I am not going to lie. I am engaging in what many would consider risky behavior during a pandemic. I am traveling – both in the air and over the ground. I am eating in restaurants both inside and outside. I am attending and teaching classes, getting acupuncture, physical therapy and going to various other appointments for body work and self care. I am getting my nails done. I am leaving my house for non-essential reasons. I am stating this out loud, as I don’t want anyone reading this blog, friend or stranger, to believe that I do not recognize the inherent risk implicit in my choices. So all that being said – let’s look at life in a major city during a pandemic, and those in the dining industry that are keeping on keeping on, despite the risk, and finding a way in this socially distanced world.
A week or so ago, very good friends of mine visited from Minnesota. It is snowing in Minnesota now and had been for at least a week, and Seattle was a orange and yellow wonderland of slightly tilted sunshine and 48-56 degree weather.
Duluth Minnesota, on a good day does not allow a lot of dining options, so we had made many a plan and reservations as far in advance as possible to eat at some top Seattle seafood restaurants – The Walrus and Carpenter, and Shiro’s Sushi while they were here.
In both cases reservations needed to be made exactly 30 days out, as walk-ins into already super small establishments, has always been hard to do. Now, with COVID, to get in, when the restaurant has less than half of the prior available tables, reservations are essential. The restaurants process also depends on it, so things can be arranged and cleaned, and thought about in ways that we never used to think about in the dining world in the before times.
The COVID world of restaurants has something going for it that didn’t exist in the before times. A uniform commitment to non-transmission of airborne illness, like our lives depend on it. Fine dining restaurants were always very good at presenting a comfortable atmosphere including staff that were not visibly ill. But now both sides of the table, and the back of the house are committed to this. If I had a cold, I would not be dining in a restaurant, and if an employee is sick, they are not cooking my food, opening my oyster, or serving my table.
We are all wearing masks thus significantly reducing the spray of lung spittle in the air. So yes, there is a killer virus floating around, but we are dining, mitigating the spread of COVID and also drastically decreasing the transmission of the common cold and flu in our interactions with each other where strict social distancing and airborne virus mitigation procedures are being followed. At Walrus and Carpenter it is asked you wear your mask while staff is at the table, this is only fair as it is the staff who are being exposed to our breath, and we the diner are being trusted that we are only out and about if we are not sick, if we are tested, and confident in our negative COVID status.
So after all of that, let’s do a little bit of food porn. The lighting at The Walrus and the Carpenter was not that good, and the frenzy of eating small plates along with 3 men who have hefty appetites limited the time for the perfect photo. But I made due and we ate a parade of things that come with warning labels from the health department on a good day.
Oysters, crudo and tartar all graced the table. I think the only thing cooked were our brussel sprouts and possibly the sardines. It was a good meal, shockingly without an epic price tag split between four people.
Five days later, after a week of traveling through the islands of Western Washington, seeing a lot of ferry time, state parks and coastline (see future posts after this one), we were back in Seattle.
Where we attempted and failed to get into an oyster happy hour and found ourselves visiting a very calm and empty Taylor Shellfish for a raw bar appetizer extravaganza, followed by a multi-course dinner at Shiro’s Sushi.
Again the parade of raw things from oysters, sashimi, poke, ceviche, and piece after piece of delicious sushi – I lost count at some point, but it was a joyful gluttony of the treasures of the sea, locally sourced and farmed and prepared foods.
Shiro’s is a machine of phenomenal service and epic standards. It is sad you cannot sit at the sushi bar right now and watch the preparation, but the chefs are, masked and socially distanced, with more food safety precautions than ever are definitely still the epitome of expertise, precision, and sushi flavor. There is no cream cheese or mayo to be found here. Just fish at its finest.
Our parade of dishes at Shiro’s Sushi ended with a green tea tiramisu.
I wish I could have done the evening on slow motion, as fine dining is a rare occasion now, even more rare than the before times because it is a risk to be indoors around other unmasked persons, even if there are large spaces between us. What I saw and see in Seattle, however, is a city doing it to the best of its ability, thoughtfulness and uniform application of risk mitigation measures for the sake of everyone by everyone – customer and employee, for the sake of being able to dine out, for the jobs it preserves, the restaurant industry, the economy, but also for the sake of all our health. It is possible to find a place in the middle for both to work, and as long as we keep caring about each other, we will continue to find an even better way to reach that place.