Romance served on a plate
WHEN love is in the air, there is nothing more romantic than a quiet dinner for two - as long as everything goes according to plan.
The problem with restaurants is that someone else is in control of the situation. When out to impress, minor mishaps are magnified. A table by the kitchen, an over-attentive waiter or a credit card rejection and the evening lies in ruins.
Entertaining at home is one way to move from the passenger's seat to the driver's. By employing the services of an outside caterer, you can plan everything in advance - and enjoy the meal at leisure.
Five caterers were asked to devise a romantic dinner, to illustrate the possibilities available at the end of a phone.
Solutions, however, were subject to specifications: the meal must be free of dairy products and low in fat, and ready to serve - so the client would not be in the kitchen all night.
''If it's a romantic evening, the less time spent away from the table the better,'' said Sasha Ferriera, of Supercooks. ''The meal should be simple to prepare and no effort to serve.'' Her suggestions were cold gazpacho soup with wholemeal rolls; poached salmon steaks - which can be served hot or cold - with tofu lemon sauce, new potatoes, marinated vegetables and a green salad; and a light terrine of summer fruits.
''Everything would be delivered in Tupperware containers,'' said Ms Ferreira. ''We'd then arrange the food on the plates, serve the first course, put the other two in the fridge and leave.'' A meal of this type would cost $500 a head, including candles, white table linen and roses.
Ms Ferreira recommends a sancerre or champagne, which can be supplied for $145 and $255 respectively as the best accompaniment.
Lucy Humbert, of Lucy Humbert Catering, also suggested a salmon entree, but Mediterranean-style: steamed fillets served with a sun-dried tomato, coriander and pine nut sauce, wild rice and steamed asparagus.
''My menu is light but with lots of different flavours,'' she said. ''It uses ingredients that I hope would be considered something of a treat and make for a memorable occasion.'' Her starter suggestion is fresh oysters on a bed of seaweed, and a passion-fruit sorbet with strawberries for dessert. The meal would end with a delicate partnership of rose petal tea and almond biscuits.
In keeping with the floral theme, rose petals would be scattered on the table top. Again, candles are a prerequisite, as is white linen and china.
''To drink, I would recommend champagne throughout the meal,'' she said. The price, including delivery, would be $650 a head.
A Creole-Cajun meal would certainly be memorable. It can be found via Lori Granito, of Bayou Catering, who specialises in dishes from the American Deep South.
Mrs Granito was momentarily thrown by the low-fat specification. ''Louisianians are not particularly known for the low-fat content of their diets,'' she said.
She rose to the challenge, however. ''My meal requires very little effort on the part of the host or hostess, and is still extremely elegant.'' Likely to appeal to adventurous eaters, it begins with escabeche Bayou St John - raw fish ''cooked'' through marination in oil, vinegar and spices.
''It is cool and refreshing,'' said Mrs Granito. ''I serve it inside a seashell, which looks stunning.'' The main course, a colourful veal pontchatoula with Creole mustard sauce served over rice, would be delivered hot so reheating would only take 1-2 minutes in the microwave.
The finale, New Orleans summer pudding, comes with a mint julep sauce. ''All the host needs to do is pour it on top just before serving,'' said Mrs Granito. ''It couldn't be easier.'' With the escabeche, she recommends a chardonnay; a merlot with the veal; and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut champagne with dessert. The cost, not including wine, would be $650.
The proliferation of Thai restaurants in town gave Peter and Wasana Stevens the idea for Wasana's Thai Catering Service. Sharing a meal, Thai-style, would give the romantic evening added intimacy, as well as a certain spice.
''Our aim is to provide authentic Thai food, so we would suggest that even a meal for two should consist of the traditional number of dishes,'' said Mr Stevens.
He would, therefore, serve six dishes: chicken coconut soup, green coconut curry with pork, beef salad, grilled red snapper in a banana leaf, a selection of satays and a fresh fruit platter.
''It's a well-balanced, traditional meal that is low in fat,'' said Mr Stevens. ''None of the dishes is fried.'' All dishes would be delivered ready-cooked, reheated and placed on the table. The cost would be $600, including traditional Thai plates, serving dishes and cutlery; candles; orchids and banana-leaf platters.
As far as liquid refreshment was concerned, Mr Stevens recommended iced water or tea. ''Expensive wine would be wasted,'' he said.
Cool but classic is Raymond Chang's recipe for a successful evening. The general manager of Steven Outside Catering Service recommends a fresh seafood platter, pan-fried chicken breast with baby carrots, button squash and wild rice, and seasonal berries doused with a measure of Cointreau.
''It's healthy, well-balanced, appetising in hot weather, and easy to eat and serve,'' he said.
''For a romantic meal like this, I would serve pink champagne throughout. You can't go wrong with champagne.'' The price, including a linen cloth, candles and flowers, would be $1,500 for two. A small round table could be arranged if required.
Supercooks 537-9905, Lucy Humbert Catering 526-4081, Bayou Catering 574-5046, Wasana's Thai Catering Service 819-4548, Steven Outside Catering Service 873-1881.
GAZPACHO, FRUIT SORBET AND MINT JULEP SAUCE GAZPACHO (from Supercooks) 375 grams firm tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped 5 cm piece of cucumber 1 spring onion 1 clove of garlic, crushed 1/2 red pepper, chopped 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon wine vinegar 60-140 ml cold water Salt and pepper to taste 4 ice cubes Place ingredients except the water in a liquidiser and blend until smooth. Check seasoning and pour into a bowl. Stir in cold water to thin slightly, cover and chill. Before serving add ice cubes and garnish with finely-chopped vegetables. Accompany withcroutons.
PASSION FRUIT SORBET (from Lucy Humbert) 15 passion fruit 125 g granulated sugar 285 ml water Juice of 1/2 lemon Dissolve sugar in 140 ml of water. Bring to boil, simmer for one minute, add remaining water and cool. Halve fruit and remove juice and seeds. Blend in liquidiser, strain and mix with sugar syrup and lemon juice. Freeze in a sorbetiere.
MINT JULEP SAUCE (from Bayon Catering) 60 ml sugar syrup (half sugar, half boiling water) 6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped 20 ml bourbon 1/3 tsp corn starch Combine the bourbon and hot syrup. Dissolve the corn starch in a teaspoon of cold water and add to the syrup. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring all the time, until thickened slightly. Add the mint and let it infuse. Refrigerate and serve chilled.