There’s something that happens a couple times a year in New York City (and other cities around the country) called Restaurant Week, in which a number of restaurants offer special prix-fixe three-course lunch and dinner menus. It’s been going on for years, and when I first moved to the city trying to score a reservation at one of the participating restaurants (many of them are high-end) was a big deal.
These days, Restaurant Week in NYC isn’t nearly as exciting (or as good of a deal) as it used to be. And the good old-fashioned art of eating in—the dinner party—is back in style. In fact, my friend Mark has created a series of dinner parties he holds quarterly he calls Eat In Week—a direct response to Restaurant Week’s urging for everyone to go out and eat.
The premise is simple—he hosts about 10 straight days of dinners in his spacious apartment and enlists friends or eager amateur chefs to cook each night for about 8 guests. There’s usually a theme; Moroccan food, French fare, Middle Eastern barbecue, and so on. I’m a big fan of this concept; I love meeting new people and bonding over creative food and many glasses of wine. At the one I attended last week, Mark himself was the cook.
These dinner parties are elaborate, often epic affairs. Dinner doesn’t begin until after 9 p.m. and often runs until way past midnight (yes, even on school nights—the next day is always painful!). Mark put together quite an eclectic feast, including a raw beet salad with frozen oranges and avocado, a mango-avocado-nori course, a lovely savory Japanese custard called chawan mushi with shrimp and shiitake mushrooms, and the final dish of braised short ribs and seared scallops with sticky coconut rice and a black bean puree. Each dish was plated individually and with creativity and care, which made the food and the experience that much more impressive.
The seafood-flavored chawan mushi was covered in plastic wrap and steamed in individual cups to get just the right silky texture, then steamed again with the mushrooms and shrimp on top just enough to lightly cook them.
While I certainly admire Mark’s style of entertaining, I admit I’m a much more rustic hostess. I tend to favor family-style meals, where all the dishes come out at once and everyone just helps themselves. Truthfully, this might just be because I’m lazy—I want to get all the cooking and work out of the way, then sit down and enjoy myself with everyone else and not be constantly running back and forth to the kitchen.
What’s your entertaining style? Do you favor 5-course plated meals, or do you prefer your dinner parties to be more casual?