Yes, January is the Best Month to Dine Out
Plus kicking off our comfort theme and sharing the GOAT fondue recipe
January is a slow month for restaurants, especially here in New York City, where a dip in tourism and temperature can make the place feel like a ghost town. The same holds true for restaurants around the rest of the country. According to a pre-covid study, “between 2017 and 2020, January’s unadjusted sales volume was 8.7 percent below the previous December’s level.” No wonder Restaurant Week, that prix-fixe panacea, kicks off mid month.
Of course there are numerous factors at play. As per Think with Google, 72 percent of the top 25 highest sales days for restaurants in 2018 took place in November and December, making January the doldrums by comparison. Add New Year’s resolutions (dietary, pecuniary, or otherwise), the popularity of dry January (a scourge purported to have begun in 2008 thanks to a Long Island resident named Frank Posillico), inclement weather, and the general Holiday hangover, and it’s no surprise that we tend to stay in for the next 30 days.
To which we say, to hell with all that. Sure, it’s cuffing season, it’s binge watch Netflix while doomscrolling season…but consider this your rally cry: January is the most depressing month of the year, why add to your seasonal affective disorder by depriving yourself of good food and good company, especially when dining out is an effective why to combat such bad vibes? Is there anything more in the moment than the sensory experience of dinner at a restaurant? Not only that, but because it’s slow, January is also the best month to score a hot table. A cursory scroll through Resy yields two-tops (at the time of this writing) this week and next at spots like Altro Paradiso, Cervo’s, Dame, Minetta Tavern, The Nines, and more.
January is also a great time to tuck into the type of carb-heavy fare that soothes the soul without stoking too much beach body anxiety (Memorial Day being four months away, if that’s something you care about). Which leads to this month’s theme: Comfort. Culinary comfort can come in many forms, from the food on your plate to the nostalgia underpinning a meal to the company ringing the table, and it’s a topic we’ll be tackling from a variety of angles here and across our social channels.
About That Fondue…
We can all rattle off comfort food classics. Chili. Burgers. Meatloaf. As for my own cold weather comfort food, that’s simple: fondue. Now I hear you on its corny image — one that evokes the type of ‘70s suburban house parties from a more basic era. My love affair with the stuff (it’s Swiss queso!) is a bit different. There was a Swiss restaurant in our town growing up, and my parents and I dined there several times a month. Mom and Dad liked sitting in the convivial bar rather than the dining room, and we had our own little nook, which they called their stámmtisch — German for “regular table.” In winter, Dad and I would always split a cheese fondue, laced—as the place’s chef-owner Franz knew Dad liked it—with Kirsch, an unsweetened cherry-brandy that packs a punch. Dad’s favorite part of the fondue was the bottom, where the cheese was burnt blue-black and congealed to the bowl. He would use the tongs to scrape it clean, and savor each bite. Then Franz would come out in his houndstooth pants with a round of drinks for my parents and sit with us while he smoked his cigarette.
Franz is gone now. So too is my father. And because of this I suppose I pine for that fondue, as if it could take me back to a more comfortable time and place. Over the years I’ve had some good ones, particularly while living in Switzerland, but nothing quite captured the magic of what was for me the original.
Until, that is, I was home last week visiting my mother for Christmas. I found an old folded piece of paper that had belonged to my father, and when I opened it I saw Franz’s fondue recipe, scrawled in pencil in a mix of German and misspelled English, which I’m happy to share here. Yes, you should still make January a month of restaurant exploration, but if you’re caught inside and looking for something to cook, you could do far worse than this:
Cheese Fondue (Per Franz)
Heat up 2 cups of white wine
2-3 pressed cloves of garlic
Nutmeg powder (very little)
Cheese (gruyere) in little pieces or grated
* add Emmentaler + Appenzeller cheese
1 teaspoon of cornstarch with water (continue adding slowly)
What Franz left out: Kirsch (Food & Wine says 2 tablespoons, I’m sure Franz would’ve recommended more); cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, reduce to low and add nutmeg, stir for an additional 3 minutes.
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