Before They Closed, Restaurants Opened Doors for Us


So many of the restaurants I’ve loved were precarious to begin with, held together by duct tape and will. I know that it is the height of privilege for me to say, from the safe aerie of my sheltering-at-home, that I miss them, when the people who run them are the ones suffering.

But I do miss them, and the people who make them possible, and my city.

In his recent book, “The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present,” the philosopher Byung-Chul Han writes that rituals “are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable.” Now time sprawls, drags, does what it wants.

For me, the ritual of a meal at a restaurant was an anchor to the world, what Dr. Han calls “community without communication” — a way to belong without saying a word, subsumed in the clamor of other lives.

I didn’t know quite what to do when, a few weeks ago, a friend asked me to a new Filipino place on First Avenue. We were supposed to get takeout, then picnic in the park at a discreet distance, but it was pouring rain, so we perched uneasily at the very edge of the outdoor dining tent, wind whipping the nylon walls. A heater glowed but shed no heat.

We took turns taking off our masks to eat, and slowly I realized how familiar this was — a throwback to wintry nights clutching salty-hot Xinjiang-style skewers in foil under the Brooklyn Bridge, or unwrapping tacos in a gas-station parking lot, salsa leaking through my fingers. It was scrappy, improvisational, making do.

Mighty trucks blustered by, unseen. Cyclists barreled down within inches of the table. This was New York, life shuddering all around us, and the food kept coming.

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