Restaurants are finding innovative ways to translate dishes to the plate for offsite consumption.
As much as the taste and texture is touted, the saying that people eat with their eyes still holds true. This is the case not only in fine dining establishments where the aesthetic leans towards art, but also in more casual restaurants. Even such humble items as a sandwich or a bowl of noodles are projected in a different light when properly plated.
Among other experience-driven attributes, the pandemic has robbed conventional ways of presenting dishes. For many restaurants, this required rethinking the dishes and reinventing the menu options.
“When it comes to the way it’s presented, I always think the food is better on a plate,” says chef and restaurant owner Kevin Ordonez. “Sadly, COVID has taken so much from everyone, and one of the hard-to-swallow pills was learning you can’t put hospitality in a box and send it home.”
Ordonez trained at the Culinary Institute of America before diving into the world of gastronomy. He brought these techniques and standards to a more relaxed setting with his ramen concept, Alkaline, in Norfolk, Va., While leaving behind other attributes of fine dining, such as the harsh environment and high ticket prices. .
But despite a less tedious operation, Ordonez has always focused on the presentation of its signature noodle dishes. That’s not to say that Alkaline wasn’t doing an offsite business, but it was tiny, accounting for around 10% of sales before the pandemic.
“Not only is our food, the ramen, not that good on the take out, but Alkaline has always been designed as a more experienced type of place in person. [As of January], there are nights when take-out can represent 80% of sales, ”says Ordonez.
The challenges were even more pronounced at Baby Izakaya, a new concept Ordonez opened in Virginia Beach just before the start of the pandemic. Inspired by its namesake of traditional Japanese gourmet pubs, Baby Izakaya was designed as an intimate place where guests rub shoulders with strangers and revel in the hustle and bustle. While it is impossible to recreate that atmosphere and experience at home, Ordonez and his team were able to – and did – the menu of small plates, Asian barbecues and noodles for offsite consumption.
“Basically, we opened three or four different versions of Baby Izakaya in about seven months,” he says. It was first a restaurant, then a take-out-only operation, then a commissary to prepare free meals for healthcare workers, and finally an open terrace restaurant. “We’re kidding about it, but in fact, each version of Baby Izakaya had a completely different menu,” Ordonez adds.
Like ramen, sandwiches may intuitively seem better suited for take out and delivery than, say, filet mignon or tuna tartare. But barring limited-service concepts that specialize in take-out, sandwiches can also be a difficult food to remove from the proverbial plate.
“When people look at sandwiches, they think it’s a lunchtime thing. You put meat in it, you put cheese in it, you add some sauce maybe, and some bread, and the dish is ready. They don’t really think of it as a plate of food, ”says Mason Hereford, chef and owner of Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans.
Although Turkey and the Wolf is a casual, limited-service sandwich shop, it has generated the culinary respect usually reserved for fine dining. Bon Appetit even named it America’s Best New Restaurant in 2017. Hereford did not study at a formal cooking school, but instead became a chef through on-the-job training at restaurants. culinary delights like Coquette and the late Sweet Olive.