Dinner Party

New York Press' Gut Instinct: (Dinner) Party of Five

Good advice, all around.

Every so often, I’ll glimpse an episode of Mad Men and think, “Heavens, I would’ve made a handsome, happy 1960s housewife!” As a kept lady, I’d spend my days wandering around in bright, loose-fitting frocks, puffing unfiltered cigarettes (“Extra tar for an extra-healthy baby!”) and popping Valium as if it were movie-theater popcorn. “Be a dear and make mommy a drink—and don’t skimp on the gin,” I’d tell my children while, with a functional drunk’s practiced precision, I’d plan the day’s highlight: the dinner party.

Happy days! While preparing a meal for four, six or eight may cause some cooks to erupt in cold sweats, I relish the task—even more than hypothetically fantasizing about cross-dressing. Or going out to dinner with friends.Which might be this article’s most salient, lucid point. At its core, I have no qualms with restaurant dining. Who doesn’t like being waited on hand and foot and fed delicious foodstuffs? Just like masturbation, though, dining is best done alone.

I know, I know: I’m missing camaraderie and conversation, and other words that begin with c. But see, dining with friends always ends as badly as a stroll through a minefield.Think about it:You just had a lovely meal, with impeccable service and food, and enough alcohol to facilitate human interaction.This experience ain’t cheap, underscored by the bill’s arrival. Initially, everyone avoids eyeballing the tab, as if it were a midget leper or a small, blinding sun. Eventually, a brave soul—usually the meal’s alpha male, who typically possesses the math skills of a boulder —will glance at the invoice and say something terrible, like, “Why don’t we split this evenly?” Have more unjust words ever been spoken? An even-steven split is patently unfair.

Someone always glugged an extra drink, or ordered well-aged steak instead of the inexpensive vegetarian entrée. Diners will always pay more, or less, and one unlucky soul will hold the bill and a stack of crumpled greenbacks and proclaim, “I think we’re short 10 dollars for tip.” It leaves a beautiful evening with a bitter finish.

To avoid this, one magnanimous soul may cover the bill. Not me: I can’t sell enough plasma to express such largesse— my friends’ tastes, if I may, are too rich for my blood. Instead I turn to the dinner party. It’s not something to fear, like nationalized health care. The meal’s success is predicated on two very simple tenets: divide the labor, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

I like to divide Team Dinner Party into two teams. The first will handle cooking the food. I like a menu that’s heavy on vast heaps of foods that can be prepared ahead of guests’ arrival, such as soups, stews, salads, roast meats and baked pastas. Do you want to slave over the stove when company floods through the front door, bearing gifts of delicious, delicious booze?

(Important point! Instruct your guests on what beverage to bring. You don’t want to be stuck with five bottles of Yellow Tail and a carafe of Carlo Rossi. You will drink it. You will regret it.)

The second part of Team Dinner Party is what I like to call “look and feel.” It entails tasking artistic types to set a table and the mood—perhaps with candles! This is not my strong suit. If it were up to me, I’d set the table with Taco Bell sporks and shreds of my ancient ironic T-shirts (perhaps WORLD’S LARGEST SOURCE OF NATURAL GAS?) as napkins. Luckily, my girlfriend went to art school. She puts her $80,000 education to good use in decorating the table in a novel and appealing fashion.

“I have a complete set of wildlife-themed dinnerware,” she told me excitedly one evening while I was furiously breading and frying up eggplant parm (a dinner party crowd-pleaser). She displayed a bowl featuring a bald eagle. Even more endangered, however, was my patience. “Hon,” I said, my hands encased in floury goo, “the look-and-feel team has no place in the kitchen.” She slunk off, grabbing a carved wooden owl to serve as the centerpiece.

Unexpected touches like the owl really wow guests, serving as conversation starters before alcohol kicks in. And as long as there’s enough booze, any dinner party will be a success. It’s not tough. Everyone arrives with low expectations. Serve anything more enticing than prison gruel, and you’ll be showered with enough compliments to require a raincoat. No one’s coming to dinner to post a poor Yelp review. Or, sadly, wash the dishes. Consider it the cost of not splitting a bill.

Read—and vote—for the original story at New York Press' Web site!

Gut Instinct: That's Sick

Right back...ahhh-choo.

Since quitting that soul-eating porn-editing job eight years ago and becoming a full-time freelancer, I’ve assumed a modified mailman’s ethos: Neither rain, nor snow, nor hangover, nor sickness shall keep me from earning a paycheck.

As a freelancer, every minute I’m not working is a minute I’m not paid. To compensate for uncompensated vacations, my workweeks often stretch to 70 or 80 Gorilla Coffee–juiced hours. But come wintertime, my Midwestern work ethic is tested by respiratory infections. Since I lack the luxury of sick days, I’ll chug DayQuil like it’s Jack Daniels and write with one hand on the keyboard, the other clutching Kleenex like a toddler to his blankie. Deadlines don’t give two damns about your health.

Office workers do. “Are you feeling OK?” asked a coworker last week at the Midtown corporation where I copyedit. Her clues were my crumpled-tissue mountain and the clumsily hacked lemon and ginger sitting on my desk—my attempt to make tea, foiled by a plastic knife.Why stock plastic knives? Like airlines, are corporations afraid of revolt? Give us health benefits, bastards, or we’ll stab HR with our salad forks!

“I’ve felt better,” I croaked, honking into a wet tissue. She scuttled off as if I were a dirty bomb. I tried burning away the sniffles with steaming, spicy Mandarin noodle soup (pork and pickles!) from Hing Won (48 W. 48th St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves., 212-719- 1451). That was as effective as shooting a charging rhino with a foam Nerf dart. My health continued its downward slide with a car-alarm headache and sinuses as stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey. Sometime around 9 p.m. and my hundredth sneeze—Fridays are always late at my gig—my boss sent my wounded carcass home.

I slumped to the subway—a fluorescent-lit lair of rickety despair when one’s unwell—and bounced back to Brooklyn. I clodded upstairs to my apartment and, after air-kissing my girlfriend as if I were a Hollywood starlet, popped a fistful of Tylenol PM. “Don’t forget,” my girlfriend said, as I slid into pharmaceutically-enhanced slumber, “we’re hosting a dinner party tomorrow night.”


For the last several months, friends had planned a progressive dinner party. It’s less about liberalism than travel. One household serves cocktails.Then you move to a new house to slurp soup.The next dwelling serves dinner. This concept works swell in cities where cars reign. But intra-NYC transit can be a nightmare, especially given the MTA’s service cuts.

That left two options: bike or car service.

“You’re not biking, much less going out in that weather,” my girlfriend said when I awoke around noon, my head foggier than a San Francisco morn. Outside, rain hammered down like an angry construction worker.

“But…dinner,” I groaned. “We must… make…dinner.” Our house was the party’s penultimate stop.We’d host the entrée. And dessert.What was a progressive dinner party without dinner?

“That’s a good idea. You have a fever.”

She felt my head. It was hot enough to cook an egg over-easy.

“No surrender,” I said, outlining my plan. I would rest in a NyQuil coma, then rise after sunset to construct our curried-cauliflower course.

It’d be made with ingredients earlier secured at Bangkok Center Grocery (104 Mosco St., betw. Mulberry & Mott Sts., 212-349-1979), the city’s top Thai provisionary. Owner Nong Premjit sells rare ingredients like kefir lime leaves, galangal root and freshly ground curry pastes, doling out sage, patient advice to cooks who can’t tell lemongrass from wheatgrass.

“I’ll skip the first few stops. Just tell them I have a little cold,” I instructed.

“But you have a fever and look like you were run over by a steamroller.”

“Do it!” I pleaded.Who can resist a sick man’s wishes?

Lies were uttered. Condolences were muttered. When my girlfriend departed for the first home’s first course, I arose like Lazarus.To keep germs at bay, I wore a silk sleep mask as a sneeze guard. Our apartment filled with the perfume of jasmine rice and simmering coconut milk—I hoped. Cooking with no sense of smell is like a deaf man working a concert soundboard.

At the appointed time, nine people roared through my front door, drunk and ready for dinner. My glassy eyes and slow, slurred speech matched theirs.

“I can’t believe you pulled it off,” my girlfriend said. “And the curry actually tastes like, well, curry.”

“Dinner party can’t be denied,” I replied, blowing my girlfriend a contagion-free air kiss and dissolving into a druggy daze.