Monday, October 25, 2010

Eat Up: Serving Up The Dining Experience In Style

I am addicted to Daphne's Greek Cafe. I always order the same thing--the Gyros Plate. I just can't get enough and never tire of their gyros with fire-roasted vegetables, taboulli, pita bread and the tangy lemon-chicken soup. It's wholesome comfort food! One Friday for lunch, hubby and I were at Daphne's once again, and we decided to take our lunch outside. The weather was beautiful and even though there were no views of any sort, the sunny, balmy day was enough to add to the experience. You know what they say, "Food tastes better outside." If you're particular about your food,  you'll know that this is true with the exception of  some restaurants with really lackluster food that even the spectacular views cannot do anything. This is when they say, "You're just paying for the ambiance."

Well, I say, there's no reason you can't have both. The interior of any Daphne's is as basic as they come; comfortable, clean and unpretentious. However, I like that they have large prints of Mediterranean views and architecture. Since I really, really like the food, when I'm there it's enough for me to look up at those prints in between forkfuls of gyros. Eating is multi-sensory experience and this experience can be heightened when not just gustatory delights are involved. A great view, a cool breeze, dappled sunlight, a table under a tree, candlelight and music and good company--when added to the food, make dining even more pleasurable.

You know what they say, "People eat with their eyes first." This is a simple way of saying that all of our senses are involved in the whole dining experience. Simple things such as fresh flowers on the table and beautiful place settings can make our dining rooms more inviting. On HGTV, I like Michael Chiarello's rustic dining table under trees with a vineyard in the background. I also like Giada de Laurentiis garden bistro style dining overlooking the Pacific.
Wish I was there: Michael Chiarello entertaining guests al fresco.
Photo credit above:

Serve It Up With A View
If your dining table is positioned by doors or windows looking outside, emphasize the view! Frame a pair of sliding or French doors with drapes that do not cover the view. A garden or a patio is the perfect place to enjoy a lazy breakfast--all you need is a bistro set--a small table and a couple of chairs.

Lighting Is Important
Also,  light up your food! I have seen way too  many tract homes and condos where the chandelier or pendant lighting  cannot be centered over the dining table because of poor planning during the home's construction phase. I just hate this! It's a simple problem that can be solved. An electrician can come in move the fixture for you so it hangs in the middle of your dining table. Dining chandeliers should be approximately 30 to 34 inches above the table top, for a standard 8 foot ceiling. Make sure to have dimmers installed too.

Use Colors
Warm colors such as orange and red are known to improve appetite. These colors are often psychologically associated with hunger and a desire to be full. One wall painted a deep red is enough to infuse your dining room with richness. Dining rooms are gathering rooms, it is where we bring our friends and families together. For this purpose, earth tones, such as those found in natural woods, convey a sense of warmth.  Tans and browns make us feel safe and grounded and known to stimulate opening up, which is good for conversation.

Above, left: A red accent wall spices up a dining room, Above, right: Lunch is served with a view.
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Mark the Space
If your dining room is in one big great room, mark the space with an attractive area rug. If wall space allows, anchor the dining room set with artwork. This clearly delineates the space.

My mother said that one of most memorable dining experiences of her life was on a boat floating on a canal in Bangkok, Thailand. These 'market boats' are piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and delicious local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat! While standing on the 'dock', you can shop for wares and food. The small flat boats jockey for position, expertly paddled by ladies ready to stop and bargain at a moment's notice. It's colorful, noisy, totally touristy but great fun. It's a total package.
Food for sale at  floating market in Bangkok, Thailand

You know what they say, "You are what you eat." What I mean by this is that if you like simple, casual food most of the time, don't have a totally formal dining room where you're always afraid the hot sauce will spill on the expensive, starched table cloth. If you have a large family and weekend brunches have a way of always turning into a party, invest in a long table or one with leaves that you can add on as needed. If you like to barbecue, make sure you to have tables and chairs outside because barbecue is meant to be eaten al fresco.

Above: Two different styles, both equally gracious and inviting.
Photo credits above:,

The French philosopher Voltaire said, "Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." So, check out your dining room. It's time to turn that table you've been using as an office desk into a place to enjoy food in. Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. There's still time!

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