Although it may seem as if the entire country is spending its free time making artisan jam and looking for ways to incorporate bacon into every recipe, there are still those of us who'd rather leave the cooking to someone else -- especially when it comes to a dinner party. Even if you're overcome by a feeling of dread at the thought of making skirt steak for eight, you can still be the host with the most if you get inventive with your dinner party ideas. So put down the fondue pot and explore 10 options in the Twin Cities that will have you doing what you do best: enjoying food and drink with friends (or strangers!) without all the fuss.
10. The Pop-Up Dinner Twin Cities If you want to enjoy a pop-up picnic on a gorgeous summer night with 500 other like-minded souls, your ability to email ASAP counts way more than your ability to cook: This flash dinner picnic on August 16 is bound to sell out. The event is held at a location kept secret until just before it starts and it's BYOP (as in picnic; tables and chairs are provided) but plan on throwing a little something extra in the basket for all the new friends you'll meet while dining in the great outdoors. In keeping with the simple summer vibe of this party, picnickers are encouraged to wear all-white attire and you can get as fancy (there are no rules against candelabras and caviar) or as simple (bread and cheese, anyone?) as you like. The dinner, which benefits the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, is a "leave no trace" event, so pack up everything before you leave and slip, like ghosts, off into the night. Tickets are $35 per person; guests must e-mail [email protected] to receive an invitation to register.
9. Twin Cities Food Tours Who said you have to have a dinner party sitting down? Allow the folks at Twin Cities Food Tours to lead you and your group through Minneapolis's North Loop and Northeast neighborhoods at a leisurely pace while exploring the culinary scene. Tours combine stops for samples at local restaurants and specialty stores (regular stops include Local D'Lish, Kramarczuk's, Punch Pizza, Gorkha Palace, and Gardens of Salonica) with snippets of Minnesota history and cultural information. Best of all, comfortable shoes and clothing are encouraged (every Minnesotan's dream), and by staying on the move throughout the three-hour tour you're sure to burn calories while you eat. Private tours can be arranged for groups of six or more.
8. Progressive Dinner Tour If being chauffeured around town in a private limo is more your style than walking, you'll want to check out the Progressive Dinner Tour offered by Gourmet Adventure and Renee's Royal Valet Limousine Service. Choose from a three- or four-course dinner and enjoy each course at a different Twin Cities restaurant. There are no predetermined packages here; every tour is custom-designed based on your group's style and taste. So while they do have a list of preferred restaurateurs -- Solera, W.A. Frost and Company, and Lucia's, to name a few -- it's really, truly all about you (Read: They are not above a stop at Taco Bell if that's what you want). They also do winery and brewery tours if you want to skip the food and have a built-in designated driver.
7. Wine & Canvas We've all been to the awkward dinner party where a somewhat interesting conversation morphs to a 20-minute oration on city zoning ordinances or (worse) the details of someone's boring job. This is where Wine & Canvas comes in. You'll be having so much fun painting -- yes, painting -- that you won't have to worry if the fun chitchat takes a nosedive. This mobile business travels to local restaurants, churches, offices, hotels, and homes to accommodate anyone inclined to pick up a brush, no experience necessary. Artists instruct you step-by-step through re-creating a featured painting and, at the end, you take home a work of art. In addition to a full roster of events held at various Twin Cities restaurants each month, they can also host private events (for up to 80) at their St. Anthony studio, which features a menu of appetizers, pizzas, sandwiches, and, of course, beer and wine to get those artistic juices flowing. [page]
6. Curry Diva There's nothing better than food prepared with love, and that's just what Heather Jansz, a.k.a. the Curry Diva, provides at her monthly Diva Dinners at Our Kitchen in south Minneapolis. Limited to 18 diners, these events regularly sell out -- so much so that she asks people who have recently attended to sit a couple of dinners out in order to give others a chance. Diva Dinners include four courses of Jansz's Sri Lankan dishes, which are often dairy-free, gluten-free, and sometimes even fat-free, although don't think that means lacking in taste (she's skilled in Ayurvedic cooking, which activates all the senses). The smaller group size allows her to talk to her guests and share her knowledge of curry, the style of cooking, not the spice. Participants leave with full bellies and new friends, although if you've already got a group of friends in mind, she's happy to cook for private parties. Visit the Curry Diva website to sign up for the e-mail list for Diva Dinners or to book Jansz for a private event.
5. Saturday Night Dinners If you're looking for a way to meet new people but don't have the athletic skills or competitive spirit for an adult rec sports league, the Saturday Night Dinners group on Meetup.com is perfect for you. The group meets once a month for potluck-style dinners in members' homes or at area restaurants. The events average 10 people per dinner, although they've had as many as 25. Dinners are organized around a different food theme each time -- including types of food, a color, or even a location.The purpose is to share food while meeting new people, an especially novel idea in a state where people can be closed off to those they haven't known since kindergarten. Saturday Night Dinners are designed to not only break that tendency but to help members make lasting connections.
4. Cantor Mitch, The Singing Chef In combining his two loves -- cooking and singing -- Cantor Mitch Kowitz aims to deliver kosher cuisine for the next generation with a little bit of the Beatles, John Denver, or Fiddler on the Roof thrown in for good measure. Sure, he's not for everyone, but if you're interested in breaking out of your boring dinner-party rut, we promise this singing chef will bring the entertainment. Cantor Mitch really is a cantor (he sings and leads prayer at a synagogue), who also happens to have performed in national touring shows like Disney's Pinocchio and The King and I, acted in dinner theater productions, and worked in professional kitchens. In his latest venture as the Singing Chef, he brings all of his talent and passion to your private party, where he'll not only take care of the cooking, serving, and cleaning up but provide that all-important dinner party playlist, live and tailored to a theme or just because you feel like hearing "Sunrise Sunset." [page]
3. Twin Cities Paella If you've got sufficient outdoor space (typically 10 feet by 10 feet) and a hankering for a comfort food far different from tater tot hot dish, give Twin Cities Paella a try. Owner Frank Machado describes the experience as a dinner so delicious and aromatic it transports you and your guests to the Costa Brava of Spain. Paella, a traditional rice dish, is cooked over an open fire by chefs who often double as the evening's entertainment; party-goers can gather around to watch how this dish is prepared and learn about its origins. The company uses imported ingredients -- bomba rice, saffron, smoked pimiento, piquillo peppers, and extra virgin olive oil -- and offers several variations of the dish, including one for meat lovers and a seafood version. The service includes snacks, a salad bar (given the long cook time for this dish it's good to have something for friends to nibble on while they wait), and a condiment bar.
2. The Dinner Detective If you and your gang like your dinner party experience to be interactive, a trip to see the Dinner Detective may be in order. Positioning themselves as the Cadillac of mystery dinner theater, the Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Show promises intriguing scenarios, challenging mysteries, and dialogue that won't make you cringe. Part of the fun involves professionally trained actors mixed in with the paying customers, causing guests to wonder just who is "real" and who is getting paid to enjoy the four-course meal. If you're competitive by nature, the fact that a prize package awaits the top sleuth of the evening may be motivation enough to find the killer. While a private party generally requires a minimum of 30, the company performs large public shows in downtown Minneapolis that can accommodate your smaller group.
1. Chefmixer If you're perfectly capable of mixing drinks and creating a dinner party playlist, but when it comes to cooking you're best relegated to pouring cereal into a bowl and adding milk, you'll want to mark your calendar for October. That's when Chefmixer, a Minneapolis-based start-up founded by Kevin Raheja, plans to start connecting dinner party hosts to top local chefs who will sell their services for one to two days per month on the site, allowing people to purchase complete menus to enjoy in their homes while dazzling their guests.
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