I can already taste the Thanksgiving-leftovers sandwich, but in lieu of stuffing, I’ll be biting into a layer of abalone rice. There won’t be turkey, either.
This year has looked anything but traditional, so it’s only fitting that my feast won’t look anything like it normally does. Most notably absent will be my family, and my partner’s family, because—and your mileage may vary—sitting down together for one or two holidays could never outweigh the possibility of never seeing them again. Instead, he and I (and, of course, the cat) will seal ourselves in for the long Thanksgiving weekend (like every other day for much of this year), and maybe even for Christmas, but it’s not all bad: We’re using this cursed Thanksgiving to build a dream feast that supports local L.A. restaurants in the process.
According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly 100,000 restaurants—roughly one in six—closed in America within the first six months of the pandemic, be it permanent or long-term. That same study found that 40 percent of service-industry operators don’t believe their restaurant will make it another six months without further relief packages from the government. In an industry already run on razor-thin margins, the shuttering of onsite dining coupled with heavy pivots to delivery and takeout sound more like a death knell than an order-up bell. Sales are down, rent is due and restaurants need aid, even at the micro-consumer level.
So it’s nowhere near sufficient in the grander scheme of things, but I’ll be racking up the mileage I’d normally spend jetting down Los Angeles freeways from one relative’s house to another by still jetting down Los Angeles freeways, but this time, every mile will bring me closer to roasted carrots topped with apricots and Sicilian almonds from Rossoblu or Afro-Latin tamales from Tamales Elena y Antojitos. And you can forget the turkey. Seeing as it’s just the two of us (and the cat) this year, we’re opting for a smaller bird and we’re leaving it in the more-than-capable hands of RiceBox, which is roasting soy-soaked chicken stuffed with abalone-and-mushroom rice, wrapping the whole thing in banana leaves and shielding it from the oven’s direct heat with a sheath of house-made almond-milk bao.
We’ll start with clam chowder studded with bivalves and bacon and chives from Found Oyster, interspersing bites of that Cantonese roast chicken with Filipino salpicao mushrooms from Spoon & Pork. I’m envisioning the scene from Hook come to life, but with less blue goop and more pork tamales: a spread that stretches as far as the eye can see, with us stuffing our faces, carrot-top pesto clinging to my lips, fistfuls of honey pie crumbling between our fingers. I’m so far off the deep end that I’ve been swept out to sea on a tide of Bavel’s farm cheese spread, gripping wedges of its black sesame buckwheat loaf and hoping the lifeguards never find me. Let me drown in borage za’atar! What a way to go.
Maybe it’s simple hedonism disguised as altruism, but why can’t it be both?
Some of the most beloved restaurants in the world were forced to permanently close this year, and I’ll be damned if we shouldn’t go down throwing what little we have at the survivors to help in any way we can. For it, we’ll all be rewarded deliciously—not just with our lemons-to-lemonade holidays in 2020, but when we can finally sit down at a dark dive-bar booth with friends, at a stool in a mid-century modern diner for eggs over easy and eavesdropping with the locals, to a family dinner where we scoop the chef’s daily special off communal plates and order another round. If we—and especially our governments—don’t help now, you will, almost guaranteed, lose the chance to do these things again at some of your favorite restaurants and bars.
I’ve ordered what quickly became very obviously more than two people need, even on a holiday devoted to overeating, but I like to think of my wallet’s Thanksgiving transgressions as an investment in those far-off future meals, and more immediately to holiday rations; if we’re hunkering down the whole weekend—and let’s face it, much longer given the spike in L.A.’s case rates—it’s hard to imagine better leftovers filling the fridge. Besides: The fact that it’s helping local restaurants only makes that candied quince atop Sibling Rival’s honey custard tart taste all the sweeter.