Sunday, December 08, 2013

Eat With: A Dinner Party with New Friends in L.A. and Around the World

Kara hosts Whiskey Wednesdays at her downtown loft

For the last month I've been focusing not just on trying new restaurants as usual but also going to events where I can make new connections and learn about what's going on in the community. My neighborhood roots were strengthened at a ladies night dinner at Little Beast, a wonderful food-focused salon/documentary screening in Atwater and a pie-making celebration in Glassell Park.
Then through a friend in Israel, I was invited to try Eat With, a year-old global community that invites people (preferably good cooks) to host groups people in their homes for dinner. While it's just getting off the ground in L.A., Eat With is also a great resource for travelers who would like to meet and eat with locals in countries like Israel, Japan, France, Italy and Argentina.
These underground/private dinner parties always have a distinctive vibe, depending on the host and setting, and the dinner I tried was decidedly young, urban and cosmopolitan. Hostess Kara is a professional wedding /dinner party planner and an excellent cook, and her Arts District downtown loft was simple but impeccably styled, from the Mason jar water glasses to whiskey bottle candle holders and instant bar set-up with a stylish neighbor bartending. Whiskey Wednesdays are $34, a fair price for a menu that included an appetizer, several refreshing cranberry-ginger-bourbon cocktails, a giant kale salad, butternut squash mac 'n cheese, beef kabobs and apple pie squares for dessert. I met several interesting people including a fellow food blogger who also plans dinner parties, a woman whose non-profit helps rescue sex workers, a woman who works for a well-known local chef.
I'm not sure if all Eat With dinners follow a similar format, but Kara saved us from awkward conversational gaps with several round-table questions that provoked more conversation afterwards, such as "What was your favorite thing that happened in L.A. this year?"
Eat With has been likened to AirBnB for food, which is kind of convenient shorthand for a website that helps book dinner parties at peoples' houses. Of course, underground dinners for a fee in people's homes have been going on for years -- I tried two Burning Man-flavored Ghetto Gourmet dinners back in 2008, and Jim Haynes has been hosting an ongoing party in Paris for more than 36 years. And there's plenty of others still going in L.A., many at higher price points or with more well-known chefs. But I think the worldwide reach of EatWith combined with AirBnB-style safeguards such as insurance for the hosts, a cleanliness rating and reviews from guests who have tried it, makes the whole idea much more interesting for guests and hosts alike. DinnerLab is starting up in L.A., but with a $175 membership fee, it's a much different type of experience.
I'll be looking forward to trying an Eat With dinner in another city entirely -- preferably somewhere like Tokyo or Berlin.

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