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Food & Drink: The Enduring Joy of a Well-Kept Restaurant Journal

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  The Enduring Joy of a Well-Kept Restaurant Journal © Illustration by Hazel Zavala

My restaurant list-making habit became a near-obsession in 2019, while I was studying abroad in Europe. I needed to remember the pillowy cinnamon roll I ate at Zeit Für Brot in Berlin, that crisp jianbing I devoured at Ravioleria Sarpi in Milan’s Chinatown, and the perfect brioche aux pralines I demolished at François Pralus in Lyon. When I returned to the States, I realized that this list-keeping was the perfect way to log all of my eating adventures.

Now, I make one of these lists in my Notes app each year, documenting hundreds of meals. Each entry consists of the singular best item I had at a meal, what restaurant I ate it at, and the date. I include the latter for each meal in hopes of being able to track down the same dish twice, but more importantly, because each date links the meal to a specific moment in my life.

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When people ask me where I like to eat and what they should order, I can send them this intel. During my second week working at Bon Appétit, we were asked to contribute to a staff roundup of the best things we’d eaten that year. Luckily, I knew just where to turn: to my Notes app, of course. Showing my intricately organized lists to brand new coworkers was the kind of party trick I thought would make them immediately see me as bizarre and obsessive. Instead, they were intrigued.

This incessant list-making is mostly for me. Looking back at past years’ lists has a transportive power. I see that I had a phase during my senior year of college when I made weekly pilgrimages to K’Far in Philadelphia, trying a new pastry each visit, and another in the summer of 2019 when I only ate pasta. As I look back on these lists, I remember a particularly delicious Wednesday experiencing my very first Mama’s TOO! Bufalina Fried Chicken sandwich with a coworker after we waited in the snow for an hour. There’s the lamb shoulder I feasted on at Zahav, and the cheese naan at Dishoom that I savored with a friend while visiting London, a snapshot of my life just one day before COVID-19 officially became a pandemic.

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Sure, a photo is a great reference, but there’s something even more intimate and personal about these lists. They’re my bulleted love letters to the restaurants I can’t live without. They’re a way of expressing my appreciation for the industry I love most, without worrying about whether my weirdly-lit dinner pic will perform well on social media. I love a good food photo as much as anyone, but my lists of meals enhance and add context to those snapshots. You might be surprised by how much pleasure you find in curating lists of your own, building an archive of cherished moments.

When it comes time to try new restaurants, there’s another list in my Notes app for that (because, of course there is). At this point, I know my methods might seem a little over the top. Sure, my approach is a little intensive. But I’ll do whatever it takes to remember the green curry snails I ate at Uncle Boons on July 7, 2018 at 5 p.m.

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