Around the time our nation was being given an unofficial Second Chance with a new honest President, Nancy Silverton told me that one of her customers came up to her at Osteria Mozza and said, “You know what I love about coming to Mozza?” What? Presumably in addition to the food, he said: “I walk in and I think: ‘Recession? What recession?'”
Lately I’ve noticed that whenever I want to go out to eat, I have this attitude that I can go wherever I want and just get in. “There’s a recession,” I either say or I think. Meaning: They’ll be grateful to have us. The place will be empty. I took that cocky stance last night, as my friend and I tried to decide where to eat at 7:30 pm and acted as if the Los Angeles restaurant world were our oyster, our steak frittes, and our creme brulee all in one. I first called Mozza where, no surprise, they were deep with a wait for the mozzarella bar. (But that’s Mozza, I thought.) Then Angelini couldn’t seat us—not even at the wine counter or the secret pizza bar in the back that’s my favorite place to sit—until 9:45. We finally decided to try our luck at Loteria, the taco and tequila joint on Hollywood Blvd. It’s so enormous! I thought. Plus it’s raining. They’ll be happy we came. In fact, we were able to sit right down at the long food counter to the open kitchen that is like the Mexican version of Mozza’s pizza counter. But that was luck. The place was packed. As in “What recession?” packed.
It made me think of something a friend, a seasoned restaurateur in New York, told me a few months back—before Steve Hanson closed two places in a week and the New York Times published a story on that town’s cool restaurants no longer playing hard to get, before even people we knew started losing their jobs and their life savings. “This thing [read: recession] is going to be the grand equalizer,” he said as we walked from the near-empty upscale Japanese place in Tribeca where we’d eaten to our next destination, passing one empty restaurant after another. (Meanwhile he had left his, a place that serves rustic, no-frills Italian food, two hours before completely packed.) “All the bullshit places are going to go down but the good places will be even busier.”
I thought about that last night as my friend and I dug into our dinner: chipotle shrimp, savory shredded beef, and a thin sculpture of crispy fried cheese, all of which we folded into warm pliable tortillas that were made by a skilled tortillera right before our eyes. I looked around the room and for a moment I forgot about the two magazines where I was a contributing editor that folded; forgot about people I know moving back home with their parents and retired wives going back to work, and I thought to myself: Nobody, not even Rush Limbaugh, can call a taco “bullshit.”