The world of dining and drinking is an obstacle course wrapped in a labyrinth wrapped in a logic puzzle — it's full of pitfalls, gray areas, and bewildering questions that really shouldn't even be questions (How do I find the bathroom?) and yet, somehow, are. Fortunately, your friends at Eater are here to help: Life Coach is a series of simple guides to the arcane rituals of modern dining. Have a question or a quandary you'd like us to tackle? Drop Life Coach a line.
This piece was originally published December 29, 2016. It has been updated to reflect that 2017, much like the previous year, was also an unrelenting shitshow.
It’s December 29, 2017, and you still don’t know what you’re going to do on New Year’s Eve. That’s a problem. If you’re planning on spending this holiday in public, you really only have a few choices. You could go to a restaurant, where prix fixe menus are equal parts boring and stingy — the tiniest slivers of seared filet and foie gras, inexplicable ahi tuna nachos — that can cost more than $200 per person before you even think about wine, tax, or leaving a tip. Or you could get a table and bottle service at a nightclub, complete with all the glitz and glamour of eating stale crostini and dropping $100 on a bottle of Fireball.
These experiences appear luxurious, but thanks to the crowds and expectations and lackluster cooking, they end up feeling sad.
Or, you could just stay home. You might think spending a glitzy night in the comfort of your living room is something that only weird, friendless loners would consider, but it’s actually the strongest move around. Hosting New Year’s at home is cheaper, easier, and more fun, no matter your budget. Most importantly, staying home means you can choose the people with whom you send off the merciless, unrelenting shitshow that was 2017.
Scenario #1: Fancy Dinner Party
You’ve spent all year reading recipes, researching new ingredients, and obsessively eating at your city’s best restaurants, and there’s no better occasion to show off your knowledge than New Year’s Eve. It all starts with an artfully prepared cheese platter. A very good cheesemonger once told me that the perfect cheese plate can be assembled by remembering these four simple rules, which also (bonus) rhyme:
- Something old: An aged cheese, like a gouda or cheddar
- Something new: An unaged, fresh cheese like burrata, fromage blanc, or ricotta
- Something goat: Try Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze, a crowd-friendly goat cheese mixed with dried lavender and wild fennel pollen
- Something blue: Roquefort and Maytag blue are always solid bets, or if your guests seem up for it, go for a more aggressively funky blue like Cabrales
Pair your selected cheeses with a few dried fruits, cured meats, olives, and a smear of grainy mustard. Add actual Champagne from France, or a build-your-own martini bar stocked with stuffed olives and a few different types of vermouth. This is also an excellent time to break out that gorgeous punch bowl you inherited from your aunt. Fill it with blood orange soda, bitters, and white rum for a NYE libation that even the pickiest drinker can’t resist. It all sounds fancy — and it is! — but you’ll spend way less assembling your own meal than you would out at a restaurant.
As far as the main course is concerned, prepare an entree that looks and sounds splashy, perhaps the lacquered roast chicken in Lucky Peach’s 101 Easy Asian Recipes. A similar approach is ideal for sides — shave Parmesan over fingerling potatoes roasted in duck fat and caramelize brussels sprouts with chunks of rich and salty guanciale. Bake fresh bread or buy a loaf that looks rustic enough to maybe be homemade. For dessert, serve up tarte tatin topped with scoops of vanilla gelato.
Scenario #2: Broke AF Potluck
With just two days until New Year’s Eve, that $32.61 in your checking account isn’t going to go very far at the bar or the specialty foods store. What you can do, though, is play host to a killer potluck that makes it cheaper for everyone to have an excellent meal. Pick a theme, maybe weird American casseroles, and ask three to five of your closest pals to prep a dish that fits. If you’re too broke to spend much money on booze, stretch a few bottles of Two Buck Chuck by making sangria with no-name brandy, if you’ve got it. Otherwise, tell your friends to bring their favorite cheap-ass libations, like Boone’s Farm “wine” or a sixer of Miller High Life. Your NYE won’t be swank, but it will be a hell of a lot of fun.
An important note about booze: There’s nothing that harshes the vibe of any party more than running out of liquor. Plan on buying one bottle of spirits for about every three to four people, depending on how rowdy your friends are.
Scenario #3: Netflix & Chill
The easiest way to enjoy a kick-ass New Year’s Eve requires the least amount of effort and is endlessly customizable. You can invite literally anyone you want, including just your cat. Significant others, close friends, and that guy you really like from work are also acceptable options. Make like a doomsday prepper and buy too much beer or wine, just to be safe. Stay away from hard liquor — you don’t want the person you’re trying to smash at midnight to get too wasted while you mainline the Gilmore Girls revival.
You could cook, but that is not in keeping with the spirit of this low-key night. Let your phone do all the work and order Chinese food and doughnuts. Please note, the doughnuts are crucial, but if you must, substitute another on-demand pastry. Then, you can watch the Times Square countdown in your eatin’ pants while smugly judging all those people crowded up in the freezing cold, dressed up all fancy and pretending to be having a good time.