Many new establishments opening across New York City are figuring out how to adapt to a dining landscape that’s changed during the pandemic. At Dinner Party, a Fort Greene restaurant debuting at 86 South Portland Avenue, a potentially savvy plan dovetails with the popularity of outdoor dining by focusing on picnic-friendly meals.
Set to open on June 8, Dinner Party — which took over the recently shuttered local Mexican restaurant Pequeña — will start out by focusing entirely on to-go picnic baskets made to be eaten nearby in Fort Greene Park. Guests can pre-order the picnic offerings, which will change weekly, and will only be available in pre-set offerings, rather than a la carte.
Currently, the opening weekend picnic to-go bites include pickled hot peppers, sourdough toast with condiments, a spring vegetable salad, rice pudding, and seasonal fruit, sold at $16 per set meal. Individually, each component is more the size of a snack than a meal, but the idea is to bring it onto a blanket with friends and “have opportunities for sharing and trying different bites,” says owner Cami Jetta. In addition to serving the Dinner Party takeout in regular compostable containers, there are plans to offer picnic baskets to rent or purchase for those looking for a more picturesque picnic-in-the-park experience.
Come this fall, the restaurant will evolve into its ultimate goal, which is to offer a full-service experience inspired by dinner parties. Jetta, who’s 25 and a neighborhood local, says she had long-dreamed of opening her own spot, but the pandemic, for the first time, made her feel inspired to take the chance. The first-time restaurant owner describes Dinner Party’s cuisine as “Chez Panisse-inspired”: a little French, a little Italian-American, as well as nods to seasonal California cooking inspired by her time attending college in Berkeley.
“I want to make super simple food that calls people in: making delicious, almost rustic home-cooking, done in an ecologically-sound way,” Jetta says. “The idea of walking through the park and seeing all the different types of people eating my food would make me really happy and makes me excited to potentially be a part of the history of the place.”
Though she is not a professionally-trained cook, save for select experiences during college in Berkeley and working in a summer camp kitchen, Jetta does not see this as a deterrent, but rather an asset to “keeping the atmosphere unpretentious.” She hopes the casual vibe of the space, once open, will feel like the dinner parties she’s come to be known for amongst her friends — an “intimate feeling,” she tells Eater, that many have “likely missed during the pandemic.”
“We will no doubt make mistakes,” says Jetta, who formerly worked in fundraising at the Natural History Museum. “But if it can be memorable and fun every night then I will be happy; I want every night at the Dinner Party to feel like a play, with new characters.”
To recreate that feeling of being in someone’s home, the restaurant’s interior scheme features an assortment of mismatched plates and other thrift-store finds. Likewise, Dinner Party will only allow patrons to book by seat, rather than table, to encourage smaller groups to dine at the same table as strangers (the restaurant has no two-tops).
Each night there will be three seatings: 5, 7, and 9 p.m. Similar to how the picnic baskets will function, full-service dinner will be set menu-only.
“Dinner Party is a restaurant for and by young people,” Jetta says. “Accordingly it will be a little DIY…We’re either in for a rude awakening, or the time of our lives. Perhaps both.”