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In these humdrum at-home pandemic days, scarfing out of a pizza box or slurping wonton soup from a plastic container is the closest most of us get to a safe restaurant experience. But sometimes you need to spruce things up. Dressing up the table, stretching your palate with new flavors, and setting the mood will help make supping at home feel more like eating out at a favorite corner bistro. These gifts will elevate your dining experiences in 2021.
Set the menu
Special suppers require forethought, and the guest of honor often isn’t in on the planning. While you could print out formal menus, the process can be wasteful—and how many of us have a printer at home, anyway? Instead, artfully scrawl the evening’s courses on a reusable chalkboard the same way a restaurant might announce its nightly specials. A model made from hard slate stone instead of coated wood or cardboard will take chalk better (and scrub up cleaner once the dining’s done).
These 15-inch cotton kitchen towels are a favorite of chefs for mopping up their kitchen messes, so it’s no wonder they’ve made it onto the tables of chic eateries, too. The cotton weave is super absorbent, so it’s perfect for sopping up spilled vino or sauces, and it won’t wrinkle as easily as frillier linen or sateen options. In addition to making a table look just-so, the fabric is great for swaddling wine bottles or lining bread baskets.
Revive cocktail hour
Shaker & Spoon
Sipping a cocktail at the bar is probably the best way to kill time waiting for a tardy dinner companion, but it’s a pleasure quickly lost when the “bar” is your coffee table. To replicate the level of mixology you previously only indulged in at a proper establishment, Shaker & Spoon stretches its tastes and ingredients well beyond simple classics like Old Fashioneds and martinis. Each box comes with the fixins’ you need to make four cocktails (three servings each), all based around a single spirit. The service’s detailed instructions will have you muddling, infusing, and garnishing like you’re wearing a silk-back vest. The holiday-season rum-centric box features a Filipino-inspired cocktail flavored with avocado and coconut.
Water, without the waiter
Scrambling back and forth to the kitchen to refill water glasses is a surefire way to kill the mood. Without a server to fill up your cup, you’ll need to keep a supply of cool hydration on the table. While hammered metal or bourbon-bottle-turned-carafes might be better at evoking swanky barroom vibes, stoneware will keep the wet stuff cooler longer. The stone in French favorite Le Creuset’s offering is so dense it’ll hold onto a temp throughout the meal. It can also handle anything from -65 degrees F to 500 degrees F, so consider it for double duty as a coffee carafe for fancy brunches.
At home, we usually reserve appetizers for holidays, but having a li’l somethin’ before the main meal is an easy way to upgrade any weeknight dinner. Sure, you could toast up some franks in blankets or defrost some frozen mini egg rolls, but why not expand your palate and avoid cooking at the same time? Pop open a jar of caper leaves—yes, off the same plant that gives us briney capers—and have a nibble. Picked and packed in oil and vinegar on the island of Pantelleria off the Sicilian coast, where generations of farmers have cultivated the yummy berries, the leaves have only recently become chic to eat on their own.
Bread at the ready
Warm, crusty, butter-melting bread that comes straight from the oven—or at least out of a professional warmer—is a mainstay in countless eateries. In your home, the microwave or toaster oven will do, but once the carbs cool down they can become rock hard in an ordinary bread basket. The stone base of this wicker offering, however, can keep buns toasty and ready to sop up sauces throughout the meal. Just place the terracotta slab into a warm oven for 10-20 minutes and slip it into the bottom of the basket, and you’ll get to enjoy hot bread for as long as it takes you to scarf it all down.
Make butter art
Fiddly little touches like crumb scrapers help separate roadside diners from fine dining establishments, and just a few extra minutes of fussing can elevate a home table in the same way. For starters, consider the butter. Instead of dropping a slab and a knife on a plate and calling it a day, opt to mold that delicious spread into artful rounds. This set of traditional hardwood German molds, each with a unique design, work a lot like cookie presses: Stamp the device atop the yellow stuff, push the handle, and get a daintily molded disc that’s almost too pretty to cut into.
A little ambiance, perhaps?
Everyone looks better in candlelight, which is part of why restaurants default to it, but conventional waxy pillars can be a hazard when reaching across the table to swipe your companion’s last dumpling. (Sorry! Not sorry.) For years, LED-based substitutes were only vague facsimiles of the real deal—static teardrop bulbs atop formless plastic cylinders. Luminara’s falsies do a good enough job of mimicking the real thing to impress even the most discerning candle bloggers; encased in real wax, the flames flicker and rotate like IRL fire from an electronic wick tucked inside a “melted” hollow in the pillar.