Adjusting to life dining out again after more than a year of picnics

As someone who has dedicated most of my adult life to working in the restaurant industry as a server, craft cocktail bartender, food blogger and culinary school student, it's hard for me to pick one favorite restaurant in San Diego, but Bleu Boheme in Kensington is the closest I can get to naming one. 

While going to culinary school, I usually didn't have the money to go out for a nice meal unless it was during restaurant week, so I spent a lot of my evenings dreaming about the amazing food styles and dishes I was learning about without actually being able to try them myself. Bleu Boheme was one of the first nice restaurants I eventually went to when I could afford to go out to eat, in part because living close by in Normal Heights meant I could walk or bike there instead of taking a taxi when I didn't own a car.

The Entrecôte de Porc (pork chop) from Bleu
Boheme in Kensington is one of my favorite
dishes at what is possibly my favorite restaurant
in all of San Diego. Lauren J. Mapp
At first, I could only afford happy hour specials or a bowl of soupe à l’oignon, but I was always amazed by the quality of the food and beverages, the attention to detail from the staff, and the beautiful way wax dripped down the bottles lit candles were perched on, covering the bartop in thick layers like fragile white stalagmites. 

Sometimes I'd sit at the bar snacking on happy hour dishes while studying for my exams, allowing the peaceful ambiance of the restaurant – and a glass of champagne kissed with lavender syrup – to ease my test anxiety. 

Eventually, I started working more shifts behind the bar and was making enough money where I could pay for school, my living expenses and a nice meal out. Once I could actually afford to get real, plated dishes at Bleu Boheme, and was even more blown away by the quality of the food. 

Later on, as I became more financially stable as a bartender and eventually transitioned into a full-time job as a journalist, dining out became one of my favorite hobbies. I'd go out to eat multiple times a week to try the newest restaurants and return to our favorite haunts, enjoying the company of our family and friends as we tasted the multitude of delicious dishes San Diego has to offer.

Like many aspects of daily living, the pandemic vastly changed the eating habits of my husband and I. At first, we made all of our food at home, and later as we understood the virus more, we felt comfortable picking up to-go food from a handful of restaurants that were taking ample precautions to keep their staff and customers safe.

As happy as I was to do my part in staying socially distant to protect myself, my family and my community, I nostalgically missed the experience of sitting at a table across from friends instead of dining on separate picnic blankets in the park. Picking up food to eat at home is a great option, but it doesn't compare to the level of service and freshness of a meal when you eat at a restaurant.

Over the past year, I've often wondered what dining out would look like when there was finally a vaccine, or if we would ever feel comfortable eating in a restaurant again. And what about all of my friends who work in the restaurant industry? Would their source of income and outlet for their passion ever fully recover?

Weeks after being vaccinated, my husband and I shared a meal on the patio of Bleu Boheme with my sister-in-law Saturday – our first dinner sitting at a table together since March 13, 2020. 

We snacked on a heap of moules et frites adorned with mushrooms, bacon and garlic cream, as well as a plate of fluffy Gruyère-enhanced gnocchi with snap peas and cherry tomatoes, while I sipped on a perfectly mixed dirty martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives. 

The gnocchi, mussels and fries from Bleu Boheme in the
Kensington neighborhood of San Diego. Lauren J. Mapp

For my entree, I chose one of my favorite dishes of any restaurant in San Diego – the Entrecôte de Porc, a curry-marinated, bone-in pork chop cooked to the perfect medium rare temperature and served with Brussels sprouts, cremini mushrooms, puréed potatoes and a port-fig sauce that has the perfect balance of sweet and savory flavor profiles. 

This decadent meal out was the perfect way to celebrate the three of us now being vaccinated, and I – ever so cautiously – look forward to more meals on restaurant patios as we safely crawl out of isolation. 


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