My mistake. I thought the purpose of a fine dining group in our Newcomers’ Club might be to enjoy a meal with and get to know some new people. Who knew it meant “Refined Pissing Contest”?
“Our diners are expecting FINE dining, not casual fare. We aspire to elevate the quality of our food and service to make our dinners special. Some of you may remember the couple who drove to Richmond to purchase fresh lobster for their Maine Lobster Feast. No need to go to that extreme, of course.” (Oh, of course.)
Then a guide to basic table manners is attached as though we’re a bunch of eighth-graders getting ready for cotillion. Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, but I don’t think I can give up eating with my hands, chewing with my mouth open and throwing food onto the rushes for the wolfhounds. Wow, really? (We have met some super-friendly hikers in this club; at club meetings, though, we seemed to be the only couple not bragging about where our “other” house is.)
All we could think of was that hilarious review of Bros/Lecce, the Michelin-starred Italian restaurant where the guests left with lighter pockets and empty stomachs. (Read it here: https://everywhereist.com/2021/12/bros-restaurant-lecce-we-eat-at-the-worst-michelin-starred-restaurant-ever/) Or the Keanu Reeves scene in “Always Be My Maybe,” a 2019 movie with the best pretentious dining EVER!
So is that the purpose of entertaining in your house? Not here.
Here we hope to offer simple but well-prepared food (a perfectly roasted chicken or duck?) so the cooks get to the table without wanting to “fwow up” as Dorothy Parker would say. It’s cool if the house smells appealing and all animal waste is in appropriate containers (we have 2 dogs and 3 cats). If there are fresh flowers somewhere, that’s nice, especially nice if guests can sit somewhere without hairballs.
We will have some drop-dead fabulous vegetables, like fresh Brussels sprouts oven-roasted with olive oil, S&P, a dab of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice or mustard, maybe some crispy bacon bits. The water glasses will stay filled, but we’ll probably also have an inexpensive wine recommended by the downtown wine shop (“better than this little town deserves” says a friend, and it is).
Before dinner we’ll sit on the front porch or on the back patio where we used to hack through the wisteria with machetes and talk and laugh and enjoy a cocktail, maybe, and a new dip definitely. I’m learning the joy of pickles and olives and they fit here too, although neither qualifies as an “amuse bouche” (Look it up. I had to. I was not aware there are even special amuse bouche spoons, for crying out loud.)
When I think of some of my life’s most memorable meals, they usually involved children under the table somewhere (like my cousin Phil, taking his mom’s appetizer meatballs under there so they could be just his). It’s my Great-Aunt Charlotte and Great-Uncle Theodor, walking through the dappled shade in my grandparent’s yard, bringing homemade peach ice cream and angel food cake for my 16th birthday. It’s all my grandmother’s family sitting atop the Culver Lake boathouse, sharing a summer picnic when Uncle RD’s sweet corn came in.
It’s the Friendsgiving where the friend whose wife just decamped falls tipsily into the centerpiece. It’s split pea soup for Christmas dinner when the snow on the Tahoe slopes is too perfect to miss. It’s fresh strawberries and whipped cream and brandy with friends on a tiny California patio shaded by almond blossoms. It’s perfect little Easter decorations hidden on the holiday picnic table. It’s sole pulled from the North Sea by hardy fisher-people. It’s friends inviting over 250 close friends for deep-fried turkeys, grilled pork butts and beer kegs.
We had a family wedding last fall in a Maryland state park where the bridal couple spent $1,500 on a luxurious portapotty that some of us are still talking about. Even us non game-players liked the games they came up with so we’d meet other people there. Everybody got a little gold dinosaur to take home. They wanted us to have a great time, and it showed. The reception dinner was a potluck, and I discovered kimchi mac ‘n’ cheese.
It’s the time your hosts have taken and the grace they provide. Don’t make your guests ask for toilet paper or extra napkins or another fork. Make them comfortable.
I know I’ve been a competitive cook in the past. not always consciously. I’m not going to do that any more. Whatever you want to bring is wonderful — we didn’t have it before you brought it. Have a seat, can I get you a glass of wine and what’s new in your world? Excuse me while I go check the meatloaf.
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