Sobremesa "over the table" stories and laughs: the very best part of the meal

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 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)

paella brut

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.

choc velvet pound cake

Fernet Leopold - Amaro from Colorado, minty, herby, lovely.

And laughs. And stories. More laughs. Ah... sobremesa the perfect end to an evening.

Ingredient Sleuth - Two New Finds You Must Try: Yuzu Kosho and Bonny Doon's Verjus de Cigare

  Today seemed as good a day as any to start something new. Welcome Ingredient Sleuth! This will be a sometimes series in which I'll share new things I've discovered or old things I believe not enough people know about. Today I'm introducing two things that are very old indeed, one is a product originating in Japan, the other harks back to Medieval European wine production. Both are pretty new to me, so I thought maybe to you as well.

Never mind the un-done items already awaiting my attention. Some things are too good not to share. Now is always better than later in my book. In fact, I’m so bad at keeping secrets I'm routinely excluded from news of surprise parties. Let's just say patience is a virtue I'm still working on.

Today I wanted to give you a quick heads up on two ingredients that are fairly new to me, and too good to keep to myself. Both pair wonderfully with Oysters and in fact, paired together really well with a recent Oyster Century Club© tasting hosted at Janis Tester (author of the BiteMeNewEngland blog and hostess extraordinaire). The occasion that brought us together was a fantastic pig roast and the promise of meeting fine folks IRL (in real life) whom we only know in the online world. What a terrific day! Pics and post soon enough but first I must tell you about two things I think you should seek out for your pantry now.


Yuzu Kosho

Not the name of a new Red Sox pitcher from Japan - and much more reliable in the "things that delight us" department than those may  be - Yuzu Kosho is going to be the next chipotle in adobo type of ingredient. I doubt it will overtake Sriracha because that is just too convenient and familiar. However, I'm going to make the argument that Yuzu Kosho is poised to break out. At least, I'm doing my level best to spread the word.

What is it already - I can hear you asking, my impatient kindred spirits. Yuzu Kosho is a citrus-chile paste from Japan. Yuzu as you may know already is a bumpy citrus that looks like a gnarly lemon or lime. The zest has a fragrant and very tart scent and flavor, while the "meat" of the fruit is fairly scarce. You can buy dried yuzu zest (never tried) and it's often a component of Shichimi (so actually, I guess I have). I recommend the fresh fruit zested, or this new favorite condiment: Yuzu Kosho. This perky little paste is my new go-to thing when I want to add a green note and some gently assertive heat. This is not like habanero peppers that whack you over the head and announce their presence. This is a sexy heat that sidles up to you, then before you know it, you're smitten.

If you've enjoyed shishito peppers, or been lucky enough to enjoy freshly grated horseradish, you'll love this.

Yuzu Kosho

Of late I have been adding this paste to fish marinades, to mignonette for oysters, and to fried chicken. It is one of these ingredients that makes people go "Oh my God, what IS that?" as they reach for more. Trust me on this one, you'll love it. So far I can only find it at Dean & Deluca where Doc got me this surprise. One of the ingredients in this paste is Kombu which is packed with umami. This amps up the seduction by awakening those "give me more" sensors in your brain. (She's taking some liberties with science here, yes.)

Elizabeth Andoh's Kansha offers a recipe for "Quick Fix Pickles: Crisp and Fiery Chinese Cabbage and Cucumbers" which calls for Yuzu Kosho. It is delicious. It's like a coleslaw without mayo. I think this condiment would also be terrific added to mayo in any old sandwich.

Post Update: 2/25/13 - just discovered this post on yuzu kosho on Harris Salat's very excellent Japanese Food Report. (note to self, read JFR more often!) Also, I used a bit of yuzu kosho with grated daikon and drizzle of soy for a condiment for broiled fish. Also wonderful.


Verjus (from the French vert jus literally green juice) is the pressed juice from wine grapes that are thinned out of vineyards before harvest. I like the notion that we might be enjoying something that would otherwise be wasted. I also like things that are tart, acidic and sharp. Verjus I've tried before have been too sweet or too tart without the fullness of vinegar. This one that David (he of EatDrinkRI fame and our very first Oyster Century Club© member!) brought to the oyster shucking pre-party was perfect. We froze it a little while and then found it mixed beautifully with the cucumber-shallot-yuzu kosho mignonette I brought.

Because the grape juice is not fermented it is non-alcoholic and also will not interfere with wines you're drinking the way a vinegar might. I think fully frozen into a granita, this would be a wonderful addition to oysters and kept in the fridge, it could be used to heighten the piquancy of a sauce here or there, added to a salad with some extra good EVOO if you wanted a less acidic and light dressing, or it might be terrific in Sangria. Here's an excellent introduction to Verjus if you want to read more.

Bonny Doon Verjus


When the Whole is Greater

So here we are at Janis & Rich's amazing pig roast, with a delivery of 8 dozen oysters from (sustainable seafood direct to your door, one flat rate, can't beat it!) and another 2-3 from Matt's (Wicked Random guy, that Matt) local purveyor (Duxbury and Watch Hill RI) several knives, various tools and techniques, ready to rip.

I cut up a lemon which we scarcely touched, David brought the Verjus which we poured into a dish and hid in the freezer) and I brought my favorite mignonette, Janis provided horseradish, too.

Cucumber-shallot-yuzu-kosho mignonette Cucumber, shallot, rice wine, yuzu kosho mignonette.

We pretty much tore through about half the oysters when we decided to check on the freezing of the Verjus. It was just forming crystals, and they were great on the oysters. But the pairing of the mignonette and the verjus together was magical. I could have eaten it with a spoon. On the oysters, though, the gentle heat, coupled with the sweet almost-granita really made everything sing.

One Oyster Century Club© member wanted his oysters unadorned. Go little buddy, go!

Oyster Century Club Youngest Member


And who can argue with that?