The Secrets of Great Takeout in O.C.

Take a look at the intricacies behind the scenes at our local restaurants.
Photograph courtesy of Jeffrey S. Rovner

For nearly a year now, we’ve been thinking more about takeout food than we used to. Local restaurant owners have been thinking a LOT more about it, and many have taken a deep dive into things such as take-away containers, microwave settings, and menu shifts.

At Fork and Knife in Costa Mesa, the plan was always to provide gourmet to-go meals. But co-owner Jonathan Blackford discovered there were some surprises. “Everyone in the country is using the same to-go containers, and they are so expensive. We’re spending about twice what I budgeted for to-go containers,” he says. And it’s not just the price, but availability issues are also a challenge. “This is going to sound ridiculous, but I bought a new truck just so we could have extra space for the containers. It’s not like I can buy one case and the next week buy another. They might be out, so I have to buy five cases and then store it.”

Newport Beach’s Tavern House partner David Wilhelm can relate to the container conundrum. “We looked at lots of options before distilling down to the basic items we needed that we could use for hot and cold items, both using the same containers,” the longtime Orange County restaurateur says. “You also have to look at containers that can be microwaved without melting. In a perfect world, you want containers that are both oven safe and microwave friendly.”

What about those microwaves? Reheating food at home presents a quandary for customers. Blackford’s advice: “We found out from playing around, there’s this thing called 50 percent. It slowly reheats the food and does a much better job. We tell customers that all the time.”

When it comes to the menu itself, most of your favorites have made alterations to accommodate an at-home reality. But that doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality. Marché Moderne in Newport Coast had never offered takeout before. “It was definitely challenging, but we also did not want to compromise what the Marché Moderne experience was about,” says chef and co-owner Florent Marneau. “We offered items from our regular menu, signature hits, and comforting staples, but we also got more ambitious and even did fun specials like our first-ever burger. And once we saw the response, especially with our luxury holiday takeout packages, that really was encouraging. We think we will continue with takeout even when indoor dining restrictions are lifted.”

Photograph by Jeffrey S. Rovner

The curbside meals from Marché Moderne include a four-course dinner ($50 per person) that changes weekly. You schedule the pickup time, the staff brings the easy, carryall box to your car, and you devour the food in your yard, at the beach, or in your dining room. The upside of takeout? Leftovers are already packaged and ready for another day.

“I did tests on the items I felt should be on our to-go menus to see how they looked and tasted after 30 minutes in a sealed container,” Wilhelm says. “Our fried chicken is the bestseller. To me, the thyme gravy is what brings the whole dish together. So I increased the amount of gravy, served separately so customers could save any that is left over.”

Dessert is a portion of the meal that can carry over to breakfast or a late-night snack. Marché Moderne pastry chef and co-owner Amelia Florent is well known for finishing strong. “As a pastry chef, it’s always been important to me to create a lasting, final impression with a memorable dessert,” she says. “That didn’t change just because it was for takeout. … To be honest, I made the takeout desserts according to the size of the containers we ordered and worked with what we had on hand! Still, it was fun to be able to provide longtime favorites, including our signature macarons, tarts, and even the Paris Brest (a decadent wheel-shaped cream puff filled with mousseline).”

Takeout meals don’t have to be elaborate to be delicious. Lost Pier Café at Aliso Creek Beach isn’t your average snack shack on the sand. Of course you can get a burger, fish tacos, or chips. But why stop there when you can savor offerings such as clam chowder fries, a lobster roll, and the tuna poke bowl? Because it was always based on a to-go model, the packaging is done well (and environmentally friendly), and you can call in your food or order online.

Pick your favorite restaurant in the county, give the team there a call, and be surprised by the creativity and excellence on display in those to-go containers. Or just be relieved to not taste your own creations for at least a night. The chance to lift your spirits and support local restaurants at this time is worth every cent.

What’s your favorite place for takeout? Respond to our poll on Instagram and see responses in our upcoming Best New Restaurants issue in April.

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