Last Friday I had lunch plans with my father. We’d talked about it a week before, and I’d settled on Bayona because it’s been a while since we’d been there and he could walk there from his office downtown. They were booked. “There’s a conference in town,” the young woman said by way of explanation.
I’d have loved to dine there, but I am happy when I hear that a restaurant is booked, and I’d waited until Thursday to make the reservation, so it was totally my fault. I tried a few other places, mainly new restaurants in hotels downtown, and each was also booked.
It all worked out for the best because we had lunch at Lilette (which happened to have two seats open but was otherwise booked, too) and it was good as it always is.
My father did what I typically do: He ordered three appetizers – the grilled beets with goat cheese, the escargot with Calvados cream and the sizzling shrimp. He wasn’t crazy about the snails, but I thought they were excellent, and it’s not like you see the things prepared with anything other than garlic, butter and some sort of herb for the most part. Which is fine, but I liked the Calvados and the mushrooms in the dish.
I started with a crudo special; enjoyed some of his snails and some of his beets; and ended with the duck confit Landaise salad, which involves escarole, potato cubes fried in duck fat and little disks of fried bone marrow in a cornmeal crust. I’m not a salad-for-lunch fellow for the most part, but I’d have it again. The escarole has that bitterness that somehow makes you forget that the duck was cooked in its own fat, and that fried bone marrow is, well, fried bone marrow.
They also have a drink on the menu that is a negroni made with mezcal instead of gin, and I thought it was pretty good.
So, that’s the good news: that some restaurants at which I tried to make a reservation for lunch this past Friday downtown and in the French Quarter were booked solid. And they were booked solid because there were people in town for a conference, which is a good sign for us. It was also good to see Lilette as busy as it was because I believe 90% of the diners were local. But that’s an incredibly small sample of the restaurants in New Orleans.
There’s other news. Ian McNulty wrote recently about the inequities in the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and it’s sobering. Unfortunately, it’s not something I haven’t heard for months and months.
There was a lot of money thrown around over the past 18 months, and it did a lot of good. It didn’t reach everyone, though, and it’s hard to figure out why. There’s still money available, too, but where is it going?
There’s a bill to pump more money into the fund, and Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy is one of the co-sponsors. Senator John Kennedy voted for the bill that funded the program initially but hasn’t agreed to the second. Look, I understand that the government has limited resources. The government should have limited resources. We’re all supposed to pull our own weight and pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, but in this instance, when the damage to the hospitality industry was caused, in part, by the government’s COVID-related mandates, when we start trying to fix things, let’s start by helping small businesses that form the backbone of our economy.
I am also not suggesting that any government mandate was unnecessary or that things should have been done differently. I have no doubt that people will assess the way our society reacted to the pandemic in great detail in the future, and I suspect that the weight of opinion will come down on “they should have done more” rather than “they overreacted.”
But the point of all of the limitations under which we’ve lived for the past 18 months was to pull together and do what we could to stem the spread of a deadly virus. We have been wearing masks not to protect ourselves but to protect other people from us, should we unknowingly have been infected. The ban on large gatherings was not because the government hates fun but because large gatherings are a significant cause of the spread of the virus.
I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve all put up with a lot, but the hospitality industry has been hit even harder. Maybe there are just too many restaurants, bars, hotels and music venues. Maybe we shouldn’t be focused on the pleasures of the table or having a drink with friends or seeing live music now. If that’s your take, I feel sorry for you.
I’d like to resume having those sorts of experiences, and I’m afraid that when I’m allowed to, a lot of the places I’d like to visit won’t be there anymore. I hope that won’t be the case and that as a society we decide that our hospitality industry is important enough to support.