The Lost Dinner Party
Articles,  Radio Hour

The Lost Dinner Party

by Peter Hoffman


Peter’s essay appears in episode 32 of The Dirty Spoon Radio Hour.


I loved so much about living in Manhattan. It was all I wanted since I was under the age of ten, and none of it disappointed:the frenzied people, the loud traffic, the glamour and the grit. I loved the parts that maybe you aren’t supposed to love, like the heat that hits your face full-force when you wait for that delayed subway in July or the way a rat might scurry across your basement while you’re doing laundry. It just meant, to me, that I was in New York.

There was just one thing about living in New York that really bothered me and it bothered me because I couldn’t, and still can’t, figure out why I couldn’t find its solution. That thing, that problem that has troubled me and kept me up at night, is why I could never host a successful dinner party in my apartment.

 

There was just one thing about living in New York that really bothered me and it bothered me because I couldn’t, and still can’t, figure out why I couldn’t find its solution.

 

Dinner parties seem to be ingrained in my blood. Growing up in Ohio my parents hosted at least one per week, ranging from casual homemade pizza parties with neighbors next to my mother’s tall zinnia patch to more formal events when my dad’s business friends came to town. Those dinners taught me the importance of polishing silver, choosing wine, the difference between gorgonzola and Roquefort, loud music during cocktails that softened during dinner, and, most important of all, bringing people together. Bringing people together in New York City proved to be the hardest thing for me to achieve and it was the one thing I desperately yearned for. You may be thinking that perhaps I should have found new friends in New York, and perhaps you wouldn’t be wrong, but I have analyzed everyone I had ever invited to my apartment and found them to be mostly adequate, and certainly fine dinner party invitees who just didn’t want to slow down and have me cook them a meal.

First of all, there seemed to be lots of diets happening around me in New York. Vegetarianism is one thing – I can certainly handle and appreciate making a meatless meal that will satiate even the most aggressive carnivores – but that’s not the type of diet I encountered. People were eating only seeds on Tuesdays, red foods on Wednesdays, and leaves and lemon juice on the second Friday of every third month. It was impossible to keep track of, let alone to try and accommodate.

 

People were eating only seeds on Tuesdays, red foods on Wednesdays, and leaves and lemon juice on the second Friday of every third month.

 

I worked for a prominent bakery in the city (which also meant it was difficult to host the gluten-free crowd), so a lot of people I would invite either worked in restaurants or had to attend new hotspots as part of their job…maybe the thought of a meager dinner chez moi paled in comparison. But I don’t think it really did. Before everything shut down, the restaurants were all trying to outdo each other and at mine you’d be able to sample two bottles of California’s finest Pinot Noir and learn that in the winter demi-sec champagne and a nice clementine is better than a dessert that’s been whipped and frosted to smithereens. Okay, so most restaurants my friends would go to weren’t in Hell’s Kitchen and on the top floor of a five-floor walkup, but did those restaurants slap them with air conditioning and hand them a crisp thimble of rosé or a big G&T with a fat lime in the summer to thank them for making the trek? I don’t think so.

I can understand not wanting to commute, from deep Brooklyn, Greenpoint, wherever, so one day I thought I had my problem figured out. I decided to invite my friend for brunch.

 

I can understand not wanting to commute, from deep Brooklyn, Greenpoint, wherever, so one day I thought I had my problem figured out. I decided to invite my friend for brunch.

 

This was a foolproof way to avoid common pitfalls: she would have enough time to get there and to get home, she wouldn’t have an event that evening, and we’d be done by two or three in the afternoon. Of course, the night before as I was preparing cheddar biscuits to go with a frittata, my power went out. And it stayed out for about six hours. This meant that the butter, which should remain cold to ensure flaky biscuits, did not, in fact, stay cold. The next morning, when the power was back on, my friend showed up late because she had spent the morning “having sex” and proceeded to drink the bloody Mary’s I made and then snored on my couch for the next two hours, unshakeable.

Speaking of sex, at my parents’ home it isn’t unusual for people to stop by just for dessert. Often my neighbors will bring a cake they made with their kids, or if they have their own dinner plans will come by for a digestif and a cookie. Unfortunately, I found that this is not common practice in New York. I once innocently asked someone if they wanted to come for dessert – again, working at a bakery I was often bringing home tarts, cookies, and I often baked cakes which needed to be shared. Unfortunately to this person “dessert” really meant “sex.” I’m not sure who was more shocked to learn what the other was really meaning.

Right now I’m looking for a new apartment in New York after a long respite back at my parents’ home. It’s been a weird year for everyone, of course, but at least at their house I’ve been able to bring back dinner parties. Good, old-fashioned dinner parties that I craved for so long. Parties in the summer with fireflies and laughter and in the winter with a fire in the fireplace and big bowls of citrus as decoration. With people sneaking in through the garden gate and my dad bringing out special liqueur to pass around.

In my new apartment my main requirement is that I can fit a round table to fit six people. My continuing aspiration is to have successful dinner parties. It might be in my head but I hope that this time away from people has made my friends crave the parties I’m offering.


Original artwork by Alex Knighten

Peter Hoffman writer

 

About the Author

Peter Hoffman received his MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. He likes to eat and drink and then write about it. He’s @peterhoffman19 on Instagram (although currently deactivated but will come back soon.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *