In the void

Food can't fix your feelings but it can help

I’m dreaming of summer days when everyone I know is vaccinated. If that turns out to not be the case, at least we’ll be able to spend more time together outside. I promise to host glorious picnics.

Personally, I will not be dining indoors until I get the vaccine and know comfortably that those working in restaurants have, too. The good news is that retaurant workers are eligible in New York and many I know have already received their second dose.

I’ve seen friends here and there, for bundled-up walks or outdoor meals that end in wishes for more and numb extremities. It’s not enough, it hasn’t been enough, but it has to be for a little longer. 

On Friday I went to dinner at Claro with my friend Cait. I didn’t expect that it would be snowing, but it was, and our table was totally exposed to the sky.

We laughed at the sadness of the situation, as droplets drenched the backs of our seats. And we continued to laugh even after we were moved to a more covered area, at how when you text your friends to say you’re not really doing okay they text back in commiseration, unable to really comfort because they’re doing the same; how we’re so overwhelmingly bored and can’t stop eating sugar; at the general listlessness of life lately. It’s not really funny, but the only way to cope is to laugh. Everything is fine because it has to be. 

Our server was great and we stayed chatting with her about mezcal even after our meal was over, sipping on shots and sucking on Tajín-dusted orange wedges until our bodies were verging on frostbite and it was time to say our goodbyes. Within the half-hour I was back on my couch wishing that we could’ve gone someplace else next, that the night wasn’t over, that I wasn’t sad.

I miss my friends. I miss socializing. I miss restaurants (duh) and dinner parties. I miss being outside the house, but inside; at movie theaters and friends’ apartments and dives. I miss irresponsibility and hedonism, unblanketed vulnerability, entering a bar at the beginning of an evening not knowing where you’ll end up at later or who you’ll talk to. I miss being my extroverted self in a big city full of possibilities. I’m sick of being one tiny link in a giant mush of dissatisfaction and muted emotion, trapped by strict boundaries and a lack of physical connection. 

Helena Fitzgerald has been my favorite writer to read over the past several months because she conveys a lot of what I’m trying to say here so brilliantly. (Her newsletter is called Griefbacon and you can subscribe here.)

It’s been hard to write lately for these reasons, but at least there’s food to look forward to, cooking to be done, restaurants to take out from, pop-ups to hit up. That’s how I break up the mundanity; how I’m able to grasp small moments of joy. Hopefully, it can serve as some inspiration for you.

I am delighted to inform you about an outdoor dining experience that’s actually warm and genuinely fun, with food that’s tasty and interactive and service that goes above and beyond. No, it is not a yurt. Haidilao is an international hotpot chain that opened in Flushing right before the pandemic and has since set up an alfresco encampment of sorts where sectioned off four-tops are graced with heaters galore and cauldrons that bubble with umami-rich broths for cooking marbled slivers of beef and squishy bits of bean curd.

We could all use an adventure and for me, this was it. I went for my second visit last night and it was even better than the first. You can make a reservation here.

For obvious reasons I’m a hot toddy person now. I’ve enjoyed them in the backyard of Turtles all the way down and with a cheese plate in a “heated” structure outside Hotel Delmano. I took a steamy ginger and bourbon-spiked apple cider to go from Bearded Lady, walked it up to Prospect Park, and finished it while watching sledders crash and tumble. There was an Irish Coffee from Fort Defiance, which has converted into a lovely little general store while continuing to serve excellent takeaway cocktails from its bar, and where I also picked up a jar of Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen pandan kaya, a beautiful addition to my breakfast pantry. When does it get warm again?

When a great slice shop opens in your neighborhood in the middle of a pandemic, you may as well jump for joy. I didn’t expect much of Impasto, but it over-delivers in a big way, serving Roman al taglio pizza in an impressive array of combinations. The result is as flavorful as focaccia but flattened, crispier than a Sicilian slice, airier than Detroit-style, and wholly satisfying. We split a marinara, I tried the radicchio & taleggio, and Saarim went for salsiccia e fungi. All were great. We’ll be back often.

Sometimes you want simple, perfect pasta but you don’t want to make it yourself and that’s where Lillo Cucina Italiana comes in. For $15 bucks a pop, you can have spaghetti al ragú, paccheri al pesto, linguine con le vongole, gnocchi al pomodoro, cacio e pepe—you name it, Lillo makes it.

Italian is clearly my comfort cuisine as my most recent car meal came courtesy of Ferdinando’s Focacceria. The run-down Cobble Hill spot has been dishing Sicilian fare since 1904. They’re known for panelle (read: thin chickpea fritter) sandwiches served with ricotta and grated cheese and arancini slathered in red sauce, but I vouch for the hot eggplant alla Siciliana on a cold roll and a tub of broccoli rabe.

Sumo is the #1 winter fruit. If subscriptions for them existed, I would have one.

Speaking of citrus, if you like orange juice you have to try Toms. He doles fresh-pressed mandarin and blood orange plus grapefruit, honeydew, pineapple, celery, and shots of ginger-lime. Just DM him to place an order and he’ll whiz over on his bike to deliver skinny jars of juice that burst with more color than anything else you’ll see or drink in New York all winter.

Here is another recommendation, for anyone interested in whole grain baking: support Sarah Owens on Patreon. She publishes recipes like sourdough brown butter einkorn cookies and butternut brioche, complements them with anecdotes, and answers any questions you might have along the way.

Last week I made her “lockdown-fatigue” rye and spelt bread studded with toasted hazelnuts and pepitas, dried cherries, and golden sesame seeds. The recipe’s name is due to how it comes together quickly compared to a traditional sourdough loaf. I’ve been snacking on it since Thursday and it’s fantastic.

The best dish I recently made was porridge with mushroom broth in my Zojirushi. I bought one on Black Friday and it’s served me so well, from sprouty quinoa at lunch to pillowy brown rice for dinner. I used my Toms Juice jars to make soy sauce eggs, stir-fried some mushrooms, then covered it all in furikake. Saarim made a crushed cucumber salad for the side.



On how the bakers and chefs powering LA’s pop-up scene are using (and avoiding) tech in thrifty ways for the Los Angeles Times

On how it’s never been harder to pick a favorite bagel for TASTE

An ode to marinara pies and wearing red for Garmentory

My (biweekly updated) guide to outdoor dining in NYC and splurge-worthy takeout for Resy


A few recommended reads:

Robin Wall Kimmerer for Emergence Magazine: The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance (h/t Stephen at Keap for sharing!)

Jaya Saxena for Eater: The Limits of the Lunchbox Moment

Alicia Kennedy for From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy: On Peanut Butter

Helen Rosner for The New Yorker: The Indoor-Dining Debate Isn’t a Debate At All


I’m @emilyjwils on Twitter & Instagram.