To me, a good dinner party is equal parts its name: dinner = party. Half food, wine, and conversation; half dancing, drunkenness, and romantic possibility. There should be several courses served and at least one person present that you want to kiss. (Whether or not you kiss them is immaterial; their presence is enough to season the evening.)
This party is thrown in the living room of a tilting fourth-floor apartment in a prewar Fort Greene building. It begins at 7:30 on a Friday evening in early November, so that its guests—roughly a dozen in number—arrive ready to share the gossip of the week while in a mood to generate more. For the first 45 minutes, everyone nibbles at olives and little crackers and sips a cocktail mixed to melt off the chill of the day. It’s herbal, perhaps a bit spicy, made with whiskey and honey.
I am wearing a turtleneck with an apron over it and I’m sweating as dinner finishes on the stove. The first course is bright and juicy and inviting: something green and leafy, a selection of pickled vegetables, glassy candied nuts, wafer-thin slices of Pink Lady apple. The next will be a subtly impressive crowd-pleaser: a roasted fish or chicken covered in herbs, jammy lemons, and broiled little beets with them, served with fluffy squares of focaccia to soak up the juices that run together on the plate. The next hour or so is spent in enjoying these dishes and each other’s company. We eat like Romans—not seated around a table, but hunching or lounging in chairs or on couches, plates on our laps or the coffee table, ignoring forks and knives in favor of our fingers. Two bottles of wine are opened and dispatched, then two more. We are all beginning to be drunk and to find our fellow diners especially beautiful. In fact, we are becoming more beautiful as we take in this most ancient enjoyment.
After the plates have been spirited to the kitchen, a cigarette is required. Barefoot and flushed with all the excitement, half of us slither onto the fire escape to smoke. We whisper about the flirtations blooming with the people remaining inside and flatter ourselves that our neighbors are annoyed by all our fun. When the cigarettes have been stubbed, I push everyone back toward the living room, our feet numb with cold, and busy myself with finishing dessert—another requirement. In this season, it is something full-flavored and elaborate, like tiramisu, served with hot espresso to keep the party going. The guests exclaim with pleasure, and at last I permit myself to listen greedily to their compliments.
The whole dozen of us squeeze into the kitchen to make short work of the dishes and pots. Music blasts from a speaker, and this is when the dancing begins. We are singing, jumping, scrubbing. Soap suds fly and our bodies radiate heat as we brush against each other moving up and down the room. Now, maybe, our neighbors are truly annoyed.
But we’re no longer concerned on that count, and the dancing will go on until late in the night.
Cami Jetta is the chef and owner of a restaurant in Fort Greene called Dinner Party. The whole project is organized around that style of communing with friends and acquaintances over food, in a setting that permits the entire thing to devolve into a concert or a dance floor or an existential argument. The dinner parties that she has thrown in her apartments over the years served as the foundational idea for the restaurant, and her “dream dinner party” would happen at home, with her best friends as her dream guests. Nowhere is she happier than at a dinner party of her own devising.