The Forgotten Art Of Eating Indoors

The Art Institute is open again, and recent discussion of the Ugliest Vase has left me with a craving, so I think if this headache lets up I’m going to head to the museum today. 

When I was a poor theatre student going to museums with cheese sandwiches in my pack, I promised myself someday I’d eat at the Fancy Museum Restaurant. I started being able to afford that as a treat about four or five years ago, so I’ve eaten at the ones in the Gardner Museum and Milwaukee Museum of Art, and I have great plans for many more now that the student loans are paid off. Most of them are slightly overpriced for the food you get, but the service and fanciness usually make up for it. One does like to feel fancy on occasion.  

And this all got me thinking that I’m vaccinated and case count is relatively low in Chicago, so in theory I could go to the Art Institute’s fancy restaurant, Terzo Piano, sit inside, and eat unmasked. I’m not going to -- I’m an Abundance of Caution sort, and until we either achieve controlled community transmission or know that vaccinated people can’t be carriers, I’m not loving the idea -- but I could

But I’ve eaten at Terzo Piano and the food isn’t what I’d go out of my way for in general terms, which in turn got me thinking about what I’d want my first indoor meal post-pandemic to be. Should I go somewhere familiar and nostalgic even if I’ve been eating take-away from there the whole time, like one of the local burger joints? Should I go somewhere the food just isn’t the same if it’s not fresh and hot, like for fried chicken? Should I invite my pod to go to the local pizza place we all like? Or maybe wait and go with visiting friends for hot pot, when they can visit again? What about somewhere I’ve always wanted to go but never gone because previously I couldn’t justify the expense? Would I enjoy a deeply overpriced meal at the fancy eat-at-your-seat local cinema while watching a movie I’ve been looking forward to? 

I’m still trying to decide, but it’s fun to consider. What do you guys think -- where have you been dreaming about going to eat indoors, and what would be your primary consideration in choosing?

Replies About Dining Indoors

Man I really wanted to reply to EVERYONE but that got super long so it seems like there are a couple of strong contenders I thought I’d break down. First, there’s the experiential meal, which I hadn’t considered -- teppanyaki, korean bbq, brazilian steakhouse, all-you-can-eat, revolving sushi, dim sum. Food you either can’t get without going in and sitting down, or food where the experience of being present at the meal is really important. I think this may end up being how I go because I was very excited at the prospect of Korean BBQ. Which I didn’t even eat that often before the pandemic, but which was always a real treat when I did. 

Then there’s the “leisure dining” faction -- people who are just so tired of not being able to sit somewhere with a cup of coffee, or linger after a meal to people-watch. I sorta thought of this one but only because there’s one McDonalds I like to go to for people-watching, and I figure the people-watching itself won’t be as good for a while yet anyway. Also a lot of people wanted to go somewhere they love and just be able to sit and soak up the atmosphere instead of running in for a sack of food and a quick wave at the line chef. I think this is a bit less vital for me because, living in a city with a lot of parks, I still can “linger” over my food -- I just have to do it outside. Which, admittedly, I didn’t get to do much of over the winter, but I think also it’s not really a priority for me. 

I think a sibling to the leisure dining idea is people who just...really want to have a potluck or feed a gaming group or have friends over again. I’ve been super lucky to have had friends I could visit and eat with, especially friends who show their love by cooking, so fortunately I can cross that one off the post-pandemic bucket list. (What should we call that? A mask-it list?)

I think by far the majority of respondents want to go the “just isn’t as good after a car ride” route -- sizzling hot fajitas, warm fresh tortilla chips, bibimbab with rice that gets crispy at the edges, fish and chips, breakfast foods. I agree -- nothing worse than lukewarm eggs. But I think also there will be time for that, for me, especially since because I have food literally across the street, it hasn’t been as much of a problem. If I want hot fries I can get hot fries, as long as I pay the French Fry Tax and give the cryptids one to play with. 

Lastly, there are the people who just aren’t comfortable with the idea yet and won’t be for a while -- and I want to say I think you guys are valid and I hope nobody tries to shame or pressure you. We are all at different levels of vulnerability, let alone comfort, and navigating this entirely new experience without really any guidelines. Stay safe and stay home and I hope when you finally do begin to feel okay with it, you’ll find something delicious to eat :) 

And I did have a FEW replies....

For me it's going to be korean bbq

Have you got a go-to place? There’s one in the Chinatown plaza, on the second floor over the dessert place at the northern entrance, that does the best cheesy corn side dish, omg. But as Korean BBQ is a strong contender for me, I’m open to suggestions. 

I actually ate indoors in March. My uncle took me out for my birthday. It was a fantastic Italian place in Lakeview. My go-to for a special occasion is Italian.

Oooh what was the place? Always looking for good Italian. 

I'm aiming for something messy like dipped Italian beef or a meatball sub in a setting where I don't have to worry about dripping it on myself or my car upholstery. (I've mostly been eating takeout in my car on my lunch breaks.)

You know I hadn’t considered this but it’s true I would like to eat something where I don’t have to be the one washing the plate afterward. And also like...I don’t really eat at a dining table at home, I either eat in the kitchen or on the sofa, and it might be nice to be made to sit properly at table and have manners like I’m not some kind of monster. 

Our first meal out was option 2 (not as good after the drive home). I'd suggest against somewhere completely new because the anxiety and downright WEIRDNESS of eating indoors will likely overshadow the experience.

This is actually some of the best advice I think that came out of the post. Going somewhere familiar so you’re not anxious about the pandemic  AND the experience is a really good idea, thank you!