Last Thursday evening – despite the rain, the endless stairs, rush hour, a surly MBTA officer – I arrived at Boston’s City Plaza with my date toting a picnic basket and table and chairs for another Diner en Blanc Boston, a pop-up secret dinner party with 1,000 other people dressed all in white.
The last time Diner en Blanc was held in Boston (2012) it felt magical and elegant. This year’s event definitely delivered its visual spectacle but the brutal modernism of City Hall, rainy streets, and having to set up our table on a ramp that tilted slightly downhill – and this after being temporarily kicked off the T for trying to board with “furniture” – reminded me that Boston, despite its European roots and architecture, is still the hardscrabble place of rebels, poor urban planning, and rabid sports fans.
Elegance be damned.
The carefully orchestrated, orderly procession of the only other Diner en Blanc I attended was upended by what felt like a kind of cultural anarchy.
But we looked great, anyway, didn’t we?
It was somewhat comforting knowing that lots of other people were also making the effort to participate in what can only be called a bit of foodie theatre.
If I ever get organized enough, or figure out how to transport stuff more easily, I may try to create one of these fabulous centerpieces. This year, for simplicity’s sake and trying to assuage any additional anxiety heightened by my hourly checking of the weather forecast, I settled for a single white rose in a bud vase.
I also kept my focus on the food. The evening lasts until 10 p.m. and although there was a salsa band giving dance lessons and a house DJ keeping things hopping my feeling is, stretch out the meal as long as you can, European style.
So we had six courses this year:
- French bread, olive oil, and olives
- Shrimp cocktail
- Homemade gazpacho
- Brie, chevrotin from Seal Cove Farm, and green grapes
- Grilled rosemary chicken (thank you, Whole Foods) and Moroccan couscous salad
- Creme brûlée and white chocolate squares
My date, dressed in a white linen suit and white fedora, looked dashing – and still somehow managed to cart my overstuffed bag and picnic basket with cheerfulness. Not once did he say anything about the Patriot’s season opener happening at that exact moment. Sitting across the table from him boosted my spirits despite the damp evening. By the time we arrived at dessert, having finally settled the hunger pains and rested the weary limbs for bit, things were looking up! Here is Eric about to dig into the creme brûlée.
After emptying the picnic basket we felt fortified enough to stand up and stroll around. That’s when we realized, despite it all, this was fun. Because that’s life, right? It may have been crazy and chaotic, but we’ll be telling stories about it for years to come.
Creme brûlée for two
1 cup heavy cream
1⁄4 cup sugar, plus
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Heat heavy cream and 1/4 cup sugar over high heat until little bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat.
3. Whisk egg yolks and vanilla in a bowl, then add a tiny bit of cream mixture while whisking.
4. Continue adding cream mixture bit by bit until gone. You don’t want to add the hot cream mixture all at once because it’ll cook the yolks.
5. Pour into two creme brulee ramekins.
6. Place ramekins in a baking dish with edges taller than the ramekins.
7. Carefully pour enough water into the baking dish to halfway cover the sides of the ramekins. Be sure not to get water in the ramekins.
8. Bake for 40 minutes.
9. Carefully remove from oven and let cool.
10. Remove ramekins from baking dish, cover with clear wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours.
11. When ready to serve, sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon of sugar evenly over each ramekin, and torch in slow, steady circles until sugar caramelizes. (I didn’t have a kitchen torch so ours were more like regular custard, but deliciously creamy.)