DRILLINGER DOES is a weekly column that chronicles the exploits of urban daredevil Meagan Drillinger throughout the five boroughs. Every Monday is another adventure — from whiskey tours and no-pants subway rides to sex club date nights.
New York nightlife is a grandiose affair. Whether you’re following flappers back in time to 1920s Jazz Age parties, snuggling up next to poetry whores, or ringing in the New Year with half-naked snow angels, you can’t say that New York doesn’t know how to throw an elaborate party. But sometimes a night in can bring the same amount of pleasure and adventure, especially when you’re staying in with a group of complete strangers gorging yourself on heavenly Italian food.
There are very few things I like about being in the homes of strangers; the anticipation alone of whether or not I’ll be forced to remove my shoes is enough to send me into a spiral of neuroses. But earlier this month I discovered EatWith.com, a new experience fresh off the boat from Social Travel Town. It’s like the Airbnb of the foodie set. Instead of booking a room in someone’s apartment, you book a seat at their table. What unfolds is (hopefully) a menu of homemade epicurean treats and an evening of sparkling conversation, usually fueled by copious amounts of wine.
I visited EatWith.com and created a profile for myself, complete with my food interests and why I wanted to dine with strangers (I decided not to mention my barefoot phobia). From there, you select the city of your choice and see what chefs are opening their homes on a particular evening. You can read past diner reviews about the chefs’ homes, personalities, and menus, and similarly, the chefs can see your profile and decide if you are suitable company for them. For my first EatWith experience, an Italian couple caught my eye. Marco and Dalila were cooking up a menu of traditional Roman treats. On a frigid February night, a plate of piping hot Italian food didn’t seem like the worst decision in the world. I selected them and waited with eager anticipation for their approval. Once chefs accept you, you are charged whatever the listed price is and given their address and contact info. This particular meal cost $55, but listings can be cheaper or more expensive, depending on the number of courses. Ones that are booze-free are also considerably cheaper (but I know you and I know you aren’t attending those).
Still, with the promise of amazing food, there was a slight level of anxiety. Showing up stag to a dinner party full of what is undoubtedly going to be couples is never something one looks forward to. But that all changed the minute Dalila opened her front door with a full, gorgeous smile and an even more full, gorgeous glass glowing with red wine (and she had shoes on!). Her small studio was thickly perfumed with sumptuous smells of garlic, tomato, and chicken stock. Marco was busy in the kitchen stirring, mixing and plating whatever was smelling so damn good. In the tiny living room groups of couples (#nailedit) were congregating over equally brim-filled glasses of wine. There was the international set, from Finland and Norway, who used EatWith.com on their vacations as a way to see how real New Yorkers live. And then there was the local set — a couple from Hoboken and a couple of friends from Manhattan, one of which turned out to be an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in years. How’s that for a New York moment?
Soft twinkle lights draped over the windows cast a dim, sleepy glow over the table strewn with wine bottles. We sat around the table as Marco brought out the appetizers – Suppli al Telefono, or stuffed rice balls. This favorite Roman street food is a plump ball of fried risotto, coated in bread crumbs and filled with a gooey center of melted mozzarella cheese. I can’t quite explain the joy of cutting into a rice ball and watching molten cheese spill out across the plate, but if you are a New Yorker I doubt this needs further elaboration. Pick your jaw up off the floor.
Next Marco brought out gnocchi alla Romana. Typically, gnocchi in the U.S. is thought of as tiny potato dumplings in sauce, but gnocchi is not always prepared this way. Marco’s gnocchi were small, crispy patties of polenta topped with a thick, chunky tomato ragu. The main course was pollo alla cacciatora – a simple, rustic preparation of chicken with tomatoes, onions and herbs. The room was comfortably quiet with the sounds of satisfied diners stuffing their mouths and slugging wine. Through breaks in chewing, conversation broke into the differences between life in the United States, Italy, Finland, and Norway. People who would have otherwise never crossed paths came together to learn about each other, make momentary friendship, and create memories over simple ingredients and lots and lots of wine.
While much of the appeal of New York centers around its all-night parties, exclusive guest lists, secret bars, and A-list events, sometimes all it takes to have an adventure is a seat at the table in a stranger’s home.
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