I’m a pretty good cook—at least, that’s what people say. The fact that I’ve written two cookbooks and had one of my recipes featured in The New York Times would support this claim. That recipe for roasted chicken Provençal received the still-mind-boggling-to-me designation of being the most popular recipe of the year. Who’da thunk it?
For as many instances in which I love nothing more than welcoming folks for a home-cooked meal, there are an equal number of times when there’s nothing I’d rather do less. It could be due to work deadlines, family mishigas, sheer exhaustion, or anything else on the laundry list of things that just plain suck the wind out of my culinary sails. During these walks through the shadow of the valley of inhospitality, what’s a serial entertainer to do?
The answer is to let someone else, or someplace else, do the work. My favorite someplace would be a restaurant that I frequent on a regular basis, one that will allow me to add personal touches so that the experience is different from a run-of-the-mill “let’s meet somewhere for dinner” dinner.
The celebration of our ninth wedding anniversary was one such instance. Having just arrived back in Palm Beach after a summer’s absence, plus a departure to our new place in Chicago looming, the last thing I felt capable of doing was putting together a dinner party. But having survived our way (so far) through the pandemic, I wanted to do something special to acknowledge the milestone, not only for my husband, Rich, and myself, but for our few buddies who were with us on that chilly weekend in Milwaukee.
During my many years living in a small studio apartment in New York City, the nearby Swifty’s was my go-to for ex-cathedra celebration dinners. Doing private parties within a bustling restaurant has long been one of proprietor Robert Caravaggi’s specialties; it seemed that there was always something special going on at one of the coveted tables in the back room. And now that the iconic restaurant has been reborn at the stylish Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, the choice was a no-brainer. Swifty’s terrific staff couldn’t have been more accommodating, especially general manager Michelle Stokes, who helped me create a highly personalized evening for our guests.
First came the invitation. Since this was a small gathering, I turned to Paperless Post, uploading a favorite wedding photo to create a chic invite. To add to the specialness of the occasion, I asked the restaurant if I could make a menu for the evening, pared down to a selection of Swifty’s classics and devoid of prices. They not only laid the whole thing out for me, complete with wedding pic and custom verbiage, but they had it printed and waiting upon our arrival.
One of the most important aspects of entertaining in a restaurant is making the table look special and, moreover, different from all the other tables in the joint. Floral designer extraordinaire Tom Mathieu crafted a spectacular arrangement encircled by votive candles that made for a magically festive setting.
We completed the scene with place cards in little metal monkey holders that I brought from home. And while Swifty’s offers their own delectable selection of desserts, I opted for carrot cake as an ode to the one we had on our wedding day. Nine years ago, a much-loved Milwaukee restaurant baked that version. For this event, Café Sweets in Northwood made a pretty yummy doppelgänger, and Swifty’s happily accommodated my request to serve it—complete with a dramatic sparkler.
The end product was a distinctive little dinner party that looked and felt just like the kind that we frequently host at our place. But instead of a sweaty brow from standing over a hot stove all day and that oh-so-charming after-dinner sight of a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, the only thing I had to deal with was the check.
So, the next time you’re in the hosting hot seat but don’t have it in you to do it yourself, consider a personalized restaurant dinner party. All it takes is a little effort and a few special touches to create an event that will not only be memorable but delightfully hassle free. And at the end of the day, who doesn’t want that?