I haven’t sat down in a restaurant or bar since my birthday dinner at Angry Crab Shack on March 10. Who knew my seafood boil and hurricanes would be my last tastes of restaurant life for five months and counting? To me, it still doesn’t feel safe – for me or the employees of restaurants – and I’m listening to my intuition and not feeling bad about that. I’ve still been spending a ton on takeout to support local throughout this mess, but we all know it’s not the same.
In April, I started going through my phone’s camera scroll and posting (on my private Instagram account) photos taken at restaurants over the past several years. “Restaurant Reminiscences,” I called this series of images, which spanned the gamut of restaurant experiences: happy hours with colleagues, brunches with girlfriends, date nights with my beloved, birthday celebrations, going-away parties for friends, interviews with sources (maybe not a universal experience, but certainly a relatable one for other journalists), dessert dates, wine nights, pre-concert dinners, post-drinking sober-ups, vacation splurges, huge group dinners, conference meals, solo diner breakfasts and more. I noticed the repetition of many restaurants, the places at which I love to be a “regular” – or at a least semi-regular.
One place that justified its own post with Instagram’s maximum 10 images was Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour. Arguably the best bar in town (I’d argue yes), B&T has been the backdrop for many special moments for me. I interviewed owner Ross Simon about his pioneering ice program back when I was a fledgling editor and craft cocktail neophyte. He carved a hunk of ice into a glittering, diamond-like orb, and my mind was blown. Chef/co-owner Bob Tam showed me how he made the ramen buns for his late, great ramen burger (my favorite burger of all time, one I still crave and am real-life sad that they don’t offer anymore) in a quick kitchen tour. I’ve attended several media nights there, trying each new “chapter” of the bar’s cocktail anthology with other writers, editors, photographers and dear PR friends, all of us marveling over the insanely detailed, beautifully illustrated menu and the “whimsical as f**k”, as B&T’s catchphrase says, drinks.
But it’s been the setting for even more personal, non-work moments for me. I took my little sister there for her 21st birthday so she could drink her first martini in style. “I don’t want you to have just any martini,” I said. “I want you to have the perfect martini!” I’ve mourned friends’ breakups and celebrated their engagements there. I learned I love non-cloying tiki drinks, especially B&T’s excellent Jungle Bird. I got my lightweight love hammered on one and a half White Russians early in our relationship. Years later, we took our formerly teetotaling ex-Mormon friend there for the crisp, high-quality gin drinks he can’t get enough of now. I’ve said goodbye to old friends and gotten to know new ones, all over the best drinks and most insanely delicious “bar food” I’ve ever had.
So when Simon himself offered to drop off a media sampling of the myriad food and drink takeout options he, Tam and partner Aaron DeFeo devised for B&T and sister bar Little Rituals, I was beside myself. It was immediately apparent that they’d given so much thought and put genuine care into every detail: canned cocktails (charmingly called Portable Potables) with vacuum-sealed garnishes to maintain freshness, dedicated ice for each cocktail, a color-coded sticker system letting you know which sauce goes with which dish, 100 percent recyclable takeout containers and a colorful sticker emblazoned with the B&T logo and a topical message delivered with its trademark cheek: F**k Covid-19.
Predictably, everything was topnotch. The bao royale ($8.50) is a succulent Asian spin on a cheeseburger, with juicy ground chuck, caramelized onions, pickles, and melty Swiss and American cheeses nestled inside a pillowy Chinese bun, studded with sesame seeds and beautifully bronzed. Cheesy egg rolls ($6 for three) are mozzarella sticks’ fun-loving, global cousins. A house-made chile-pickle sauce cuts through the richness of the fried fromage. The spicy tuna fried rice bowl ($15) is both comforting (deeply savory, oil-slicked rice) and invigorating (dynamite sauce, pickled ginger and shichimi).
But I’m a dumpling floozy, so my favorites were the shrimp siu mai ($8 for four) with ginger, garlic, bamboo shoots, abalone sauce, cured egg yolk, sesame oil and shaoxing cooking wine, sided with house-made XO sauce. Also stellar were the pork siu mai ($8 for four), with pork belly, oyster sauce, ginger, garlic, shiitakes, bamboo shoots, sesame oil and shaoxing hanging out in those pliant dumpling wrappers. One of the restaurant experiences I miss most is dim sum, and these perfect little pouches took me there, even as I noshed on them on my couch.
I knew the drinks would be good, but I was truly shocked by how fresh they tasted, even coming from cans. I know Simon took a bit longer than most to launch his to-go cocktail program, and this is why: He wanted to do it right. As I sipped my Mr. Hendricks (Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber, lime and seltzer, with fresh cucumber garnish; $23, serves two), I realized he succeeded. My lovably quirky mother, who is quarantining with us, opened her eyes wide as she slurped the Whiskey Jubilee (Four Roses Bourbon, a three-berry liqueur, three-berry purée, lime and ginger beer; $23, serves two). “This is amazing! And strong!” she exclaimed. “What’s this place called again? Wicked & Fisted?”
The best way to support B&T’s (and Little Rituals’) takeout program is to order from the bar directly and pick it up there. Indeed, this is the best way to support any local establishment right now, so that all the money goes directly to them and not a “middle person,” as it were. If ordering for pickup isn’t feasible, you can order through Postmates, which has the largest delivery area and most menu options. Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats are also available, but menu options and delivery scope are limited.