It’s not as if I’ve spent the entire lockdown cooking. On the contrary, I’ve mostly been eating takeout. But it’s a different kind of takeout than what used to interest me. It’s the family-style takeout that I connected with most during this crisis. Putting food on the table is an act of comfort rather than celebration. I’ve also really enjoyed the new rule that lets restaurants sell cocktails to go, a temporary allowance that I would love to see stick around.
Restaurants are now beginning to reopen. I’m eating out again, cautiously, not yet at the full schedule I previously maintained. The pandemic isn’t over yet. Far from it. But as my dining out resumes, here’s a look back at some of the highlights of eating at home during the quarantine.
Sichuan beef from Yang Ming Garden
One of the first stories I worked on following the lockdown was a roundup of the best Chinese takeout in Orange County. In the beginning of the pandemic, Chinese restaurants were among the hardest hit. This was believed to be because the virus originated in China, and because people are stupid.
Yum woon sen from Street Thai
This is probably the best glass noodle salad in Orange County. It’s the yum woon sen from Street Thai in Huntington Beach. I brought this home and photographed it for my roundup of the best Thai takeout in OC. I just love the colors, flavors and textures of this dish.
My favorite Bloody Mary
I drank lots of these. As soon as we got word that everything was about to shut down, I rushed to Ace Hardware to stock up on Bloody Mary mix. I know, that sounds odd. But after sampling dozens of different Bloody Mary mixes over the years, I have yet to find one better than Tru, which is a small California pickle company. As far as I know, the only place to buy Tru products is at a select few Ace Hardware stores. The key ingredient in this mix is smoked pickles, which probably sounds weird, but trust me on this. You won’t find a better mix than this.
Paul Prudhomme’s meatloaf
There was a week or so at the start of the shutdown when a lot of restaurants hadn’t yet pivoted to takeout. Most were temporarily closed. So I started cooking, and I wrote about this meatloaf recipe that I got from Paul Prudhomme in the early 2000s. If you’ve already got a meatloaf recipe, throw it away and use this one instead. You’ll never go back.
Barbacoa from Taco Maria
Taco Maria is one of the best restaurants in Orange County, and they were one of the first restaurants to completely pivot to takeout with an entirely revamped menu. The ended up closing after a couple of weeks, but after a couple months away, they relaunched their takeout operation. They essentially turned the restaurant into a corner bodega. This was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten at my own kitchen table. I hope they find a way to keep the takeout going after everything returns to normal, whenever that might be.
Vaca tonic from Vaca
The Vaca tonic from Vaca restaurant in Costa Mesa is one of the greatest cocktails ever invented. And yes I know Vaca wasn’t the first place to serve a frozen gin and tonic, but there’s is easily one of the best. I stocked the freezer with several of these. Because it thaws slightly on the short drive home from the restaurant, the drink turns a little bit slushy, not quite as velvety as when it comes straight from their frozen daiquiri machine. And I’ve since been working on my own recipe for a frozen gin and tonic because I know that restaurant won’t be able to sell cocktails to go forever.
Frozen gin and tonic
OK, here’s my first attempt at a frozen gin and tonic. I don’t have a frozen daiquiri machine, but I do have an ice cream maker, which works basically the same way. The texture of this g&t was perfect, but the flavor wasn’t as perfect as the one from Vaca. I’m going to experiment with different gins, various tonics and garnishes (this one used juniper berries, lavender and lime peel). I don’t want to replicate Vaca’s drink exactly, as I fear I could never do it justice. But I’m now confident that I can come up with something at home that is equally delicious and refreshing.
Texas bbq brisket from Heritage Barbecue
This is the best damn brisket in Orange County, maybe even all of California. This is real Texas barbecue, which is incredibly hard to come by around here. There’s probably nothing I crave more often and eat less frequently than Texas barbecue, which is the comfort food of my upbringing in Texas.
Chocolate cake from a box
Like everyone else on quarantine, I felt the urge to bake. I’d been sitting on an amazing chocolate cake recipe forever, so I went to the store to get all the ingredients. But the store was sold out of flour. So I went to another store. And another. And another. All the while, we’re supposed to be staying home. I gave up and bought a devil’s food box mix. Haha. I did make my own espresso mocha glaze, though. Happy birthday to me.
Roasted chicken from Playa Amor
Playa Amor is a great Mexican restaurant in Long Beach, just across the Seal Beach border. They’ve been offering some fun family-style takeout packages, which change every day. I picked up a package with this whole roasted chicken. I also picked up a bottle of tequila and a quart of margarita mix.
Negronis from Hendrix
I picked up some Negronis from Hendrix in Laguna Niguel because, well, cocktails. These didn’t last long. I probably should have bought a dozen.
Basque cheesecake from Uprising OC
Like everyone else on lockdown, I’ve probably been spending a little too much time on Instagram, which is where I discovered this Basque-style burnt cheesecake. I wish I had known about this phenomenon when I traveled the Basque coast years ago.
Sashimi from Hana re
I wrote about the takeout sashimi from Hana re. This is one of the best restaurants in Orange County (#1 on my Top 75 last year). I was supposed to dine at Hana re on March 18, but the shutdown happened on March 17. Sometime in May, Hana re began offering very limited takeout. They’re back open now, but only at half capacity, which means only six customers at a time.
Watermelon margaritas from Sol
Here’s one of my favorite cocktails of the quarantine: watermelon margaritas from Sol in Newport Beach. They’re selling these by the quart. I should have bought a gallon. I played Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar while drinking these, naturally.
Impromptu blueberry pie
I made a pie. I went to the grocery store and saw a huge display of blueberries, so I immediately ran to the baking aisle to see if the store had any flour. There were two small bags left on the shelf, so I grabbed one. It’s been a while since I’ve made pie, so I’m a little rusty. I’d like to try this again but with peaches next time.
I can’t wait for everything to get back to normal, but I suspect normal is still many months away. Maybe longer.