New tricks of an old dinner (150 years old!)



The dinner starts off traditionally, standing in the kitchen over cocktails. But this intimate dinner is a little different. Or maybe not.

The Gin Rickeys (1958) taste as if they invented the cliche, clean and crisp. A zip of lime, a pop of seltzer, a rattle of gin. We all introduce ourselves, though we had already been e-introduced. Still, I don't remember anyone's name. Nevermind, since I'm already following them on Twitter, so even before we met, I knew "we'd keep in touch."

Crudites await a Florentine Dip, a mix of cream cheese, sour cream, and anchovy paste, from Claiborne's exultantly titled, "Sour cream can be used as a base for every course" (1959). Amanda says, "there's nothing Florentine about this" and we get to delight in our retro sentimentality. We nibble on Parmesan Crackers (2003), more like shortbreads, flat and buttery and the size and shape of an ear.  

It's all very information-agey. Kara had already emailed us the critical details about the other guests: website, Twitter handle, Facebook page. But then there's the fact that we're all here in a stranger's partly-below-street-level home, giving into a menu not of our choosing. That connects, too.

The little brown balls could be anything, perhaps Scotched hummingbird eggs, ovaloid arancini, almonds cloaked in crumbs. They are, in fact, Fried Olives (2004), oh-so-poppable bites of brine and crunch and toast.

I'm sitting next to Bill, Kara, Jenny, Amanda, and Sarah. We eat a tangled Puntarelle and Anchovy Salad. More anchovy! In 2001, the Times proclaimed puntarelle "the new green on New York's plate." Uh, not sure what happened, but this is delicious. The sauce is trapped in the curly, coral-like leaves and the troughs of the stalks.

The main course comes out. I've already made a faux pas involving exes I didn't know were exes, but I suppose we can drink it away. I try not to think about the other things I wasn't supposed to say. The Italian Beef Stew (1971) is eaten with a spoon and the tomato sauce-soaked bread with your hands.

We mingle while Kara and Melissa spoon vanilla-flecked confit on the frangipane tart (Lucas Schoorman's Lemon Tart, 2004). I like to eat it in parts, the bitter rinds in the confit, the plush center, the browned fluted crust. I learn about families and jobs and NYC restaurant gossip. I hear where to eat in Istanbul and hash out ideas in technology, marketing and entrepreneurship. Sadly, I didn't talk much with some of the other interesting guests... I must get better at in-person mingling!

The next day, I order Amanda's The Essential New York Times Cookbook online. But I steal a peek at the bookstore and spend over an hour browsing through 1,400+ recipes, dating back 150 years. I come across a recipe that sounds like the future,"Transparent Pudding", but it's actually from 1895 and quite classic, made of little else than butter, sugar, flour, cream.