I have been dying to host a small dinner party for a while now, and I finally got my chance. Last night we had two other couples over for a make-your-own sushi night! I wasn't brave enough to buy any raw fish, but we had plenty of other ingredients on hand to make some tasty rolls!
I wanted the table setting to imply Japanese style without feeling too much like an Asian restaurant. I didn't want to use any cheesy fans or printed fabrics, nothing that would seem like a bad stereotype. I was also under a little more pressure because one of the couples that joined us has spent several years living in Japan, so I felt like I had to try harder!
I decided to go with a natural/neutral theme, as much of Japanese culture always makes me think of serene zen-like spaces. I started with another natural material runner (yup, I own two), and added the glass vases with candles. That seemed a little plain, so I bought a couple of bags of river rocks at the dollar store and added them to the vases and the center of the table. I justified buying rocks by telling myself that they were already a complementary array of colors, already lightly tumbled, and already clean. And $1 a bag. I love how they add a grounded, earthy feeling to the table scene.
The dishes are my white everyday dishes, originally from Target. I did pick up the resin chopsticks and the ceramic soup spoons at our local Asian grocery store. I used my Pottery Barn linen hemstitched napkins for a neutral colored layer. I'm sure there is appropriate Japanese table setting etiquette that I totally disregarded here, but I liked the way this arrangement looked, and our well-traveled friends were gracious enough not to correct me. We used the small bowls at the top for soy sauce for the sushi.
I was a little worried about our collective sushi making skills, so I wanted to have several other dishes available in case we were miserable failures. We started with Japanese Clear Soup (I used the recipe here), then moved on to Asian Cucumber Salad and our DIY sushi. (Side note: be extra careful when using a mandolin slicer to make the cucumber salad. I had a little "kitchen incident" that has left me with a heavily bandaged finger.)
Like I said, I did not provide raw fish for our sushi, but we had an assortment of veggies, rice and nori, smoked salmon and crabstick, cream cheese, spicy sauce and a sweet/salty "eel" sauce available. I even attempted to make tamago, which is a rolled Japanese omelet that can be eaten as sushi or a side dish. (Another side note: tamago was really tricky to make and I later learned that it can often be used as a standard by which to judge a Japanese restaurant. Eesh! Mine was tasty, but not lovely.) I set up little "sushi stations" like this one around the kitchen with various ingredients needed, along with bamboo rolling mats and bowls of water for fingers. I was a little worried what people would think of having to make their own dinner, but it was dinner and entertainment in one! We laughed a lot and ended up with sushi in our bellies, so the aesthetics weren't all that important.
This party was so much fun and injuries aside, very low-stress to prepare for. The soup takes five minutes to prep, and I had actually made it the day before and reheated it that evening. The cucumber salad is served chilled, so I made it earlier in the day. The rice is used at room temperature and takes a while to cool, so I started it about two hours before the party. Pretty much the only things I did last minute were to put on a pot of green tea and clean the kitchen so I could set up the stations. We even purchased mochi balls from the Asian grocer so dessert was zero effort too. A good time was had by all, even (and especially) the hostess!
Do you eat sushi? Have you ever made it at home? What are your favorite no-stress entertaining menus?