8.05.2010

DIY: Dining Alfresco

The phrase al fresco simply means "in the fresh air" or to dine outside. I like to think of it as a fancier version of a picnic. With summer in full swing, I wanted to share my favorite tips and recipes for your own al fresco adventure.
  • Plan: You can make this as budget-friendly as you'd like: a cheap bottle of wine with an accompaniment (cheese, bread, crackers, chocolate or grapes). I did this in Paris (c'mon, I HAD to) and it's one of my favorite memories (riding a hot air balloon over Paris was another). Or you can go all out and grill (barbeque). Choose what's best for you. How many people will be joining you? Is it a romantic date? Or a party at home? You could also have a themed dinner!
  • Location: A park is the natural choice, but a patio is just as nice! Al fresco doesn't mean it has to be some exotic location--home is fine! Depending on your meal, bring blankets, cooler, pillows (if at home), chairs, grill, and tables if needed. A very simple way is to dine is to use an old shower curtain as blanket for easy cleanup. I'm lucky that I live right by Piedmont Park. It's one of my favorite places in Atlanta, and is my favorite al fresco spot. Another choice is the beach--so romantic. Can't you just picture it? 
  • Equipment: Again, it depends on the budget and meal here. Use your good silver for that extra touch of chic but good 'ole plastic cutlery works just fine! Use your wine glasses (even if you're serving soda) or a red infamous Solo cup. If bringing fine china makes you cringe (like me), there are plenty of disposable or recyclable options. Since you're probably bringing everything somewhere, keep it simple--just one fork for all meal courses. Cloth napkins are a more stable choice than paper ones that could fly away. As for me, I use a picnic blanket and a bag or cooler to carry my needs. 
  • Set the mood: this depends on the time of day, but a meal under the stars with plenty of candles is simply stellar. Dining on your patio? String up some Christmas lights,or light up the tiki torch, or plug in patio lights. Flowers are a fabulous decoration or centerpiece. Make sure there's plenty of room to sit, so floor cushions are a nice choice. The atmosphere should be cozy and comfy.
  • Meal: My menu is always super simple, especially if I'm toting my supplies to another location. Tapas are a fabulous al fresco meal. I like pre-assembled food, such as sandwiches. Think outside of the bread bag and create wraps or pitas. 
  • Dips are another way to make an easy meal. Think hummus, black bean dip, bruschetta spread, queso or fondue, or olive spread.  
  • A salad is an easy and healthy summer option--beware of foods that spoil in the sun, such as mayo. A cold pasta salad is hearty and easy to pack.
  • Eat the veggies and fruits that are in season. I'm hungry just thinking of the possibilities.
  • Beverages: a cheap bottle of wine works, the Yucca drink featured yesterday works too, water, soda or lemonade are all great choices. Here are some options for drinks that can be made ahead of time or on-site.  
  • Grilling: Here are some great recipes that go beyond hamburgers--think flanked steak.
  • Potluck: Make the experience even more stress-free and have each guest bring a dish. Here are some great recipes.
  • Dessert: Brownies are a no-fuss option. Sea salt brownies are my fave as are chocolate chip cookies. Fruit with yogurt or cream dip is a healthy choice. This cheesecake in a mug is too cute!
  • Activity: If you'd like, have an activity such as a kite, frisbee, or playing cards.
  • Don't forget: to leave the location as you found it. Bring a trash bag just in case. Sunscreen is a must if you're in the sun and lacking shade. Have bug spray or citronella candles on hand in case (mosquitoes are an uninvited guest here in Atlanta). Bring a corkscrew if you're drinking wine (or pour the wine in a sealed carafe). Have a backup plan--in case of rain! Consider the dietary concerns of your guests. Don't forget to find shade or provide some relief from the heat (handmade fans maybe?) 
  • REMEMBER: Don't stress over the dining experience. Again, keep it as simple as you feel comfortable with and as cheap as you'd like. There's no need to get fancy if that's not your style! 
  • Don't want to bother at all with preparation but would still like the experience? Here's a list of the Best Al Fresco Restaurants in Atlanta
Do you dine al fresco often? What are your tips (other than those mentioned here) or your fave places in your city to dine al fresco?




UPDATE: Some of you asked for picnic basket suggestions: http://www.google.com/products?hl=en&rlz=1C1DVCL_enUS375US377&q=picnic%20baskets&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wf

19 comments:

  1. We do and we really love it...We do it in a local park:) Thanks for all those amazaing tips:)

    Kisses,sweetie

    Ps:I hope you had a chance to enter my GIVEAWAY!!!

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  2. Hubby and I dine al fresco every night on our deck. I just love eating outdoors. Nothing like morning coffee outside too.
    Great post.

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  3. Ohhhh I LOVE eating outside. What sucks is that my husband doesn't. I want to eat outside at every restaurant that has outdoor tables, I want to eat on the deck at home, I want to go on picnics in the park....I don't get to do it as often as I'd like. :(

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  4. This is one of my favorite things to do! I'll even open up the doors to the porch at home if I want to eat outside (but am pressed for time). My favorite thing is to only pick things I can eat with my hands - sliced cheeses and thin meats.

    Becca

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  5. Oh I love eating al fresco especially on our deck, at a patio restaurant or simply near the harbor/water. It's the best! thanks for the tips!!
    naina

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  6. Thanks for all the tips! Do you have any suggestions on finding good, but cheap picnic baskets?

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  7. when i was growing up in new mexico we used to eat dinner on the patio every night during the summer. it's one of my favorite memories.

    now that we're in arizona it's a little too hot for that! maybe i will plan a fall picnic for me and kiwi :)

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  8. Sounds awesome!! This is something I've been meaning to do, but keeps getting pushed to the bottom on the to-do list! Your post might have inspired me to bring it to the top of the list :)

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  9. Great tips, I love eating outside and Boston has a lot of beautiful places. Also, any tips on a good picnic basket??

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  10. We have the Hollywood Bowl out here in LA. It's the perfect summer picnic spot out there....wine, music, and great company.
    KB
    http://redcarpetcloset.blogspot.com/

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  11. I love eating outside, such a perfect activity for the summer. Thanks for the tips!

    becomingunfashionable.blogspot.com

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  12. I love this, you are so creative!

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  13. I love eating al fresco. However, recently, I do not appreciate the 95+ degree weather. So I improvise by eating inside, with AC, but with the windows open so it seems like I am outside. :)
    Maybe I'll give it a shot in the fall.
    Lovely post!!

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  14. Awesome! Love that you included a menu! This makes it so easy. No excuses right? Maybe Saturday I will do exactly this.

    Rachael

    p.s. be sure to enter my giveaway when you get the chance :)

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  15. I love this post - dining outside is one of my favorite things! I definitely like to keep it simple though - really just bread, cheese, and a great bottle of wine are all i need!

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  16. The presentation is my favorite part of dining alfresco :) The food almost takes a backseat to it...I can get carried away! I'm trying to teach my boys the art/enjoyment of it!

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  17. Summer time is all about the picnics (a favorite of mine) and I'm loving all your great ideas! : )

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  18. As a major picnic fanatic, I adore this!!!

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  19. Thanks for the Paris picnic idea. I'll be there at the beginning of Sept and that's a great idea!

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