erected by many restaurants in order to accommodate customers. The problem is that many of these structures don’t seem much safer than indoor dining when it comes right down to it.

There’s a lot of variation when it comes to outdoor dining structures. Some restaurants are using igloos or yurts, while others have enclosed areas on two or three sides. It’s a bit of a mystery as to whether or not any of these structures have proper airflow, which could be a problem if you’re dining with someone outside your immediate household. It’s also up to the municipality to set rules pertaining to outdoor dining capacity — but there’s no guarantee whether or not the restaurant will comply.

When an environmental engineering professor was interviewed by Vice News, it was revealed that an enclosure with multiple walls or sides can’t technically be categorized as outdoor dining from a safety standpoint. It’s also important to note that there are no totally safe indoor environments, even with good ventilation and air purification. Some restaurants are forgoing the six-feet rule with outdoor dining, as walls or tents provide a false sense of security and separation. And because customers don’t wear masks during meals, dining outdoors might be a lot riskier than you’d think. Of course, weather conditions can also make outdoor dining less safe. Snow, freezing temperatures, and even heat lamps could pose dangers to diners.

COVID-19 is certainly a huge concern for most Americans, given the number of rising cases across the country. Although anywhere from 8,000 to 18,000 U.S. residents are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease every year, more than 27.8 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the last year with approximately 488,000 fatalities. While this isn’t deterring Americans from eating outdoors (or inside, in many cases), many experts agree that it’s nearly impossible to know whether an outdoor dining setup has good ventilation — and you might not know until you arrive how a given restaurant is adhering to health guidelines. Although virtually no situation is without risk, it’s worth asking yourself whether it’s really worth it in this case.

Outdoor Winter Dining: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Olio é Piu indoor/outdoor dining

What Should You Wear When Dining Outdoors This Winter?

If you live in a warmer state, you might not have to bundle up for outdoor dining. But in many areas, cold temperatures and inclement weather can make eating outside a lot less comfortable. And while some eateries will attempt to use technology to fight some of those effects, it’s never going to be as pleasant as indoor dining would be.

So how can you stay cozy? Dressing in layers is key. Instead of wearing breathable fabrics like cotton, opt for wool or synthetic fiber for your base layers. You should probably wear a thick, long puffer coat, thick socks, insulated boots, a scarf, leather gloves, and a hat, as well. It’s a good idea to BYOB — bring your own blanket, in the case — to cover yourself up as your body temperature drops throughout the evening. You might even consider getting yourself a battery-powered heated jacket or hand warmers for some extra warmth.

Overall, try to keep your meal brief (which you should do anyway to reduce transmission risk!) and check the weather forecast before you decide to dine out. It’s a good idea to call the restaurant directly, as well, to assess whether they have the room or what kinds of accommodations they might have. If you know you’re someone who is sensitive to the cold, it might be best to sit this one out.

Outdoor Winter Dining: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

What’s the Best Way to Keep Supporting Local Restaurants?

Many people choose to dine outdoors because they simply miss the restaurant experience. But a CDC study from September found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than those who tested negative (and there was no discrimination made between indoor and outdoor dining). Another study published in November found that restaurants were the riskiest places for new infections. If you’re being tempted because you see others enjoying meals outside or you want to support your favorite eatery, you might want to consider some alternatives.

Although fully loaded semi-trucks can weigh as much as 18,000 pounds, lighter-weight food trucks are still a common sight on many roads throughout the United States. If you have a favorite, follow them on social media to see where they might be headed if you’re looking for a restaurant experience without taking as big a chance. Ordering take-out is also a popular option, albeit not a new one. Instead of relying on GrubHub or DoorDash, which take a percentage of sales from the restaurant, opt to order directly through the restaurant for pick-up or delivery. Many restaurants put together special dining packages for holidays or even virtual events, so inquire with them about whether there might be something exciting to try at home.

It’s not easy for many of us to accept that restaurant dining isn’t yet back to normal. But until it is, dining outdoors this winter might be a bit too risky — or just a bit too uncomfortable — for some.

The Great American Takeout: How You Can Help Restaurants During COVID-19

#TheGreatAmericanTakeout: How You Can Help Restaurants During COVID-19

Practically every industry across the globe is feeling the effects of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. From entertainment to retail, this pandemic is causing businesses to shut down their operations for the foreseeable future. One industry, in particular, is likely to feel the effects of this global crisis for months — if not years — to come: the restaurant industry.

States and cities across the United States have mandated that restaurants must close their dining rooms in order to stem the spread of the dangerous coronavirus. Restaurants can offer takeout and delivery, but the regular revenue from these services certainly don’t equal what can be made with a fully-open establishment.

#TheGreatAmericanTakeout: How You Can Help Restaurants During COVID-19

That’s why a coalition of restaurants in the U.S. is asking consumers to participate in “The Great American Takeout” on Tuesday, March 24. This grassroots effort, led by the hashtag #TheGreatAmericanTakeout on social media, encourages consumers to order at least one pick-up or delivery meal on Tuesday. With many Americans practicing social distancing and making all of their own meals over the past couple of weeks, the push to order out is likely a welcome one. And with delivery options available, the effort is still accessible to the 10% of the world’s population who live with a disability and may not be able to go to a restaurant to pick up their food.

The Great American Takeout: How You Can Help Restaurants During COVID-19

photo courtesy of @edisonclarabarton

Some of the brands in the coalition promoting The Great American Takeout include California Pizza Kitchen, Panera Bread, El Torito, and The Habit Restaurants Inc. Many other restaurants, varying in size from large chains to local businesses, are joining in the effort as well.

“This is no longer about the survival of individual restaurants. It’s about the future of our industry. And time has run out. Together, we must act to support each other and our communities in unprecedented ways,” said Russ Bendel, CEO of Habit Restaurants, in a statement.

In addition to the obvious challenge of only being able to offer takeout and delivery, this campaign hopes to raise awareness of the other obstacles restaurants face in the time of coronavirus. Without the revenues that dining-in provides, many restaurants have been unable to keep their employees on the payroll. Tax season will also bring challenges to the restaurant industry. Corporate income taxes comprise about 11% of the taxes collected by the federal government, but this number might look very different when the government collects for 2020, as many restaurants will have been fully closed for a good portion of the year. Efforts like #TheGreatAmericanTakeout campaign hope to offset this future burden by generating revenue and awareness now.

photo courtesy of @falasophy

Participating in The Great American Takeout is easy, as well as tasty. To spread awareness of the campaign, the coalition is asking consumers to post on social media in advance of the event and encourage their followers and friends to take part in the campaign’s hashtag. The coalition is also asking consumers to engage their friends, family, and coworkers in the effort by directly asking them to order takeout meals from local restaurants.

The final part of participating in this delectable event is to order takeout or delivery for at least one meal on March 24. This means you could order your favorite coffee made from specialty beans, which account for just 3% of global coffee production, with a bacon, egg, and cheese for breakfast or get that curry you’ve been craving from your favorite Thai restaurant for dinner. Or do both! No matter what you order, the coalition wants participants to share the photos of the meal on social media and tag them with #TheGreatAmericanTakeout.

Of course, ordering takeout and delivery for just one day isn’t going to solve the restaurant industry’s problem. It’s still uncertain how long the COVID-19 pandemic will keep cities and states in lockdowns. To continually support restaurants during these troubled times, the coalition is also urging consumers to keep ordering takeout regularly in the weeks and months ahead. Community-based efforts like this just might be the key to keeping everyone healthy, fed, and funded for as long as the pandemic continues.

Will you help support the restaurant industry but participating in #TheGreatAmericanTakeout?

Olio e Piu’s Fall Menu

Restaurant Review: Fall in Love with Olio e Piu’s Fall Menu

Late last year, we had the pleasure of celebrating the launch of the Olio e Piú cookbook; this time, we celebrated their new Fall menu. Just as before, there were so many delicious dining options to enjoy. The new dinner menu items include Garganelli with braised rabbit; Mozzarella Di Bufala with imported buffalo mozzarella, grilled portobello mushrooms, and marinated roasted peppers; Vitello alla Milanese with fried veal cutlet, arugula, tomato, parmesan, lemon; and Trofie al Pesto with broccoli rabe pesto, lemon zest, and Pecorino Toscano; plus so much more.

Olio e Piu’s Fall Menu

Unfortunately, we couldn’t partake in most of the new fall menu items due to our mushroom allergy but we did get to enjoy quite a few dishes, including a favorite. Our evening began with some wonderful cocktails and hearty appetizers. We wanted to make sure we enjoyed cocktails we’ve never had before; below, we present the Belladonna (New Amsterdam Gin, Chamdor, Cinzano Bianco, and raspberries); Giardino (Tito’s vodka, Italcus, Cinzano Bianco, basil, and strawberries); Vulcano (Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Lunazul tequila, Aperol, aveze, lime cordial, and hibiscus).

Olio e Piu’s Fall Menu

The first item from the new fall menu we enjoyed was a hearty Buffalo ricotta, hot soppressata, and mozzarella Calzone. We hadn’t had a calzone in years and this Olio e Piu Calzone was the perfect reintroduction; piping hot and wonderfully cheesy, you will not regret ordering this at all.

Olio e Piu’s Fall Menu

From piping hot to crispy and heavenly. This light but satisfying salad boasted crisp apples, arugula, seared scallops, and a delicious vinaigrette. It was so good, we wanted seconds. Definitely a must-have.

Olio e Piu Salad

Our next dish was one of our favorites from our last visit to Olio e Piu, the Fritto Misto. A mainstay on the menu year’ round, we can’t help but indulge in the memory of the assortment of squid, shrimp, white fish, zucchini, with the creamiest Bombay aioli.

Fritto Misto

The next dish was Tagliatelle Bolognese, a perfect fall menu option, and one of the signature dishes of Bologna. While many places serve thinner ribbons of Tagliatelle pasta, we loved Olio e Piu’s wider size as you can enjoy more of the meat sauce.

Tagliatelle Bolognese

While we absolutely loved it, we had to save room for the next orgasmic experience, the Bistecca; a perfectly grilled hanger steak, crushed new potatoes, onions, and salsa verde. It normally comes with mushrooms but luckily this was one of the dishes where the mushrooms weren’t already added to the dish.

Grilled hanger steak

Finally on to the non-savory dishes from the fall menu, Dessert. We enjoyed Torta all’ Olio di Oliva, an Olive oil cake, vanilla cream, seasonal berries and a combination of Gelato/Sorbeto.

Olio e piu DessertOlio e piu Dessert

Olio e Piu gives you the option of three scoops/flavors, we decided on the Blood Orange, Lemon, and Vallutata di Gelato Alla Vanila. These refreshing scoops were the end to a blissful evening. We can’t wait to go back.

 

 

‘Check, Please!’ Restaurants Including Fee In Bills To Cover Employee Healthcare

Healthcare has been a part of the national conversation in the United States for some time. Different solutions have been a part of trying to figure things out, but one thing remains certain: not everyone has access to the healthcare they need.

It’s common for people to think of their own healthcare without much considering what others are going through. Many Americans receive health insurance through their employers, but this isn’t the case for all American workers. At the end of the day, what do small business owners do for health insurance if their budget isn’t very big? How can they provide coverage if they aren’t making as much money as bigger businesses? It’s leaving some workers with no insurance. This is especially true of the service industry. Your servers, bussers, bartenders, barbacks, cooks, etc. don’t often receive healthcare benefits through their jobs. Obviously, this doesn’t make them need it any less, yet they remain in a difficult situation when it comes to accessing affordable healthcare. This can be particularly taxing when workers in these industries work peculiar hours or multiple different service jobs.

Group of Happy friends having breakfast in the restaurant

A little perspective: people can bill a 45 to 60 minute acupuncture session to their insurance company in the name of wellness, but large groups of service industry workers lack any insurance to cover even the cost of an annual checkup. Some restaurants are attempting to rectify this issue by passing a percentage of the cost onto the customers. As you can imagine, restaurants that have decided to do this receive all manner of mixed feelings, opinions, and comments. Let’s explore.

To explain how it works in the most basic sense, let’s say you’re out to eat with friends. The four of you have dinner, a couple of bottles of wine, and dessert. When it comes time to pay the bill and leave, your receipt breaks down the cost and you’ll see the typical things, but among them is one you haven’t seen before: healthcare tax, for instance. It’s not much, maybe even a few dollars compared to the rest of your bill. This extra tax is being added to your bill to help the restaurant pay for health insurance for their service staff. Some like the idea, others don’t.

With the average age of retirement at age 63, health insurance becomes an increasingly important consideration for everyone. By 2030, more than 20% of the population will be above age 65, and as age and time increase, so does the need for proper and affordable healthcare options. As such, closer attention is being paid to the healthcare access of the historically underserved restaurant industry. We mentioned the people who were adverse toward spending an extra percentage on an added health insurance tax at a restaurant, but there are many who support and champion the idea.

This isn’t a new thing, with restaurants across the country adding these provisions to their guest checks. Some help cover health insurance costs, others supply service industry workers with higher wages, paid time off, and the like. While some restaurants make this fee optional and give guests the freedom to remove such fees from their bill, others announce them as non-optional. A simple, small cost for the service provided and an investment into the community that serves. The move has been largely accepted by diners who, for the most part, aren’t going to cease frequenting a favorite restaurant for reason of paying a small percentage toward the waitstaff. Still, others aren’t so keen, saying that such fees rob guests while negatively impacting the tips that make a bulk of service worker wages.

Millions of Americans donate to charities every year, which are contributions that receive tax kickbacks. Nobody bats an eye at such things, but the same isn’t true for adding a small percentage to a restaurant guest check to help pay for an establishment’s waitstaff health insurance. There seems to be a disconnect there, thus the issue remains split. One thing, however, remains the same: people aren’t going to stop going out to eat and the service industry isn’t going anywhere. Where this brings us down the road remains to be seen.

As always, tip your servers and bartenders.

Restaurant Review: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

Restaurant Review: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

A little over a year ago we had the pleasure of attending the opening of Chefs Club Counter, the first “fine-fast” concept. Recently, we enjoyed dining at its counterpart, Chefs Club New York, an innovative restaurant concept which features a rotating cast of chefs as part of their Chef-in-Residence series. We love this concept because it gives you the opportunity to enjoy the culinary talents of multiple chefs without having to travel all over the country. Chefs Club New York is currently on its fourth Chef-in-Residence, Abraham Conlon, co-owner of Chicago-based Fat Rice. We had the pleasure of experiencing the menu from this casual eatery (founded in 2012) that focuses on a global food exploration of the modest traditions of Macau and prepared with a respect for ritual, custom, and technique. So join us as we explore the wondering cuisine of Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York.

Fat Rice at Chefs Club New YorkRestaurant Review: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

For those of you not from Chicago, Fat Rice explores and shares interpretations of heritage recipes from Lusophone cultures found along historic spice trade routes of the maritime Portuguese. To enjoy the full menu you’d have to go to Chicago but there are lots of delightful options to indulge in at Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York. to start things off, we found our way to The Ladies Room, an intimate setting where you can indulge in a unique drinking experience. This completely red room features cocktails that highlight both global and Midwestern flavors through house-made infusions, elixirs, and potions. You will find dishes from Macau, Malacca, Azores, Portugal, Goa, and Madeira.

The Ladies Room at Chefs Club New York The Ladies Room at Chefs Club New York The Ladies Room at Chefs Club New York

This gorgeous red room at Chefs Club New York offers a variety of creative cocktails, rare wines, and decadent sipping spirits. We love their concept of cocktail sharing between two and four people. The single-serve cocktails on the menu include Moonshoes (Ford’s Gin, Umeboshi Vinegar, Elderflower Tonic),  Side Hustle (Ming River Baijiu, St. George Terroir Gin, St. George Rye Gin, Punt e Mes), and O’Porto (Quinta do Infantado 10 year Tawny, House made Ginjinha, House made Shiso-Cumin Bitters). The large format (sharing) cocktails include the Thunderdome For Two (Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, Two James Dr. Bird, Allspice Dram, Fernet Branca, Gingerbeer) and the Burning Bird For Four (Santa Teresa Anejo, Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, Plantation Pineapple Rum, Contratto, Amaro Lucano). Since we were not a quartet, we decided on the Thunderdome (pictured below)

It was the perfect way to awaken our taste buds for the meal that would soon follow. Check out our Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York Instastories for more behind the scenes of The Ladies Room and this cocktail. We couldn’t help but think of (and sing) that 1980’s song “Meeting in the Ladies Room” by Klymaxx. You may be wondering why is it called the Ladies room, it turns out at the Fat Rice Chicago location, this not-so-secret room is right by the ladies room. It’s a fact that we women do go the ladies room in packs, so why not create a true escape, with cocktails, when we need one. Because this is a limited run Chef-in-Residence, the entire Fat Rice menu wasn’t available but we promise you will love the options.

APPETIZERS

Bacalhau da Vovó

Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

This divine combination of house-cured salt cod (many know this as salt fish or bacalao) spread, topped with black olives, chili and mint, and served with Papo Seco (Portuguese bread) was something we were anticipating ever since we first laid eyes on the Fat Rice menu. And it did not disappoint! Every bite was a memory of growing up near the beach, carefree days in the Caribbean and home cooked meals. Seasoned to perfection, we hope to find a way to talk Chef Abraham Conlon into offering this as a main dish because we could have happily wolfed down a second or third helping.

Presunto + peaches

Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

Don’t let the simplicity of this dish of Fermin Iberico ham, basil, and burnt vinegar fool you. It is bursting with a wonderful combination of sweet, juicy, and slightly salty flavors that both delight and entice your palate. Trust us when we say this will go down quickly.

MAIN ENTREES

Pork Cheek

Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

If you’re a fan of Vindaloo, the Indian curry dish, you’re going to love this spicy vindalho eurasian achar with charred scallions. We paired it with the delightful coconut rice (see below) and every bite of this staple pork dish was delicious and wonderfully peppery. This is what our palettes were waiting for. If you love your meals with a kick, this is a must. We also loved the resulting flavor from eating it with the raba raba.

Po Kok Gai

Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

If you are ordering this, make sure you order a side or two of the Portuguese bread to go with the coconut rice. Dipping that delicious warm bread into creamy, savory decadence is almost life changing. Those of you who don’t like spicy foods will be happy to hear it isn’t spicy although we’d love if it had a little kick. This dish boasts fall-off-the-bone chicken thighs with chouriço, potatos, tomatoes, a hen egg, coconut curry, sao jorge, and topped with black olives.

SIDES

Coconut Rice

Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

The mild flavor and touch of slight sweetness of this rice, topped with fried shallots and sesame seeds, is a wonderful base to enjoy the multilayered flavors of Fat Rice’s dishes. The best part,it literally goes with everything.

Raba Raba

Food Photography: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

This earthy side dish boasts a collection of stir-fried mixed seasonal greens, balichāo, and trumpet mushroom (although we skipped on the mushrooms). Believe it or not, it’s is incredibly flavorful on its on but doesn’t compete with the flavors of the main dishes. Definitely a must. Vegetarians will especially love it.

DESSERT

Chocolate Mousse

Food Photography: Chocolate Mousse Dessert: Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

There’s nothing about this dessert that we can tell you that this above photo doesn’t showcase. It is as delicious as it is beautiful. If you’re a fan of coffee-based desserts, this is for you. The mousse features single origin são tomé beans, coffee streusel, and madeira gelée. It’s one of the most popular desserts at Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York. You can clearly see why.

Bebinca

Food Photography: Coconut Custard at Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

We couldn’t go to a restaurant with a Portuguese influence without trying the traditional baked coconut custard. Every spoonful divine (and licked clean). This is another dish you may end up getting two of. It is just that creamy and delicious.

DECOR

Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

Located in the iconic Puck Building, Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York is located in Nolita. In three months, another out of this world chef will take over the kitchen for several months to offer everyone a unique culinary experience.

Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York

One of our favorite design details of Chefs Club New York (aside from the breathtaking Ladies Room) is the humongous Pink Himalayan salt boulder encased in glass above the bar and the map showcasing all the territories that has inspired the Fat Rice menu. For more information about Fat Rice at Chefs Club New York, visit www.chefsclub.com and definitely make a reservation to indulge.

 

 

 

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