Ever since seeing Mame for the first time, I’ve wanted to through lavish, unconventional cocktail parties. What could be more fun than having your apartment completely redecorated every couple of weeks, inviting scads of the most interesting people to come “in-theme,” and serving up the best cocktails, the finest wines, and food that amazes one and all?
I recently had the opportunity to attend a theme party where the hosts had the wherewithal (I love that word! I’m not broke, I just don’t have any wherewithal…) to do up an Arabian Nights theme. To paraphrase my favorite golden girl, “Picture this, Long Island, September 2000…”
The hundred guests were put up in a local hotel, at the hosts’ expense. We were picked up and driven to their home, where we were deposited at the end of a long, paving-stone drive. The drive was lined with boys. Each was wearing nothing but harem pants and holding a large torch, held jutting forth from, well, an appropriate spot to jut forth from. We walked the drive doing the Madeleine Kahn thing, “no, no, yes, no, yes, yes…”
At the end of the drive were the elephant and camel, available for rides. We veered right into the courtyard where we were entertained for an hour or so by fortune tellers, belly dancers, boys and girls in various revealing costumes, cocktails, wine and canapes. Dinner was held in a tent in the backyard – complete with seating for the hundred plus guests, a dance floor, a stage (upon which performed, at various times, more dancers, a band, singers, and a stand-up comic).
When the hosts decided it was time to end the party, they played “Last Dance”, announced that our rides were awaiting at the other end of the drive…and, well, it was over. Now that’s the way to run a party. I just need a little more wherewithal.
I’m going to leave the redecorating to your own imaginations, the invitations for the amusing and facile as well. Food and wine, I can help with. Of course, I don’t know what theme you’ll pick, but at least I can offer a guide to my last theme party – I decided on turning my apartment into a Spanish tapas bar.
Tapas bars, as you may or may not know, are delightful places that Spaniards frequent as a prelude to dining. Starting at an appropriate point in mid-evening, you gather with friends and nibble on various tidbits while consuming a glass or two of sherry, wine or a cocktail. Generally you stand and imbibe, then move your cadre on to your next favorite spot. For my party, I send invitations to forty of my dearest friends and received 70 RSVPs! I have a six-hundred square foot studio apartment. Standing room was the perfect approach. I moved all furniture off to the sides except the dining table. My desk became the wine bar – both were draped in some sort of Spanish looking tablecloth.
I bought olives. Lots of olives. I bought serrano ham, chorizos and other appropriate charcuterie. I bought wine – sparkling, white, red, and sherry. All Spanish of course. Then I had to cook. Two dishes became the hits of the evening, prawns with garlic, and my romesco sauce with grilled veggies and bread to dip in it.
Prawns with Garlic
To serve 10 as a tapas
1/2 cup of olive oil
5 dozen decent sized shrimp (shells and head-on preferred)
2 teaspoons salt
1 head of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 cups of light, dry sherry
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, minced
Unless you have a huge skillet, you’ll need to split this in a couple of batches. Heat the oil until it is quite hot. Add the shrimp and salt and stir-fry for a minute. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until the shrimp are nice and pink. Add the sherry and cook until it the sauce thickens slightly. Toss in the parsley and serve immediately. It’s best to leave the shells on the shrimp as they add flavor, and make it more fun for the guests to peel their own (or eat, shell and all, which is quite do-able).
Grilled Veggies, Bread & Romesco Sauce
2 japanese eggplants, sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
2 yellow squash, sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut in strips
1 bunch asparagus, pared of any tough ends
1 loaf crusty white bread, sliced (reserve the ends)
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
A stove-top grill works fine for this dish. Brush the veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper them to taste, and grill until done. Drain and serve on platters with Romesco sauce.
1 cup almonds
Bread loaf ends (each about 1 to 1-1/2″ thick)
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded & chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 cups olive oil
1 cup sherry vinegar
Toast the almonds, bread and garlic cloves in a 400F oven for 10-15 minutes till lightly browned. Put the bread and almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Peel the garlic cloves and add to processor with tomatoes, peppers, and seasonings. Process until smooth. Gradually add the olive oil and then the vinegar while processing. You should end up with about five cups of a thick, smooth sauce that is perfect for dipping the grilled veggies and bread in.
Your beverage choices are, again, going to be determined by the theme of the evening. As an accompaniment to my tapas dinner, I had a selection of dry sherries, cava (Spanish sparkling wine), white and red wines, and then after dinner drinks to go with the later desserts.
For dry sherry, I recommend one good manzanilla, like the Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin “La Guita” and perhaps a nice amontillado, E. Lustau “Los Arcos” would be excellent choices. Cava, the premier Spanish sparkling wine is generally light, crisp and delicate, generally from the Penedes region. Wonderful selections can be had from Juan-Esteve Avinyo-Nadal, Castillo Perelada and Jaume Serra.
A good white wine choice would be an Albariño from the north of Spain. Personal favorites include Martin Codax, Lagar de Cervera, and Fillaboa. You might consider a rosé, as Spain makes some excellent ones. Best choices include Muga and Conde de Valdemar. And for a red, the classic Spanish grape Tempranillo makes a winning evening – try Sierra Cantabria or El Coto Riojas, especially the latter’s Coto de Imaz Reserva, or any of the wines from the Abadia Retuerta winery.
You can finish with a selection of Pedro Ximenez based dessert wines – my current favorite, and a great value, the Alvear “Solera Diego Abuela No. 27” from Montilla-Moriles. A nice Spanish brandy for those who like a little after-dinner fire – Gran Duque d’Alba or Cardenal Mendoza would be great choices.
Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.