How kitchen wizardry made takeout palatable in 2020

A bowl of paitan spicy ramen at Tsurumen in Davis Square in Somerville, MA
Photo: Boston Globe (Getty Images)

The takeout experience, as we’ve all learned over the past nine months, is much, much different from eating in a restaurant, even if it’s the exact same food. French fries get soggy. Noodles congeal. Meat gets cold. Salad components bleed into one another. A meal that’s absolutely delicious when eaten hot and fresh in a restaurant becomes a sad and miserable experience in the time it takes to box it up and transport it to your own table.

Wired caught up with a few restaurant owners who were determined not to let the constraints of takeout get the best of them. The staff at The Ramen Shop in Oakland, many of them alums of Chez Panisse, figured out how to keep the spring in their noodles. The owners of Planta, a small Miami-based chain, decided that if it was going to survive, it would have to go national, which meant experimenting with ways to ship dumplings without ruining them. The beverage director of Bathtub Gin, a cocktail bar in New York, learned how to bottle his intricate creations—some of which contain 30 ingredients—without compromising their flavor. And Nick Kokonas, CEO of Tock, a Chicago-based online reservation service, retooled the system so that customers could schedule food pickup times instead of tables.

All these experiments have proven successful; The Ramen Shop, for one, is operating at almost pre-pandemic levels. And all the owners plan to continue these new takeout options even after the pandemic is over. “The [Ramen Shop] owners’ resistance to takeout is almost forgotten. ‘If we want the business to survive, we had to change the business model,’ said [co-owner Sam] White.”

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

A meal that’s absolutely delicious when eaten hot and fresh in a restaurant becomes a sad and miserable experience in the time it takes to box it up and transport it to your own table.

This is my main problem with most takeout. You still pay restaurant prices. you still have to tip. You still have to do the dishes and you are largely getting an inferior product no matter what you do. There are a few exceptions - most pizza is better after sitting a few minutes and stays presentable very well, fried chicken can travel - but most of the things I want to eat in a restaurant do not travel well so I’d rather cook it myself, even if it takes some time and planning. The best example of this is French fries. The fries I make at home are about a thousand times better than fries that were made 20 minutes ago, as proven by Allison Shoemaker almost 2 years ago.