Once a week or so, I turn my dining room into a restaurant. It's not a fussy interpretation. I don't pull out all the stops, but I do my best to reinvent what I can no longer achieve in public. I miss restaurants with my whole heart even though—if I’m being honest, as the mother to a 1-year-old and 3-year-old—I was no longer a frequent restaurant diner.
But restaurants were always an important part of my life. They played a part in my earliest memories. It’s not only the things that I ate that I can recount all these years later, but it’s the moments in places with friends and family: sacred spaces where things just felt important. I desperately want my own kids to feel that same sense of import, even as the world feels off-kilter. If you’re like me, meaning you also want your house to feel a little special these days, here are some things you can do to convert your humble home to the restaurant of your dreams.
Embrace the Elegance
The thing about restaurants is that what we take from them isn’t only one thing. I can’t remember much about the meals I used to share with my father at our favorite Chinese restaurant in New York, Flower Drum, but I can remember how we ended it each time: him with a shot glass of plum wine, me with one of ginger ale, a maraschino cherry dropped in for my pleasure. The waiters there knew us because we visited often and so, in a sense, it was our home away from home. Our lunches there—with tablecloths and chopsticks—were about ritual and elegance.
Sometimes, all you need to make your dining table somewhere transportive is a little luxe: a different set of plates, a little texture, candleholders you forgot you owned, a closing coda of ginger ale with a cherry (or, now that I’m an adult, plum wine). Suddenly, you can be worlds away. Embrace the elegance of the experience of dining and make it your own.
And Pick a Theme
It is, of course, also about the food. When I arrange my theoretical home restaurant, I think thematically in big, bold terms. Two weeks ago, I made scallion pancakes, sticky rice, and General Tso's chicken: it was like a trip to an American-Chinese restaurant reminiscent of those with my dad. There are no rules in this particular restaurant of mine—no menus, no times of operation (and there don’t need to be rules in yours, either). One night, we may feel dedicated to interpretations of dishes we remember from places we once visited, while another we may feel compelled to recreate the food from cheeky American destinations that our kids are likely to enjoy.
More and more, I want to see my tables abundant, a reminder of the spaces I spent so much of my life in before this, with plates full. A few nights ago, my husband and I made air fryer Buffalo wings alongside a sheet pan pizza, and a proper Caesar salad. We served everything family-style, our spread sprawling and bountiful. Even though we're only at our dining room table, it felt like we were traveling far beyond the confines of home.
The Pace Will Set the Mood
Think of the places you miss the most or the dishes you crave when you close your eyes. Light candles. Put on your favorite music. Give yourself two solid hours. Two! Eat your food in courses and clear the plates in between. Pour wine and let the candles burn down to stubs, like you would if you were one of the lingering tables on a Saturday night at a romantic bistro. Use the cloth napkins you never use because you hate washing them. Make a dessert and put it in the middle of the table with spoons for everyone to share.
The magic of restaurants is not necessarily what you eat but rather, what’s created in the cocoon while you’re there. The way we dine when we’re out is specific. It’s not rushed. It’s not chaotic. It’s timeless.
Make It Different
The point is to make the experience different. Dinner on a Tuesday feels mostly functional (at least in my world). That’s what differentiates the days of the week, even now, even when it’s hard to distinguish between the gray lines of days that largely look the same. But our weekend meals feel sacred and that’s because they feel like they’re somewhere else.
Our table—transformed through lighting, a few quick ploys, and whatever theme we’ve chosen for the night—transports us to the world outside. So transport yourself to your favorite restaurant. It’s a memory just waiting to be made. Break out the candles and your favorite wine glasses. Your kitchen table is calling.