You don't know how it happens, but it happens every year. The grand ambitions of early December – promises of homemade potpourris and build-your-own-gingerbread-man stations – have long been discarded. What takes their place is the white-hot panic of knowing that your annual seasonal bash is just around the corner and you haven't even started decking the halls with boughs of holly, let alone retrieving that punch bowl from the basement. Need holiday trouble-shooting? Here is how you can still host an enchanting night with only a few hours to spare.
BRING IN THE BOOZE EXPERTS
Curious to see what a Cinnamon Sidecar tastes like? Or a Reiner von Deer? A Molson 67 Mistletoe perhaps? Look no further than Martini Club. Founded by Laura Panter and her college friend Michelle Hunt, Martini Club has been offering customized cocktail menus to thirsty Torontonians since 1996.
In its 15 years, Martini Club has served groups of every stripe, from large corporate parties to private gatherings of 10 to 100 guests. Their 50 in-house mixologists are most in demand right about now, says Ms. Panter.
"We are madly busy this time of the year. The coming weekends are going to be wild. Everyone seems to want festive, fun holiday cocktails."
Ms. Panter says their most popular feature is the custom menu, where she sits down with her client to concoct a specialized drink that fits the theme for the night.
For a 300-guest office party last week, Martini Club served up scores of Naughty 'n' Ices. Gin shaken with aperol, Earl Grey tea, and ruby red grapefruit juice. Served in a swirling fog.
How did people like it?
"We loved it," says Mary Pallattella, Creative Director of Capital C Communications, who hosted the fête.
She explains that all the drinks were a big hit, including the Candy Cosmo, "finished with a candy-cotton touch," and the Dirty Russian, which involved Kahlua, egg nog, and nutmeg.
Ms. Pallatella says she likes that she can give them a theme and they will come back with a signature drink that is just right.
A few years back, she even invited them over when a bunch of her friends were hanging out together. "Having a bartender or two takes a huge load off. You don't have to worry about being the bartender for the night."
It makes for a merrier union too. "You can let the bartenders know who is getting a bit too tipsy and control the flow. Were it an open bar, you would have people pouring themselves drinks without consideration."
Costs range from $20-50 per person.
CATER THE FOOD, KEEP THE GOODWILL
The Stop Community Food Centre
If a sit-down dinner for 12 is more of your scene, try The Stop, the community food centre that has a new holiday-catering menu up that includes endive salads, root-vegetable gratins and sticky toffee pudding. As for mains, you can choose from the forever popular traditional roast turkey, a legume-and-herbs loaf for vegetarians, a turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken), and more. The chef builds the menu with local providers, and some of the ingredients come from its 3,000-square-foot greenhouse in the Wychwood Barns. The food is not only sustainable, it's ethical too. All proceeds from catering go to funding the Stop's food bank programs where they serve warm lunches to those in need, four days a week.
$50 per person, service offered in-house or on location.
KEEP IT CASUAL, FANCYPANTS
Chez Vous Dining
Chef Ezra Title of Chez Vous is your man if you want to do away with chairs this season and go with drop-in hellos and how-are-yous. Chez Vous specializes in fancy food in a casual setting, and offers a small plate service – "sort of in between hors d'oeuvres and a sit-down dinner." Mr. Title serves four to six courses, all of them requiring all but one utensil. Think heartier than flimsy amuse-bouches but no heavier than a dish of braised beef with potatoes. A sample menu includes Jerusalem artichoke soup served in an espresso cup, a risotto of butternut squash, oyster mushrooms and fontina cheese, warm chocolate brownies with poached pears. Mr. Title boasts his is the most special menu in town, since he will tailor it to exactly how his clients want it. All is within the realm of possibility, he assures.
$65 per person for the small-plate service
BRING IN THE TRADITIONALISTS
If no one will step up to deal with the turkey, step away from the kitchen (and the drawer of knives), and give L-EAT a call. Their menu will best complement the back-slapping, hand-shaking, bear-hugging brand of traditional Christmas dinner party. Samplings from the menu includes mini turkey burgers with cranberry aioli to start, porcini-crusted beef tenderloin with truffle veal jus, and a roasted apple, pear, and plum crostata with cinnamon-scented vanilla ice cream, icing sugar dusting, and a caped gooseberry. Point is: super delicious. And if the family affair gets too stressful, you can always seek refuge in holiday drinks. Eggnog rum. Mulled wine. Spiced apple cider. Repeat.
$70 per person for a 3-course plated dinner.
Special to The Globe and Mail