Yesterday, I met my daughter, C. for lunch at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in Framingham. It’s a “mom and pop” restaurant: she runs the service side and he does the cooking. Both their children have worked in the restaurant since the son was in high school. We’ve been going there since he started college and then finished graduate school. Everything is home-cooked in the back kitchen. There used to be an item on the menu called “meat pie” that never had any meat in it. Instead, it had light flaky layers of pastry with a unami tasting center of finely chopped onions sprinkled with sesame seeds. We asked the son about it and were told it was taken off the menu because it took too long to make and people would finish their meals before it was baked, then reject the order and wouldn’t pay for it. Too bad because it was our favorite dim sum item on the menu.
Another of our favored dishes was a buddha’s delight kind of dish made with silk squash, tree fungus, tofu skin and fresh bamboo shoots. But yesterday, one of the big pieces of fresh bamboo shoots tasted slightly sour to me. I set it down on the edge of my plate and decided not to complain about it. I felt sad for a moment that there were so few diners eating in the restaurant and that the cook seemed to have stretched out the use-by freshness of their ingredients.
Later, G. and I went to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant for a quick supper of soup and crispy noodles with fresh vegetables. As soon as we entered the restaurant, I noticed something was different. The tables were bare wood with paper place mats and pink cloth napkins folded into empty water glasses. Usually, there was also a pink tablecloth covering the wooden top as well. I noticed a car with a linen delivery logo on it parked outside. Maybe they had a late arrival of the tablecloths. Or maybe they decided to do away with them to save money. Suddenly, I felt the twinge of sadness I had had during lunch reoccur here in this restaurant without tablecloths.
These eating establishments have both been around a long time. I haven’t been to either one in months as we don’t go out to eat often, much less twice in one day. It felt like the economy has taken its toll on these family-owned restaurants. People are still courteous and glad to see us. They put on a positive countenance. At the same time, there is a quietude in their manner as well. Times are harder than some of us think. Two meals today have convinced me that quality has taken a backseat while trying to cut corners here and there. I wish them well. But I’m not hopeful that things will get much better over time. And that would be a misfortune for us all.