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Last weekend, I ended my boycott of Adams Morgan and attended my first meal organized by Feastly, the D.C. start-up that uses an internet platform to connect willing cooks and hungry foodies for dinner parties in private residences.
This was sure to be a test of my preconceived notions about dinner parties in general and about Feastly in particular. It’s so rare to go to a dinner party where the food is really exquisite, although I usually love attending them all the same. But building a business on a blind-dating concept for food seems tricky, if only because both the food and the company are wild cards. At least at a dinner party with friends, I can be generally assured that the latter will be delightful. I kept thinking about the huge potential for hilarity and horror. What if the host was a closet exhibitionist who answered the door in an apron and nothing else, then bolted the door and gave people no other option than to eat sushi off of his body? What if diners showed up and found themselves in a townhouse fit for Hoarders? What if the chef was serving stinky tofu and warthog anus? There are enough scenarios for 10 years of Larry David sitcom scripts. This is “democratizing dining,” after all.
Thankfully, things didn’t play out according to my twisted premonitions.
The meal, hosted by one of Feastly’s founders, Danny Harris, cost $35, which covered a huge spread* served by his mother, Giulietta, who is from Libya.
Harris noted to the assembled diners—-an artist here, a federal contracts manager there, a digital media consultant sitting next to a leaning tower of books—-that the meal we were about to eat was a window into the Sunday dinners of his childhood. Most Feastly gatherings celebrate the ethnic heritage or interests of the host, and ours featured the food of the small Jewish community of Tripoli where Giulietta lived as a child. That was a lucky break for us, because all of the D.C. area’s Libyan Jewish restaurants were booked that night. By booked, of course, I mean non-existent.
Giulietta set the tone for the entire experience. She greeted us warmly at the door. She explained each dish and then personally ladled out huge portions around the table. When she heard the silverware stop clinking, she was back in a flash. This went on and on until my breathing became labored. The most successful dishes were the bestile, semi-sweet and light squares of quiche made with egg, potato, spinach, onion and turmeric, and a comforting stew of spinach, white beans, meat and spices called lubia bel selk. People could not seem to get enough of the warm apple tea that was served as a digestif.
None of the dishes delivered knockout punches of flavor. But, the longer I sat at the table, the more I realized that food is really only one part of the Feastly experience. I was more struck by Giulietta’s grace as a host, the unbroken hum of conversation between strangers, and the interesting people those strangers turned out to be. The dinner conversation ranged from art to D.C.’s start-up culture to Philadelphia’s food scene, which is funny because I didn’t know anything about any of those topics.
It felt like the big family feeds my grandmother hosted routinely when I was a kid. Sadly, though, no tongue was served.
Adventurous cooks have now used Feastly to host more than a dozen meals, covering a wide range of foods (see the Feastly blog for more details). A new website will be launched soon, with added features allowing diners to share their thoughts on meals and rank the cooks.
On a scale of one to five, taking into account both the food and atmosphere, I’d give this meal a 3.5. Given the low-weirdo factor, I suspect that Larry David would be less generous.
Photo by Sam Hiersteiner
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that the price of the meal also included wine. In fact, Feastly dinners are BYOB. The author regrets the error.