Until the pandemic, I never realized how much for granted I’d taken restaurants—or how much I would miss them when they were gone. Not counting Gott’s Roadside (which if you live in Napa Valley is like your 7 pm home-away-from-home), it’s now been 100 days since I’ve been in a proper restaurant for grown-ups.
I miss watching people at the bar press up against one another. I miss sliding into the banquette and unfolding an ironed white napkin. I miss the dance of conversation with the waiter and trying to imagine the flavors of the dishes from how they are described on the menu. I miss the way a good sommelier holds a wine bottle—gently, almost with love.
I finally broke down the other night and went to a local bistro I’ve been to dozens of times before. The vibe in the dining room was an odd mix of solemnity and celebration. The server wore a mask (which kept falling down). The kitchen staff was off its rhythm. It was good to be out; good to support a local place. But nothing felt familiar or comforting or… happy.
In the end, the gravitational pull to eat and drink together is too powerful and too fundamental to ignore. We will, most of us, keep going to restaurants. But will we ever do it again with the same innocence?
Note: Consider investing in what I call “feasting futures” through DiningBond.com, a global initiative to get funds into the hands of still-shuttered restaurants NOW. These work like a savings bond, where you purchase a type of coupon from your chosen restaurant (there are lists on the site) at a discounted rate to be redeemed for face value when you dine in the future.