Wow. What a whirlwind my adventure at Diner en Blanc was!
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.
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.
I waited, more people arrived, some familiar faces.
Then more and more people laden with baskets of food, fresh flowers, hats, feather boas, masks…
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.
Then, a little after 6pm, we were escorted in!
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).
Things were getting good. But where to sit?
As people were settling in I got waved down to the end and the big round tables by Joel and Suresh.
I was welcomed at an almost empty table by Joanne who was setting up a fascinating hot plate and waiting for her friend, Vanessa.
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!
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.
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;
and still others opted for trays of pasta, roasted chickens or Longo’s pizza (yup.)
I waved Matt and Andrea over to join us. Andrea came with another bottle of the Pinot.
Matt came with a complete spread (no surprise) and proceeded to start plating his dishes –
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
and when Vanessa arrived,
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.
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!
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.
But mostly people were showing up with spoons to try the Mac & Cheese.
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.
Then as dusk started to fall, the organisers handed out sparklers.
At 9:30, as dark descended, we all lit them together.
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!
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.
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!