Restaurant dishes

The keys to taking your best restaurant meals off-site

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Restaurants are finding innovative ways to translate plated meals for offsite consumption.

As much as taste and texture are 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 items as humble as a sandwich or a bowl of noodles are presented 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 has meant redesigning dishes and reinventing menu options.

“As far as how it will be presented, I still think food is best on a plate,” says chef and restaurant owner Kevin Ordonez. “Unfortunately COVID has taken so much away from everyone, and one of the hard pills for us to swallow was learning that 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 into a more relaxed setting with his ramen concept, Alkaline, in Norfolk, Virginia, while leaving behind other trappings of fine dining, like the rigid environment and high prices. tickets.

But despite having a less difficult operation, Ordonez has always focused on showcasing his signature noodle dishes. That’s not to say Alkaline didn’t do offsite business, but it was tiny, accounting for about 10% of pre-pandemic sales.

“Not only is our food – ramen – not so good with take-out, but Alkaline has also always been designed as the type of place that offers the best in-person experience. [As of January]there are nights when takeout can be 80% of sales,” Ordonez says.

The challenges were even more pronounced at Baby Izakaya, a new concept Ordonez opened in Virginia Beach just before the pandemic hit. Inspired by its namesake of traditional Japanese gastropubs, Baby Izakaya was designed as an intimate place where patrons would mingle with strangers and revel in the hustle and bustle. While it’s impossible to recreate that atmosphere and experience at home, Ordonez and his team were able to — and did — refine the menu to small plates, Asian barbecue and noodles for offsite consumption.

“We basically opened three or four different versions of Baby Izakaya in about seven months,” he says. It was first a restaurant, then a take-out operation, then a commissary for the preparation of free meals for healthcare workers, and finally an open terrace restaurant. “We joke about it, but in reality, each version of Baby Izakaya offered a completely different menu,” adds Ordonez.

Like ramen, sandwiches may intuitively seem better suited for takeout and delivery than, say, filet mignon or tuna tartare. But with the exception of limited-service concepts that specialize in take-out orders, sandwiches can also be a proverbial tough food to get off the plate.

“When people look at sandwiches, they think it’s a lunch thing. You put meat in it, you put cheese in it, you add sauce maybe, and bread, and the dish is They don’t really see 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 didn’t go to formal culinary school, but instead became a chef through on-the-job training at fine dining restaurants. like Coquette and the former Sweet Olive.

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