How to Throw a Dinner Party Like a French Girl

throwing a French-themed Dinner Party | cooking with Friends

How to Throw a Dinner Party Like a French Girl

This is a post to give you ideas if you’re planning a French-themed dinner party, including considerations on the menu, the tablescape, and the music list.

Last weekend was our month to host our “Friends Cooking Dinner” party – a standing date we have with eight other friends every month or two where one couple hosts with a theme, and everyone brings something to contribute to the meal.

The old man made cocktails for us drink while we mulled over the menu.

We decided our theme would be French cuisine since I’m a big admirer of French chef Jacques Pepin as well as American Ina Garten  – who is of course not French, but French cooking totally shaped her ideology and can be found everywhere in her recipes.

And if you don’t believe me that Ina is one of the greats, check out what Business Insider had to say about her prowess hosting dinner parties.

But first! A dinner party is only partly about the dinner. You have to think about ambiance.

Usually I rely mostly on alcohol to create a good ambiance in everyone’s own mind, but this time I took the extra step to go to the Farmer’s Market here on Saturday morning to get some baguettes and flowers.

I thought about trying to make the baguettes from scratch for a second, then realized that was stupid. Kidding (kind of!) It was only stupid for me on this day… I’m sure it would be a great idea for you to do it.


Not making baguettes from scratch does allow for more lounging time though, with the kids and the cat. Sometimes we take our bengal cat, Ginger, with us to the Farmer’s market. If everyone can bring their slobbering, possibly bitey dogs there then I think this tiny little sprite can come too, yes?

She noses around everyone’s dropped food just any dog. But she’s not as good at heeling.

This is one of the reasons we love Poway.

After we got home and put the flowers in some water we got our cat-walker above, to work her magic on some Jacques Pepin-style menus. 

I just love this idea to get the kids involved with the planning! Our twelve-year-old daughter made ten simple drawings brought to life with water colors, and after they dried, wrote the evening’s menu inside that lovely border.

Ideally guests would take them home to remember the night, but almost all of my guests were too drunk. 

Look at the little bicycle one! These were all her idea.

But before we get to the food, a note on a good dinner party playlist: I actually searched for great French music, but I also found that just playing quality jazz music is good enough if you don’t want to struggle with potentially getting too hokey on your French stuff. But if you do insist on some French music thrown in, I’m a huge fan of:

  • Malcolm McLaren (English, not French, but his album Paris is one of my all-time faves)
  • anything by Carla Bruni. If you didn’t know, this former French First Lady can sing!
  • Chanteuse Emilie-Claire Barlow

Punctuate that stuff with your normal lounge-y favorites and you’re good to go! 

Photo by Lisa Churchville Now on to food. What super iconically-French? Escargots.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

I guess people love or hate escargots – but I don’t know anyone who hates them who have actually tried them. It’s one of those dishes you can’t screw up if you have butter and shallots and garlic, plus a little cognac.

You’re working off the assumption that your snails are good – which they are even if you’re getting them cheaply enough via Amazon. Yes these snails are Indonesian, but the quality is fantastic, and if you don’t believe me, read the reviews.

Saveur penned a great escargot recipe in 2010. It got rave reviews! I used Courvoissier for the cognac.

For the lamb, I relied on a simple lamb chop recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. It’s basically sauteeing the lamb chops in garlic and herbs, then finishing them in the oven for a nice medium rare.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Here’s a little lamb chop with the cauliflower puree and some ratatouille.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Our other major meat main was this wild pork tenderloin, which the old man hunted himself in November, stowed in the freezer for a special occasion this, and roasted to perfection on the grill.

It was tender and juicy and delightful. The medallions were gone before they hit our plates – people were taking them off the board with their fingers.

Wow, someone needs to clean this grill! Thankfully, that is not my job. 

We had a few other desserts on the table for the evening, so I kept the sweetness of mine down. I made this Ricotta + Blueberry Tart with Honey, Lemon + Lavender.

The first time I made it years ago, I used the amount of lavender in the recipe, which I found just WAY too overwhelmingly strong.

When you cut the lavendar all the way down to 1/4 tsp, and crush it with a mortar and pestle to break out the flavors in those tiny blooms, I think it’s so much more delicious! I also made the crust as proscribed and it was a hit. I mean the edges of my pies are always ugly, but they are also tasty.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Now let me share with you some of the delightful dishes our dear friends brought over! In no particular order, because they were all amazing and delicious:

Beef tartare.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Belgian endives with salmon.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Bouillabaisse, made with fresh fish and shellfish from Poway Farmer’s Market.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

The iconic chocolate mousse!

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Ratatouille with goat cheese.

French onion soup. The onions were cooked for over five hours alone!

Phyllo pie with apples.

Photo by Paulina Gomberg

Too many other wines and drinks to remember…

A great dinner with friends.

Thanks for looking!