There is a quiet revolution happening in big-city kitchens. In places like New York, natives and visitors alike are skipping big-name restaurants and gathering in stranger’s apartments for one-of-a-kind culinary experiences that are closer to the family table than a Michelin star restaurant.
Simply eating well isn’t enough anymore; something is missing. People are increasingly hungry for conversations, connections and a welcoming atmosphere with a gourmet meal on the side.
Around 7 p.m. strangers arrived in the tiny Manhattan studio of Marco Maestoso and Dalila Ercolani. Maestoso and Ercolani are one of the many trained culinary professionals and just regular folks who host communal dinners in their homes. This young couple created what they call, the “Casa Maestoso brand,” hosting themed (usually Italian) dinners several times a week.
They use sharing economy apps like Feastly and EatWith to sell tickets, which tend to sell out as word spreads. Ercolani admits she still gets pleasantly surprised about how many people want to come to their dinners.
“People would email me asking to be squeezed in, so we began to add more and more dinners until we were up to almost six to seven days a week.”
While many Italian chefs are known for their passionate views on keeping Italian food authentic, Maestoso likes to put his own twist on things. He admits that some of their best dishes came about as a result of happy accidents in the kitchen. Like a chocolate fettuccine made on the fly or a lobster dish that came together when the real main course got burned.
“I like to get influences from other cuisines. It’s good to have the basics, it’s good to have rules you can always rely on but the difference, I believe, you can make it only if you can twist it,” said Maestoso, “It’s my cuisine. You may not like it but it’s still my cuisine. For me, it makes a difference.”
Warm and spicy aromas greet you before you reach Casa Maestoso. Ercolani opens the door and greets every guest with a big smile, kisses on both cheeks and a “Ciao!”
There was a long communal table set up the middle of the studio and guests were mingling over appetizers and wine. The night’s menu included lasagna, salmon, and a deconstructed tiramisu.
While everyone waited for dinner, Ercolani mingled and poured the wine. The guest list ranged from a couple of Upper East Side grand madame’s to a fellow food writer from Hong Kong.
”If my husband were alive, we’d do this all the time!” exclaimed one of the Upper East Siders. The crowd eagerly nodded in agreement.
Ercolani answered all of the usual questions. Yes, they both prep and shop or the food. Of course, it’s hard but also very rewarding. In the beginning, they bickered over who worked harder but they’ve learned to appreciate each other’s roles. She’s entertaining and he concentrates on the food. They can’t imagine doing this alone.
When she said that “we” cooked tonight’s meal, Marco poked his head out of the kitchen and yelled, “What do you mean we?” smiling. She waved her hand in the air, brushing off his teasing remark.
As the first course came and went, the Upper East Side women were the first to get up and help clear the plates. The rest of the us followed suit and helped bring out the second course.
The butternut squash soup was fragrant and light. The vegetarian lasagna was hearty and warm. The salmon with berry sauce was divine, and the deconstructed tiramisu dessert was fluffy and not too sweet. We barely noticed that the wine was switched from white to red.
Between the laughter, the jokes and the glasses of wine we barely noticed that it was nearly midnight. We thanked Maestoso and Ercolani for a wonderful meal and left their apartment, wondering where the night went. Time flies when you’re having fun.
To learn more about Casa Maestoso visit: www.casamaestoso.com
Words and Images by: Aleksandra Bulatskaya