Now it’s turned into an innovative way of approaching food and food cultures. There are myriad ways for food enthusiasts ¬– both amateurs and pros – to literally open their doors to strangers. And while many of the early social dining websites and app companies have closed, new initiatives have taken their place.
Meanwhile, those worried about a lower quality of food or service can be reassured by the more and more chefs and associations throwing family-style pop-up dinners and fundraisers, often in restaurant or banquet settings where the entire experience is expertly curated. Plus, as the trend catches on, diners are even getting used to family-style and communal dining options at new restaurants opened by Michelin Star-quality chefs. From whole porchetta roasts in New York to Wagyu fried rice in San Francisco to lamb chops with labneh and sumac in Dubai, here are some of the best ways to share a dinner table around the world.
Feastly (eatfeastly.com) is a website that’s still going strong after three years in operation. This startup offers diners unique experiences hosted by vetted chefs. That could mean an upscale Filipino multi-course menu in Los Angeles to six-course Vietnamese omakase in San Francisco to a seven-course wine and cheese pairing in New York. While many of the Chicago options are by request only, the San Francisco listings are plentiful and often waitlist-only. Bookalokal (bookalokal.com) is another website offering dining experiences at the homes of amateur and professional locals, from an umami-inspired dinner with scallops in dashi with pomelo, foie gras with cherry beer and bacon consommé and rabbit with smoked celery root in Washington, DC to a Champagne and chocolate tasting in Brussels. EatWith (eatwith.com) offers communal tables in more than 200 cities – think Argentian barbecue in Buenos Aires and cheese soufflé in Paris. EatAround (eataround.co) is a mobile app based in Italy offering a similar service.
Tickets for the “pop”-ular Lazy Bear dinners in San Francisco go on sale online the third Monday of every month for events the following month. Despite the advanced planning required, the two nightly seatings book up fast. The evening starts with cocktails and snacks upstairs in the parlour followed by a communal meal downstairs, where guests mingle with each other and with the chefs in the open kitchen. The result is a meal that feels more like a dinner party at a friend’s home than a restaurant experience. For people with dietary restrictions, pop-ups can be opportunities to enjoy a meal specifically catered to them.
Vegan Secret Supper is a popular eat-with-strangers choice in Brooklyn, Montreal and Vancouver. Dishes for the roving seasonal supperclub have included a Fall farro salad with roasted parsnip, wild blueberries and cashew cheese; Wild mushroom risotto cakes with mirin, rhubarb, fennel marmalade and walnuts; and Almond marshmallows with apricot-vanilla preserve and coconut oil shortbread.
The latest trend in fundraising is communal dining, with the idea of breaking bread together a way of creating a community of people who give back – plus it can make service easier for the kitchen and wait staff. The Big Pig Gig by Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge, Massachusetts celebrates the restaurant’s commitment to local farmers, all while raising money for The Farm School.
In Ontario, Chef Michael Stadtlander of Eigensinn Farm organizes fundraising dinners and afternoons on his multi-acre rural property that attract philanthropic gourmets. In past years, he’s invited some of Toronto’s top restaurateurs to donate and serve oysters, sushi, cones of double-fried frites, barbecued ribs, spit-cooked lamb and smoked fish canapés to guests as they stroll from the farm house past the hand-built pizza oven to the wooden treehouse – the best seat outside the house.
At one-Michelin Star restaurant Mr. Jiu’s in San Francisco, the five-course dinner is served family-style, like a traditional Cantonese meal. Upscale dishes include Cheong fun rice noodle rolls with sea urchin and caviar, Wagyu skirt steak fried rice with cured tuna heart, and whole tea-smoked duck.
At off-the-beaten-path FireWorks at the Inn at Bay Fortune in PEI, Canada, celebrity chef Michael Smith starts the meal with local oysters, a glass of wine, and a walk around the coastal farm for guests before they sit down at the long table for a communal meal from the open-flame hearth.
At Pots, Pans and Board in Dubai, London chef Tom Aitkins – the youngest chef to ever receive a Michelin Star – offers a communal menu of hearty British, Mediterranean and French cuisine: Peppered foie gras with green bean salad, Crispy lamb chops with labneh and sumac, and Ras al hanout chicken with glazed heritage carrots. The Ribeye and spatchcocked chicken are meant for a crowd.
And at Lupa in New York, the $99 per person family-style tasting menu creates a true Roman experience. Dinner means deep-fried Rice Suppli, Deviled duck eggs and Guancia in Amaro followed by Saltimbocca ravioli, goat cheese and Truffle agnolotti, and traditional Cacio e pepe pasta to share. And that’s before the Oxtail stew, octopus with marinated cucumbers and sweet corn vinaigrette or Roman fried gnocchi with roasted mushrooms and balsamic. Others opt for the Fennel and garlic-stuffed whole pig menu.