Last year when I was attending Camp Mighty I won a grant from Go Mighty and Bing for one item on my Life List. They chose my goal of “throwing a dinner party for eight people”. I was excited to win but there was a problem. It was actually a big record scratch moment. You see, the dinner party on my list was more of an aspirational thing. My house isn’t large enough to hold that many people in the same room. My goal was really something more like: “move to a larger house and then hold a big dinner party for all the people I love”. Obviously Go Mighty wasn’t going to be giving me a bigger house, so I had to improvise.
I was making plans in the depths of winter here in the Pacific Northwest where it’s drizzly and cold for weeks on end so an outdoor party wasn’t an option. (Though I wish it had been, I really admire the outdoor dinner parties that Jordan Ferney throws.)
I rented the back room of a restaurant, Via Tribunali, here in Seattle. I was familiar with that room since I’d attended a party there before. I was all nervous about renting it, it seemed like a big deal to me. But the restaurant was responsive and even asked if there was anything they could do to make the occasion more special. Which in fact there was! More on this later.
Next was the guest list. I was sitting down with a friend talking this over when we ran into somebody we both know from different places so I took it as an auspicious sign and grew the guest list out from there. I gathered people I know who know somebody else at the party but for a different reason. (I was trying to overlap some circles and in the end it appeared to work out really well.) I checked some dates and chose the one everybody was free, which was April 1st.
So I had a location, a guest list and a date. But how to make this something more than just meeting at a restaurant? I needed a theme. Since it was going to be April Fool’s Day I took a distant memory of Miracle Fruit parties which were happening here in Seattle about five years ago. Miracle fruit, in case you’re not already acquainted with it, makes your tongue perceive sour flavors as sweet for a short period of time. It’s a kind of trick and it involves food. Perfect for April Fool’s Day. And it turned out that nobody else at the party had tried it before so it was a new experience for all of us. I decided dessert would be a spread of various sour foods to sample. (I ordered the mberry tablets right from Amazon, they came with a list of foods they suggest you try which was really helpful.)
I took some advice that Maggie Mason gave way back and put some time into the invitations. (I was a delighted recipient of the ones shown here and it was very memorable.) Good invitations set a tone, get people excited and make everybody feel especially welcome. At least I hoped.
When I was a kid I remember getting Transformers toys packaged in a box that had a squiggly red square on the side. Inside the box was a piece of transparent red gel paper that you held over the squiggles to reveal a code. It was nearly more exciting than the toy itself. I mean, it revealed a secret code. It was awesome. I decided to use this as part of the invitation.
I’m not the only one that feels this way and I found on the Martha Stewart website a printable squiggly line overlay for you to use, along with instructions, here. I was too late to order the red premade cellophane decoders so I had to create my own. I used a red gel meant for lighting which I found at a party supply store. I found some premade cardstock labels, cut windows out of the center and sandwiched my red decoder gel in the middle. Simple. After that all I had to do was find a font I liked. The only word that needed to be revealed was “sweet”, because I didn’t want to make the invite too mysterious. Everybody liked the invitations, and everybody was thrilled to get a piece of real mail. This made me awfully happy. (A similar idea that I’m also smitten with is shown here, instructions are half way down that page. By the way, the decoder I made works when you view the image on that site. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Secret decoder website messages!)
Meanwhile the restaurant asked if there was anything they could do to make the dinner party extra special, and mentioned creating a custom cocktail in particular. I explained about the miracle berries, made sure it would be ok for me to bring a variety of sour foods that we’d sample during the dessert portion of the evening and asked if they would make an extra sour cocktail for us. And they made us three. One was a take on the Jasmine and involved fresh lemon juice and Aperol, one was lime juice and tequila based, and the last was the restaurant’s own coffee cocktail. I was incredibly pleased that they put so much thought into making our evening special. Thanks!
The evening of the dinner party arrived quickly and I didn’t have time to stress over it nearly as much as I thought I would. The room was dark in a delightful way, but it was horrible for photographs so please forgive my lack of them.
We chatted over dinner and ordered a huge bottle of wine, which was great fun to pass around, I’m afraid I completely failed to capture the scale in the picture above. Jameson picked out the wine, if at all possible I recommend you have a wine writer at your dinner party. He was awesome and gave me this tidbit about the wine:
Nothing says “dinner party” like a large bottle of wine on the table. Why settle for a puny, standard 750ml bottle when you can impress your guests with a big 1.5L bottle? And the 2009 Vietti Perbacco was a pizza-pleasing Italian gem. Hailing from Northern Italy’s Piedmont region, it’s made from the Nebbiolo grape. This is the same grape that makes the area’s most famous wine: Barolo. And the Perbacco is pretty much a Barolo in everything but name. But while Barolos need to spend a bit of time in the cellar before they can strut their stuff, the Perbacco has more of a “drink now” style that’s perfect for a dinner party with friends and lots of pizza.
Bonus: In the local dialect of Piedmont, “Perbacco” roughly translates to “Oh my God!” Luca Currado of Vietti explained that what his mother said the first time she tried this wine. (Thanks to Carrie at Dalla Terra for this bit of information.) We had a similar reaction at our table: “Oh my God, this wine is fantastic with pizza!”
After dinner was cleared we started in on the Miracle Berry experience. I had bought the tablets, which you allow to dissolve in your mouth for a few minutes. Then we sampled lemon and lime slices, vinegar potato chips, tiny lime tarts, cornichons and balsamic vinegar. All while the restaurant brought us three courses of the sour cocktails. Consensus was that lime slices were amazing, the vinegary things were interesting but not pleasant, the drinks were great. But it was the lime slices everybody went back for.
This is what I learned: Friends are amazing and want to celebrate with you, and if you don’t have room to fit them inside your house they won’t mind a bit. An invitation sent through the mail will make everybody feel welcome and excited. I’m not going to hesitate for a second to hold another party, renting space in a restaurant is far less expensive than a new mortgage and is entirely worth it.
It was a really fun evening and it made me eager to be able to hold more gatherings in the future. Thank you Go Mighty and thank you Bing for helping me to find that entertaining a large group outside of one’s home isn’t complicated or scary. I also want to offer a huge thanks to my guests, a girl couldn’t ask for better friends. Here are what they are up to: Kyle is the man behind the nerd rock band Kirby Krackle and the future (soon!) Charging Hippo Brewing. Maggi and Jeff are currently selling their very excellent house. Jameson has a wine blog and podcast called Wine Without Worry. Lucia works hard at our local PBS station (and is our in on when Downton Abbey is coming back) and wants you to know you can now get PBS on your Roku. And Scott is my husband and haver of many projects including the band Kin to Stars, now with drums, who are getting ready for a show at Folk Life this summer.
Disclosure bits: The Life List grant gifted by Bing covered the cost of the meal. I was not paid to put up this post. All opinions are my own. Pinky swear.