If you read this blog regularly you know one definite thing about me; I love to feed people. I especially love to do so in the form of an elegant dinner party, it’s fun for me. Some people don’t get it, but I love it. I’ve also realized that when people like my food or hostessing skills, it’s personal validation that some part inside of me desperately needs. It keeps me busy and distracted from the sad reality that I’m not changing diapers or packing school lunches. Irrational perhaps, but honest. It’s so rewarding to feed people you love and hear expressions of praise or mouths full of food saying “mmm”. Even more rewarding, albeit rare for most people I assume, is when a friend writes about you doing the thing you love most. A friend who has quite a way with words, and although a bit over exaggerated and undeserved, a kindness and gratitude for all of my hard work. (Well I should say our hard work, even though I am the hostess and do most of the planning, the butcher is instrumental in the execution of the dinner party plus he really takes a beating when I’m stressed…and I couldn’t do it without him.) But seriously you are going to be very impressed by what you’re about to read, this guy is seriously talented, and I’m not just saying that because it happens to be about me. It just makes me realize one thing though, actually two; I really need to have a dinner party soon and also, we have some pretty amazing friends. So, without further delay, I present you with this literary treat by our dear friend, Mr. Aaron Klingerman.
A (DINNER) PARTY FOR THE SENSES
(Or WHY THE RAOS ARE GENIUSES)
Some of the finest dining experiences I have ever enjoyed were at dinner parties hosted by the Raos. Their dinner on the evening of January 26, 2014 was no exception, in point of fact it was by far the most impressive to date. It isn’t just that the food is great – which it is – it’s just so, so much more than that. The food is tremendously delicious, the portions are perfect, the evidence of planning and forethought are abundantly evident, and as you partake, you quickly realize that you have been magically transported to what seems like an entirely undiscovered world of culinary delights. From savory to salty to sweet, every taste bud on your tongue will be dancing with pleasure as each new course is offered. But it’s so much more than that.
Please indulge me as I attempt to put into words how each of the five senses are enticed, thrilled and completely and utterly satisfied at a Rao dinner party, or as I refer to them, the dinners that dreams are made of.
The moment I arrive at the Rao home for one of their dinner parties, I’m immediately confronted with a veritable wellspring of wonders for my senses. The first and not the least of which are the smells. I challenge anyone to walk into their home and particularly through their kitchen and keep your mouth from watering instantaneously. It’s not a challenge easily met. The scent of foods being prepared are so overpowering they nearly send a person to their knees. I partake eagerly from the aromas floating through the air, like a light and life-affirming breeze, and I soon become desirous of an early seating – as I grow evermore aware of a hunger previously undetected.
The Rao home is a warm and inviting sort of place. There is an ever-present spirit of welcome and ease. At no time do I feel uncomfortable or out of place. It’s as if I’ve come home myself. But as warm as it is in spirit, it is equally as warm in temperature. Thus, I feel another of my senses overcome. The cooking and baking and constantly attentive movement of Joe and Lori as they move about the kitchen – all of these are producing heat. The smells may have baited me in, but the feel of the heat draws me in further. The closer to the kitchen I come, the warmer it is. And it is a most welcome warmth on this crisp winter’s evening. The chill in the air and the shiver in my bones are both offset by the oasis of warmth, both of their galley and their graciousness.
The sense of sound is beckoned to as well. Upon nearing the kitchen, I hear the soft sounds of music playing in the background. It’s a wonderfully eclectic variety of selections, though heavily favoring the big band and swing standards of the first half of the Twentieth Century, as any respectable dinner party should. The music is entirely appropriate. It isn’t too loud. It isn’t too quiet. It isn’t of objectionable content or suspicious taste. The songs in the air accentuate the setting in an understated, yet crucial way. Of equal intensity are the sounds coming from the kitchen itself. The clanking of pots and pans, the noisy clatter of friendly conversation mixed with instructions being given and received, the steely sharpening sound as Joe Rao, a butcher by trade, slides the tools in his hands together in readiness for his approaching task of carving – all these sounds combine together, as a neatly choreographed ballet, for my utter amusement.
Thus far, the sights of the Rao home have played their usual part. I know what I’m smelling, feeling and hearing in large part due to what I am seeing. The sights are enjoyable to be sure, but familiar as I am with these friendly environs, they have not as yet been overwhelming… that is, until I turn the corner. When I walk around the corner from the kitchen and catch my first glimpse of the dining room, I am struck with awe. I stand paralyzed and mouth agape as I survey the dinner table. This table is a picture worthy of publication. It deserves to be immortalized with paint and canvass. The finest establishments I have ever frequented cannot begin to make a claim to outmatchthis table. The colors, the theming, the amply supplied place settings, complete with every possible utensil needed – everything is in its place. From the flickering candlelight to the bow adorning my place card, and everything in between, it is exquisite. It feels complete even without the food having been placed upon it. The look, the style, the perfection of this table gives me a feeling of amazement, as if I could sit here and be served light beer and stale pretzels and still come away with the happiest and most lasting of memories.
To describe the perception of these first four senses seems to me to be child’s play when compared to the monumental challenge of accurately communicating my sense of taste. To attempt, with words, to adequately explain what it is to share in this meal, what the experience for the palate truly is, seems to be a virtual impossibility. Impossible to describe the flavors, the textures, the way that each bite urges you to savor it and at the same time lures you seductively into anticipating the next. Impossible to describe the clearly apparent and Childian attention to detail and preparation. Impossible to describe how the tastes of every item are enhanced by the euphoric feeling I have being at this table, on this night, with these dearest of friends. Impossible. Simply impossible.
How completely this dinner party has stirred my senses is continually amazing to me. I am inspired by every detail. Smelling is believing. Feeling is believing. Hearing is believing. Seeing, of course, is believing. Perhaps most of all, tasting is believing. I am a believer! This dinner party is the standard by which I will hereafter judge all dinner parties. In this moment it is difficult to imagine it ever being supplanted or outdone. And this feeble attempt to capture it with words truly does it no justice!
Tasting is believing!
If you are ever invited by the Raos to attend a dinner party, do not think. Answer. Answer quickly, answer clearly and answer in the affirmative. Break any previous engagements. Cancel vacations. Quit your job. Sell your firstborn. Whatever it takes, be at that dinner party! Count your blessings and humbly thank heaven that the invitation has been extended to you. Soak it all in. Savor every bite. Cherish every moment. You will thank me. You will agree with me. Joe and Lori Rao are culinary geniuses! If you attend one of their dinner parties and you don’t agree with me when it has ended… then you’re an idiot. And you probably wouldn’t know good food if it was biting you! The end!