I had planned a Japanese meal in my head. I really did. Little braised meatballs made with okara, nimono soy-simmered vegetables, hakkusai with yuzu kosho, rice, miso soup...my favorite matcha panna cotta. Then a little bug (me) a sprained foot (him) got in the way of the shopping. As I began to mull over alternative menus for this upcoming dinner, I stumbled across a random tweet or post somewhere with the word “sobremesa” which I’d totally forgotten.
It’s a simple word that conjures such warmth, evoking more than a single word should. Sobremesa, literally “over the table” it refers to the lingering conversation, laughter that happens with friends after a good meal. The Spanish have elevated it to an art form, of course, and many Latin cultures carry on after dinner in this way. I’ve seen dinner parties that seemed as if the whole evening was only foreplay. Dancing might break out. Joking and naughty tale shared or a remembrance of the last party, absent friends are toasted.
This is the warm feeling people will remember fondly, long after the meal. When we were planning our wedding and I reached the freaking-out point, Caleb stopped me and said, "This is our day. What do we want people to remember?" I said I wanted them to be filled with warm memories of good food and a good time. That clarified things for us and I was able to (mostly) ignore the distractions that came along with that process. Almost ten years later, I think that’s what folks remember from our wedding.
These are the best moments in life when the phones are put away, the laughs continue, the stories unfold.
When you’ve eaten, drunk wine. You’re comfy, maybe a little fuzzy, but enjoying the company - when the right pieces come together -- this is what you get: sobremesa. People don’t want to leave the table.There may be nibbles and crumbs, the last dregs of one bottle, the need to open another. Maybe another round of food, or at least some cookies or bread comes out. Some digestif. On and on it goes.
Begin with the end in mind
This is how our dinner comes together - I begin with the end in mind. I think this is a good starting point for anyone planning a dinner, a party, a brunch, even a wedding. Don’t be distracted by someone’s notion of “the perfect dinner” or the “ultimate appetizer” or “drop dead gorgeous dessert.” Stress is the number one killer of any party plan.
Think of a good time, create an atmosphere that will invite your guests to relax. Some nice music, not jarring, not too loud, a lively but gentle soundtrack for the evening. Some candles for a soft glow. Think about what you can do ahead, so you too, can relax and enjoy your company. Our guests this night: Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man's Feast and her wife Susan Turner, Senior Designer at Random House who just published the Big New Yorker Book of Cats. My former Duckathalon teammates had yet to meet Doc. It was their anniversary, too. Much toasting ensued.
I was trying to make a meal with some gluten-free options, dairy-free, but all delicious.
Here’s what we ended up with:
- Coca de Pimientos Rojos y Tomates - Catalonian Flatbread with roasted peppers and tomato; one with chorizo, caramelised onions and roasted peppers. (not gluten-free, but I needed to test the Baking Steel and wanted a variety of nibbles.)
- Jamon w/figs - Fold jamon with figs, spear (in my case, scrunch jamon, spear with figs macerated in their own syrup)
- Tortilla Española - made ahead, cut into squares (gluten-free)
- Gambas al ajillo - sizzling garlic shrimp
- Paella "Brut"- chorizo, chicken, shrimp, peppers, artichokes ("brut" means rustic, not really one or another regional style)
Bubbles to celebrate good friends, accomplishments, plans, the new year. (La Vida al Camp Cava - Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada grapes I came to know in Valencia. Bright citrus notes, good acid, fine bubbles usually found in more expensive bottles. One of the top 100 wines of 2013 according to the International Wine Report.)
Wine with dinner - Garnacha from old vines: a perfect blend of new world fruit forward and old world structure and minerality. Garnacha (Grenache) . (Breca Garnacha 2011) Drinks well above its price point. Robert Parker said: "Frankly, I was at a loss for words when I tasted it. It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades. The wine world is changing, and Jorge Ordonez and his associates deserve a huge amount of credit for producing something this remarkable at this price point. Consumers should fill their trunks with these beauties."
Matcha & black sesame layered panna cotta with lemon-ginger simple syrup; genmai cha.
Chocolate velvet poundcake.
Fernet Leopold - Amaro from Colorado, minty, herby, lovely.
And laughs. And stories. More laughs. Ah... sobremesa the perfect end to an evening.