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A Restaurant Made Entirely From Geodesic Domes Is a Perfect Metaphor for Dining in 2020

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On Monday, October 5, Detroit welcomed a new Jefferson Chalmers dining addition to its ranks with the official opening of East Eats — a restaurant entirely composed of geodesic domes. Billing itself as a “COVID-safe” dining option, East Eats is seeking to provide a safer alternative for eating out and socializing during the pandemic. “East Eats is born out of COVID, and the necessity to maintain and preserve human connection in a time where we have to be socially distant,” says founding partner Lloyd Talley.

Talley, a research fellow at the University of Michigan, alongside fellow Howard University grad and Detroit Black Restaurant Week co-founder Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, developed the restaurant with the goal of harnessing the logistical challenges of dining out in the pandemic to create a different style of communal eating. The partners are joined by chef Nygel Fyvie, a restaurant alum who most recently worked as a manager at the Kitchen by Cooking With Que.

(Left) Chef Nigel Fyvie, (back) Lloyd Talley, (foreground) Kwaku Osei-Bonsu sit in front of a geodesic dome on a sunny day.
(Left) Chef Nigel Fyvie, (back) Lloyd Talley, (foreground) Kwaku Osei-Bonsu are the partners behind East Eats, an experimental outdoor restaurant on a side lot in Detroit.
East Eats [Courtesy photo]

East Eats is located on a side lot that Osei-Bonsu acquired from through a city program last year for just $100. On top of that open space, the partners have erected 10 geodesic domes with seats for up to eight people per group. (There are two additional domes for service staff.) Talley suggested the domes as a solution to East Eats’ shelter needs after experiencing eating at a rooftop restaurant composed of geodesic domes in New York and the partners leased a food truck to provide Fyvie with a kitchen space at a fraction of the cost of building out a traditional restaurant. “We really wanted the model for this business to be very lean, and for us to be very adaptable,” Talley says. “If you have a lease on a building right now, well, you’re basically screwed.”

In addition to rethinking the idea of what a restaurant can be in terms of space, the partners also considered how they could approach building a menu differently. East Eats’ Asian-influenced menu is composed of wraps, tacos, bao, and okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes). Osei-Bonsu says before the pandemic he gravitated to restaurants that served family style meals and small plates, but the idea of sharing food has taken on a different quality during the pandemic. “Street food allows us to separate things,” he says. “[Customers] can still dine as a family without having to worry if am I touching his food or her food.”

The partners also wanted to approach pricing differently. “A big thing for us was making sure that we were vegan-forward,” Osei-Bonsu says. “You’ll find that most of the items on our menu are vegan first, and then you have the opportunity to add protein at no extra cost.” In an effort to keep costs low, the restaurant is also BYOB. Each reservation is two hours with a preference two groups of four or more. The partners tell Eater that there are a limited number of two-person seatings each evening.

Two bao on a white plate.
Bao at East Eats.
East Eats [Courtesy photo]

Plates of tacos and bao sit on a table covered in a purple cloth.
East Eats menu has Asian influences with options like wraps and bao filled with kimchi or toasted ramen. Most of the dishes are vegan and can be modified to include protein.
East Eats [Courtesy photo]

Many restaurants in this moment restaurants have tried to focus on outdoor seating as a way to ensure better air circulation — a big factor in reducing the risk of COVID-19 infections. However, as the weather changes, eating on a patio begins to have its limits. As a result, some restaurants have begun installing geodesic dome tents for sheltered seating. But these structures have their challenges, too, as they limit the crucially important airflow that makes outdoor eating less risky. Chicago has even begun requiring restaurants to attach warning signs to those domes, outlining the risks of indoor dining.

East Eats’ owners are aware of the obstacles for geodesic domes, but believe that they’re providing one of the least risky versions of that option at their restaurant. Covered in coated canvas material, the domes are currently only half-enclosed, allowing for some cover from the elements as well as air circulation inside the tents. They’re also built on platforms, that allow for fresh air to come up through the base of the dome. In the winter, East Eats will likely close off the domes to ensure customers are warm enough, but will have the ability to open windows on fabric and continue to circulate air from outside the tent.

A geodesic dome is open on one side revealing furniture at East Eats.
East Eats’ domes are convertible, allowing for air flow when its warmer and also when it’s cold.
East Eats [Courtesy photo]

East Eats is taking other precautions as well, including controlling the number of guests visiting the side lot at any given time. All customers must make reservations for their table online through Tock for a five-item pre fixe menu. Reservations are $45 per-person, plus add ons. Once they are seated by the host, patrons are provided with a link that guides them to a digital menu for contactless ordering either individually or as a party. “Once [the order is] sent to the kitchen, our food runner or server will bring it out to you and ask you if you want to order anything beyond that,” Talley explains. “That’s really the extent of the contact beyond our service coming to make sure you’re okay and see if you need more water.”

As another COVID-19 precaution, customers will have the option to leave gratuity with their reservation to avoid their employees having to come in contact with cash. Patrons may also leave cash for their servers at the end of their meal if they prefer.

Ultimately, East Eats’ partners see their project as more than a restaurant but as an experiment in placemaking. “We see ourselves a dining experience, as well as an alternative land use experiment,” Talley says. In the future, the group envisions hosting voter registration drives on the site, outdoor film screenings, and community meetings. “We’re always looking for new partners and new ways to use the space,” he says.

East Eats is located at 1018 Navahoe St. in Detroit; open from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday (last seating at midnight); and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday (last seating at 8 p.m.); advanced reservations are required; BYOB; website.

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Food

Danny Bowien Posts Confessional Following Mission Chinese Workplace Investigation

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Following a lengthy Grub Street investigation of the workplace culture at trend-setting restaurant Mission Chinese, chef Danny Bowien opened up publicly about the longstanding allegations of mismanagement that occurred at the restaurant while the critically acclaimed spot was operating at its height in the NYC dining scene.

On Instagram, Bowien reacted to the report with a lengthy confessional, in which he apologized while discussing rampant abuse in the industry. “I am sorry. I am truly fucking sorry,” Bowien wrote. “Not only for all that I did wrong but like in fucking general that this had to be the industry we all found ourselves in.”

In his post, Bowien alleged that he experienced sexual abuse and trauma as a child, followed by physical assault as he started his restaurant career. Bowien acknowledges that, while leading Mission Chinese, he was “cruel” and regularly used homophobic slurs, but writes that, at the time, the misconduct felt mild compared to what he had experienced in kitchens. He goes on to question the workplace ethics of restaurants as a whole, ultimately seeming to take a resigned view of the entire industry and the abuse that seems endemic to it.

Grub Street’s investigation included interviews with over two dozen former Mission Chinese staffers, who detailed allegations of extensive abuse by multiple management figures in the workplace, including many instances of physical and verbal assault. One former line cook likened the work environment to living in “a nightmare you couldn’t wake up from.”

Some of the abuse allegations, including an instance where the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Quynh Le, allegedly seared a staffer’s arm with a spoon dipped in hot oil, first came to light in a class-action lawsuit that a group of employees filed against Bowien and Mission Chinese in 2018. Le, who was not named in the suit, posted his own apologetic statement on Instagram last month in which he wrote that his actions at Mission Chinese “perpetuated and fostered an unsafe workplace.” He did not address specific instances of abuse.

Bowien, his ex-wife Youngmi Mayer, and former executive chef Angela Dimayuga have been trading blows in various public forums over the past few months regarding Mission Chinese’s workplace culture and who was responsible for allowing misconduct to allegedly flourish behind-the-scenes.

During Mission Chinese’s heyday in NYC, Bowien and Dimayuga both publicly propped up the restaurant as a bastion of healthy employee relations at the same time that the misconduct was allegedly taking place.

“It feels really distinctly like a race to cover one’s ass in terms of their involvement in this,” a former server told Grub Street of the recent finger-pointing playing out over social media.

Bowien addressed issues of alleged racism at the restaurant this past summer following the Black Lives Matter protests, and further alluded to the toxic culture at the restaurant in a podcast with Mayer in July, but this is the first time that Bowien has addressed issues at the restaurant in detail.

Bowien shut down Mission Chinese’s lauded Lower East Side location in September. Mission in Bushwick is still operational, as well as the original San Francisco location, but Bowien acknowledged in his recent Instagram post that the Brooklyn outpost was in financial trouble. “It sucks I made money off this industry,” Bowien wrote. “I guess it will be cleansing to hear I walk away with nothing but debt. Barely holding on to one place that will most likely close.”

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Your Home Is the Sports Bar Now—Make Wings!

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You can drag me to the sports bar with the stickiest floor, the rudest fans, and the worst beer selection and I will be happy. Because I LOVE WINGS. My favorite preflight meal is Buffalo Wild Wings. So with the return of Big 10 football this weekend, my home will transform into the sports bar of 2020, better than any other sports bar because it’s just me and my pod and my cat. We have a clean bathroom. And a great beer selection.

Back to the wings. Bon Appétit has many recipes for them. Some are more complicated than others. I’ve been practicing, and I took notes, so that we can figure out which wings YOU should make. Go Blue!

You want to be true to the experience, you purist you

To re-create bar-style Buffalo wings, what you really need to do is deep-fry them in the grease of 1,000 wings past. I don’t do that at home because of the amount of oil required and my general laziness. But if you MUST, this recipe is the truest expression of those wings you so desire. Super-crispy skin, drenched in sauce, an absolutely delicious mess.

You want Buffalo wings but don’t want to fry them

Why go to the trouble of deep-frying when the wings get sogged in sauce anyway? When you bake them you can achieve a pretty damn crispy skin and no one will be the wiser once they’re smothered in ranch that’s all over your face and couch cushions. Steam cleaner’s coming next week, don’t worry about it. 

NOTE ON THIS RECIPE: Some commenters do NOT like the brown sugar in the Buffalo sauce, which is “untraditional” and “blasphemous” depending on your wing religion. I made them with the sugar and have to agree: not necessary. I want straight buttery Frank’s Red Hot heat.

You want to grill 

The weather’s nice and you have one of those outdoor setups with a TV on the patio! This is a nice recipe for the occasion. The soy-honey marinade is easy and lip-smacking, I’ve made these about once a summer since the recipe came out. Plus shishitos! If you want.

You want crispy wings but don’t like them “wet”

Sorry, not sure how else to say it. But after some time in the boiler, these peppercorn wings get a texture  I’d compare to a salt-and-pepper-flavored kettle chip. The recipe’s also super flexible—play with whatever spices you have around the house, as long as you go HARD on the pepper for those crunchy bits.

You want a sweet, glaze-y wing

Within this recipe there’s a traditional Buffalo sauce and the option of a simple glaze with ginger, honey, garlic, and soy sauce. I hate to mention B Dub’s “Asian Zing” sauce because that name, oof, but these really did remind me of them. (I add sambal.)

You want crispy wings AND leftover chicken fat

Andy Baraghani’s wings have a couple of cool cooking-technique things going on. The wings get covered in spices and a ginger-garlic oil and sit for 30 min-to a full day to season them deeply. THEN you bake them starting from a cold oven, which makes the chicken fat slowly drip off into the pan (which you can save and use later) and leaves you with super-crispy skin. It’s a bit of a process but with restaurant-worthy results. Very Andy.

You want “mind-altering” wings

This is a recipe from a Texas restaurant, Hot Joy, know for its crab-fat caramel wings. I haven’t made these because there’s frying involved, but there’s also a fish sauce and crab paste caramel for glazing the wings. So I’m thinking maybe I’ll make THAT and then bake the wings to be more user-friendly. I’ll report back soon. 

See you on the sidelines!

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The Ideal Thanksgiving Wine Is Versatile, Slightly Chilled, and Orange

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As the sommelier at Pinch Chinese in New York City, I get a lot of questions from friends and family about which wines to pair with Chinese food. But this time of year I field one specific crisis call: What should I drink on Thanksgiving?! Even among somms, Thanksgiving dinner is a notoriously difficult meal to pair because of all the sides. How do you find a wine that plays well with a green bean casserole, three types of stuffing (it’s a competition in my family), and creamy mashed potatoes?

In the past I’ve leaned on tried-and-trues like Prosecco and Lambrusco, but this year I’m tying the meal together with a few bottles of orange. Also known as skin-contact wines, they’re made by fermenting white grapes with the skins on, like you’d normally do for a red wine. I recommend starting with a light-maceration option that’s spent only a few days fermenting with the skins—like steeping a bag of tea for an extra few minutes to extract more flavor and aroma. The result tastes like white wine with the volume turned up, but not as intense and barnyardy as some other orange varietals. And because of their floral aromatics, heightened acidity, and fruity flavor, these wines work well with just about anything on your table.

So this Thanksgiving I’m pouring slightly chilled glasses of Domaine Glinavos’s Paleokerisio, with half the bubbles but twice the flavor of Prosecco; Oenops’s Rawditis, full of grilled lemon and apricot notes (perfect for Chardonnay-loving relatives); and Manolis Garalis’s Terra Ambera, which tastes like orange blossom and jasmine, a reminder of The Summer That Could Have Been. It’s a new tradition, like muting my uncle on Zoom, wishing I was in Santorini, and telling myself that there’s always next year.

Buy them: 

Domaine Glinavos’s Paleokerisio, $15 at Leisir Wine 
Oenops’s Rawditis, $30 at Astor Wines & Spirits
Manolis Garalis’s Terra Ambera, $22 at Astor Wines & Spirits

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