Wednesday, December 9, 2009

scenes from a dinner party

When it comes to dinner parties, this blog has turned me into a documentarian. The dinner party experience is so fleeting, so forgettable. You might serve a pasta dish that is so fabulous you're sure you'd never forget the recipe, and then a few months later you can't seem to remember what the heck it was in it, and whether you sprinkled pecorino or parmesan on top.

I've always been interested in what people serve for dinner and why, but now I want to get that recipe for the lamb and rice stuffing, I want to know your particular technique for making chocolate mousse, and, of course, I want to take photos of every dish as it lands on the table. How else will we remember?

If you wanted, you could go to a restaurant and eat the same dish, and sit at the same table by the window, and have the same experience again and again. As long as the restaurant is there, that experience will be there for you. But when you go to someone's home for dinner, or have people over for dinner, something will be different every time. Maybe the menu will be the same, maybe you'll eat off the same old plates, but something will be different. Those moments of shared food and shared community are so ephemeral.

But sometimes all of that documenting feels unnatural, even wrong. Maybe it's better to sit back and just enjoy an experience rather than over analyze it. Which is what I did a few weeks ago when we were invited to dinner by two longtime friends of Dan's parents. I had heard tales of dinners at Mike and Ella's house for several years, and of how Mike always puts out an absurdly delicious and large spread of food.

So five of us (me, Dan, his parents, and their friend Barbara) squeezed into a cab and headed north to the Bronx for dinner. My camera was in my purse but I felt a little uncomfortable about taking photos, as I always do when I go to someone's house. Sometimes I think it makes people feel a little intimidated, but really, all I want to do is capture and celebrate their work. Spending all day in the kitchen for the pleasure of other people should be commemorated in some way, right?

But this time, I decided to sit back. As the adults smoked and talked politics and kids and the inevitable thing that's on everyone's mind--the economy--I curled up in an Eames lounger and just sat back and listened. I noticed the leafy tangle of potted plants lining the windowsill, I smelled the veal simmering in the kitchen, I sampled the antipasto platter, an artfully composed mix of delicious, salty, oily things from Italian grocery stores on Arthur Avenue.

Yes, I snapped a few photos, I helped Mike stir the saffron risotto (people, he puts bone marrow bits in it...isn't that interesting?), but instead of thinking about the blog, or my Twitter, or whether the photos were in focus, I decided to drink it all in and commit it to memory. It's not every day that someone makes you homemade osso bucco, outside of going to a restaurant. The meat fell right off the bones, into a pool of savory, bright red sauce--gravy, as everyone calls it. It was simply delicious.

Being in the moment makes food taste better. But then again, Mike is a very, very good cook.

Dinner at Mike and Ella's
Antipasto platter
Clams with polenta
Osso bucco
Saffron risotto
Roasted asparagus
Apple pie from Sweet Melissa bakery in Park Slope and chocolate truffles


musingegret said...

Ooooh that menu sounds deee-lite-full! Isn't it wonderful to have someone cook great food for you?! Love your blog and thank you so much for the Pumpkin Parfait post; it's on my xmas menu.

Lisa said...

Musingegret: It really was delightful! And extra delightful to have someone else make it!

I hope you like the parfaits--they will be great for Christmas!

Daniel said...

Saffron risotto with bone marrow bits...fiendish!


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