Restaurants find ways to serve

| April 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

MANY RESTAURANTS on Larchmont Boulevard are offering food-to-go, such as these four in a row: Muraya, Le Petit Greek, Village Pizzeria (sometimes!) and Sweetfin.

When coronavirus restrictions were implemented, Carol Holtiwanger moved her sidewalk popup Calabama into her fourth floor East LA apartment for maximum social distancing. Prepaid breakfast sammies are lowered in a rope-tied red bucket to customers below.

Few restaurants can go that far, but those that decided to stay open in some form are struggling to adapt in these novel times. All are practicing safe sanitary precautions. All have increased food safety by sanitizing more often, wearing gloves and masks, and trying to enforce distancing in the kitchen. Most offer no-contact delivery or pickup.

Larchmont’s own Le Petit Greek takes the new protocols very seriously. Dimitris Houndalas, proprietor and general manager, emphasizes that they offer curbside pickup — just call when you arrive for your order, and they’ll bring it outside to you. Alternatively, they have a pickup table outside, and customers are welcome to get their orders there, as long as crowds don’t form. His wife, Nora, adds, “We have physically taught our employees how to wash hands … in multiple languages and shown them videos as well as posted information.”

But cleanliness alone doesn’t address all of a restaurant’s concerns. It’s nearly impossible to make the numbers work without dine-in patrons, especially for higher-end establishments with specialized ingredients and techniques. That’s why Kali and Providence decided to close for the duration. And that’s why Republique tried a modified roast chicken family menu, but the financials weren’t in their favor. However, the Republique bakery is busy fulfilling orders through Postmates and Tock.

Dessert purveyors, in fact, are quite popular in times of hardship such as these. Erin McKenna’s Bakery, whose nearly guilt-free vegan and kosher cupcakes and other baked goods are sought-after treats, is open on Larchmont. Order for delivery or in person — only two customers are let in at a time.

Blizzard in Boston

In the blizzard of 1978, a record-breaking 27.1 inches of snow carpeted Boston within a few hours, effectively shutting down the city. Liquor stores, however, re-opened immediately, serving comfort in a bottle to the thirsty masses: a need many of us can relate to today while stuck inside during COVID-19 isolation.

California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) seems to agree that access to booze is one pleasure the quarantined should not have to do without. The ABC temporarily changed the rules so restaurants can sell alcohol to take out, including packaged cocktails, with a food order. This not only makes customers happy, these high-markup items help defray the food and personnel costs incurred by restaurants trying to survive while serving their communities.

Many restaurants stick with bottles of wine and beer, such as Osteria Mamma, Canter’s Delicatessen, the Vietnamese Nonglá Café and Sugarfish (the latter two also offer sake to go).

Larchmont Village Wine, Spirits & Cheese goes one step further: along with its famous sandwiches and bottles of wine to go, a full selection of liquor is available. Other restaurants have gotten fancy with packaged cocktails.

Cassell’s Hamburgers, whose new sign states, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service,” mixes up batches of Moscow Mules, Negronis and Old Fashioneds for roughly $5 a glass, alongside its normal diner menu and a “Cook at Home” burger kit for six. Another fine takeout cocktail option is Met Him at a Bar. There is an extensive cocktail selection, and bottles of wine are offered at a 50% discount. In addition to their regular menu items, they’ve added an aptly named Pasta Quarantine, a dinner of pasta, Caesar salad, and garlic bread for $15. They also have opened a small market with such things as eggs, pasta, and toilet paper.

Restaurants as markets

That signifies one of the most exciting innovations in the COVID-influenced restaurant world: specialized markets that are a safer option than a run to a large grocery store.

Burger Lounge is one such eatery that added groceries to its offerings. Osteria La Buca features a takeout / pickup menu of salads, pastas, and meats, pizza and $16 bottled cocktails for two, plus a family meal that includes bread, salad, pasta or chicken parmesan and tiramisu. Their special COVID-edition additions are the Buca Marketplace, where one can order fresh uncooked pastas and sauces, and Buca Grocers, which is stocked with a good variety of pantry items, fresh meats, whole Jidori chickens, Alaskan halibut, toilet paper, flour, and bottles of wine, beer and kombucha.

Although they haven’t opened a market per se, Auburn offers weekly $55 produce boxes from Girl & Dug Farms. They’ve also adapted their prix fixe menu for our takeaway times. Chef Eric Bost creates a revolving family-style dinner for $39 per person. As of this writing, the meal includes prawn boil with potatoes, corn and sausage, grits and berry cobbler.

Hungry Angelenos can turn to Marino Ristorante’s new pantry for pasta, aged parmesan, prosciutto, veggies, half-off bottles of wine and vacuum-packed meatballs, $30 per dozen. Chef Sal Marino said the market is a “service to the community.”  Concern for their staff is their main focus. “All our kitchen staff members are still here. In addition to the usual food delivery services, Marino’s hostesses and valets are doing no-contact deliveries.”  As their website states, “Let’s keep our staff employed.”

Regarding employees, Le Petit Greek’s Houndalas recounts that, like quite a few other restaurant owners, “We have been shopping for and offering meals to all of our employees, including those laid off, to help them and their families.”

A tough time

It’s clear that in spite of their own difficulties, restaurant owners and chefs in our neighborhood actively show their love and concern for their staff and the community. Equally obvious is how much the community cares in return.

Filippo Cortivo, owner of Osteria Mamma, feels the local support. He observes, “It’s been touching. The community around here is unique. They come in. They order. People buy gift certificates. They don’t want us to go away.”

And yet, it is undeniably tough for everyone. Houndalas, whose restaurant has been on the Boulevard for 32 years, summarizes the plight most are experiencing: “While we remain open for takeout, we are not profitable. We continue to remain open for the community and our remaining employees. Truth is we do not know if we will be here in a few months.”

Support our local restaurants by ordering takeout or pickup. Le Petit Greek 323-397-0925 Republique Café & Bakery 310-362-6115 Erin McKenna’s Bakery 855-462-2292 Osteria Mamma 323-284-7060 Canter’s Delicatessen 323-651-2030 Nongla Café 323-938-1188 Sugarfish 323-488-3636 Larchmont Village Wine, Spirits & Cheese 323-856-8699. Cassell’s Hamburgers 213-387-5502 Met Him At A Bar 323-852-3321 Burger Lounge 323-462-2310 Osteria La Buca 323-462-1900 Auburn 323-486-6703 Marino Ristorante 323-466-8812


On the Menu: Missing camaraderie of in-restaurant dining, takeout has a charm of its own

Dateline: Day 31 of the COVID-19 hostage crisis.

If I have to continue the twice-daily sanitizing of every knob on my kitchen cabinets for much longer I may just leave the damn things open all the time for touch-free access.

I miss hugging my friends and family. I miss crowds. I miss the five-second rule. But one of the things I miss the most is eating in an actual restaurant rather than a virtual one.

I love restaurants. Not just the luxury of having someone else cook and clean up for me, but the atmosphere, the friendly wait staff, the sounds of other diners laughing, talking, snapping Instagrams of their food.

But here we are. Stuck at home. Restaurants are barely hanging on, barely able to feed and comfort the bored and hungry. I order from them and try to create, at home, the restaurant atmosphere of eating out with friends.


What fills the comfort void more than Italian food? I turned to local favorite Osteria Mamma and made a virtual dinner date with friends in Beverly Hills.

Our food was a little cool by the time Postmates delivered it, but zapping it in the microwave did not diminish the flavor. Squid ink bigoli pasta with cherry tomatoes, shrimp and bottarga was as delicious as I remembered from past in-restaurant dining experiences. The pasta was perfectly al dente; the black ink and bottarga balanced the bright shrimp and tomatoes with some sea funk. A lovely dish. Tagliatelle alla bolognese served as a counterpoint with its deeply comforting beef, veal, and pork red sauce. Since it’s my favorite fish, I order branzino whenever it appears on a menu, so of course I had theirs. Butterflied and grilled, the sweet, flaky fish was served with nicely seasoned broccoli and carrots. Gnocchi with porcini cream sauce was the least interesting, but was spiced up by proximity to the bolognese. The four dishes easily served three and were a perfect meal to munch while Zooming with friends.


For our next virtual dinner party, we chose friends sheltering in place with their two grown daughters in Thousand Oaks. One of the last meals we had shared together was a feast at Le Petit Greek, so in their honor, we decided on the Larchmont stalwart’s homey cuisine. Is anything more comforting than lemon potatoes? We ordered extra, and we served them with every meal for the rest of the week, including our Passover Seder (virtual, of course!). Potatoes alone would have been enough for me, but what’s a Greek meal without fluffy pita and hummus? We usually get a skewered something, but for COVID-comfort we opted for moussaka, a crunchy feta salad and a lamb gyro, which to me is the essence of Middle Eastern food. Our meal arrived hot enough to eat without rewarming, was more than enough for at least three, if not four, and was delicious.

Sharing dinner virtually with friends is a wonderful way to keep in touch and feel vaguely “normal” during this distinctly not normal time, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend we’re not spending every waking moment together … and let someone else cook a meal for the family.

U. S. of A.

Since we are hunkering down with our grown son and his girlfriend, that’s four mouths to consider, and it just so happens that Du-par’s is offering Blue Plate Specials for four. Diner cuisine is hardly elegant, but it can’t be beat for pure comfort, plus each of their five Blue Plate specials costs $40 total (for four people). Offerings include meatloaf and chicken pot pie, all with sides and a choice of one whole fruit pie or a stack of buttermilk pancakes.

We opted for the hot turkey dinner and apple pie. The servings came in separate containers and contained sliced white meat turkey and gravy over a very simple, fluffy white bread stuffing, with mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Rolls, cranberry sauce and the pie were packaged separately. We also ordered macaroni and cheese, because, well, we’re in the middle of a crisis, so why not?

This generously portioned turkey dinner, which actually provided seven meals, cannot compete with your succulent roast turkey Thanksgiving feast, but it gave me a Proustian moment. Nearly every Saturday when I was a child my mother and I went to the shopping center to pick up some fabric, maybe a new blouse or shoes, and we’d always end the morning with lunch at Woolworth’s Five and Dime. My mom would order scallops and I would get the open-faced hot turkey sandwich plate, which tasted almost exactly like Du-par’s Blue Plate Special. My déjà vu moment wasn’t as meaningful as the madeleine-induced reverie in “Remembrance of Things Past,” but for a brief moment I wasn’t staring at the same walls I’d been bound by for six weeks. Instead, I was 10 years old. In my bobby socks and Keds. Having a grownup meal-on-the-town with my mom.

Osteria Mamma, 323-284-7060

Le Petit Greek, 323-397-0925

Du-par’s Restaurant & Bakery, 323-933-8446

Or order via a food delivery service, such as Postmates.

By Helene Seifer

Contact Helene at


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