A Night In White & The Kindness Of Others – Diner en Blanc TO 2011

Wow. What a whirlwind my adventure at Diner en Blanc was!

Karen @ Diner en Blanc

The “Plan”

You see, about a month ago Joel had invited me to a dinner party on Sept 27th, but the invite was kind of cryptic. “Mysterious,” I thought and immediately said “yes”.

But then life got in the way and my schedule got shifted, twisted and turned on its ear so Mom was visiting the night of the party.  I suspected this was an intimate affair with limited seating so I sent my regrets.  Only to find out almost immediately that “intimate” was 400 diners at a Toronto’s first Diner en Blanc.  400 people all dressed stylishly in white, dining al fresco, just mom’s kind of thing.  Time to shift gears again, and ask mom to join me! But she said “no”.  Unfortunately, due to mobility and pain issues she decided it wouldn’t work for her this year.   So I resigned myself to missing Diner en Blanc. I don’t actually have to go to every cool food event in the city. Honest I don’t.

Mom and Gerry don’t agree.  Yesterday, while watching me fielding tweets, emails and texts from friends asking if I’d be there, both mom and Gerry finally told me to “just go!”  After a token objection, I grabbed the phone and called Joel.  At 4:30. While he was setting up! What a patient friend. He had an extra ticket for me!

I zoomed around the house finding anything white I could wear, then zoomed around the kitchen packing up my table wear and trying to find something I could bring to eat.  I grabbed my camera, cell phone and credit card and jumped in a cab.

The Event

I arrived at the corner of Parliament and Mill Street where there were 2 or 3 other people all in white. No one I knew.

Diner en Blanc Toronto

I waited, more people arrived, some familiar faces.

Alex Waiting

Then more and more people laden with baskets of food, fresh flowers, hats, feather boas, masks…

Diner en Blanc Toronto
Rushing to Diner en Blanc

at this point cars were slowing down and drivers were leaning out their windows with cameras to photograph us.  We were causing a scene. An all-white, stylish and happening scene.

Diner en Blanc Toronto
Diner en Blanc Toronto

Then, a little after 6pm, we were escorted in! 

Streaming Into Diner en Blanc

We walked parade-like down Mill Street and into the Distillery District where a fenced dining area had been setup. 

2 long tables down either side, and at the bottom where the courtyard area is a collection of round tables. Everything was white, clean and crisp. Candles were flickering  alongside a flower and a basket of fruit (from our buddies at Longo’s) on each table

Cava was serving appetizers. Lifford was selling wine.  Grindhouse was serving coffee. Sid was setup DJing.  And then Rossy came around with a jar of hot sauce for each table (or group).

The Beautiful Rossy!

Things were getting good.  But where to sit?

The Table

Karen @ Diner en Blanc

As people were settling in I got waved down to the end and the big round tables by Joel and Suresh.

Joel at Diner en Blanc Toronto
Suresh Stopped for One Moment
Diner en Blanc Toronto

I was welcomed at an almost empty table by Joanne who was setting up a fascinating hot plate and waiting for her friend, Vanessa.

The Lovely Joanne

It was just the two of us at a table for 8, and I was a little worried about my pathetic offerings since she kept telling me she had more than enough food to feed me too. So, I decided wine was on me!

Wine & Hot Sauce!

I grabbed my credit card and went to buy wine from Nicole.  Unfortunately, since Lifford was cash-only and I was cash-free. Then Pat stepped up and showed me another bit of kindness by buying me a bottle of wine. I’m a lucky woman to have such generous and kind friends.

Diner en Blanc Toronto

The Menu

Diner en Blanc Toronto

As I returned from the wine station, people were already laying out their meals. Some brought elaborate multi-coursed plated dishes; others brought big luscious looking charcuterie plates with cheeses, fruits and salads;

Longo's For Diner en Blanc

and still others opted for trays of pasta, roasted chickens or Longo’s pizza (yup.)

Diner en Blanc Toronto

I waved Matt and Andrea over to join us. Andrea came with another bottle of the Pinot.

Matt @ Diner en Blanc

Matt came with a complete spread (no surprise) and proceeded to start plating his dishes –

Burrata w/ Beets

Bacalau – a Portuguese cod & potato spread (which I spent all evening saying I “couldn’t pronounce” because I kept forgetting the name); Burrata & Beet salad – burrata is a mozzarella ball filled with fresh cream; a duck salad; and his lovely dark chocolate cake with a dulche de leche topping.

Joanne already had her 4 cheese Mac&Cheese on the hot plate

Diner en Blanc Toronto

and when Vanessa arrived,

Vanessa & Her Feather Explosion
Chicken Braised with Leeks & Mushrooms

she hauled our her contributions to the table: braised chicken with leeks and mushrooms, Maple Pudding Chômeur.

What I brought scavenged from the fridge and pantry? 1 log of goat’s cheese, 1 box of crackers, 1 small pot of Skillet St. Food’s Bacon Jam, and 1 bag of Xococava’s chocolate w/ chiles.

Yup, I could not have found a better table.  They all insisted on sharing, not that I was complaining as I pathetically attempted to encourage people to try my cheese and bacon jam so I felt like I had contributed to our feast.

Table Next Door
Delightful David Next Door

Our table was one of the few that had hot food, and when Joanne brought out the blow torch to finish the crust of the Mac and Cheese, it was tremendous!

Diner en Blanc Toronto

More than a few cameras popped up around us to capture that moment, and we discussed all the other things we could brulee!

Throughout the evening people from every part of the party dropped by to see what was happening on our table.  We had some squeals of delight as people realized this was “that Bacon Jam”… this was a foodie crowd after all, so I felt a little better.

Diner en Blanc Toronto
Diner en Blanc Toronto

But mostly people were showing up with spoons to try the Mac & Cheese. 

The Night

As the evening started there were a couple of short welcome messages and to show our appreciation for organisers of this wonderful event we all waved our napkins in the air. It filled the Distillery with little white dervishes whirling at the ends of our fingers.

Waving Our Napkins
Diner en Blanc Toronto

Then as dusk started to fall, the organisers handed out sparklers.

Diner en Blanc Sparkling!

At 9:30, as dark descended,  we all lit them together. 

Diner en Blanc Toronto

Wow, that was spectacular! 

Not just all the sparklers, but trying to hold 4 of them while taking photos and not get burnt. And the crackle and burn of sparklers filling the street!

Lighting Our Sparkles
Diner en Blanc Toronto

The music kicked up a notch, and as some people packed up and headed home, others started dancing.  I got a little dancing in before finding a cab to bring me home to enthuse at Gerry and mom about what a wonderful evening I had had.

Diner en Blanc Toronto

One of the organisers asked me what I thought and if I saw any areas for improvement.  It’s rare for me to say this, but as a guest I couldn’t see a single way the event could have been improved. It balanced wonderfully between carefully organised to keep things running smoothly and give a cohesive feel to the night, and beautifully self-directed to allow for personal preference, creativity and expression.  It was a flash mob dinner at it’s best.

Thank you to the organisers and my table mates who together made this one of the best guest experiences I’ve had in a long time!

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

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