Friday, September 02, 2005

The Default Gift: Dinner Delivered

I have a new favorite default gift - you know, the gift that you can send to anyone and everyone for whom you have no idea what to get. I still have a couple of old standby strategies ... I usually start my gift shopping by sifting through Red Envelope and - for the domesticated goddesses, goumets, and party planners in my life - the sale sections of Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma. Failing this, I turn to Illuminations (who, after all, doesn't love candles?), and last year I added Penzey's spices to my gift-giving repertoire (this deserves a post of its own, so I'll save discussions about the bliss of quality herbs and spices for a later time).

Gift giving can be tough for any number of reasons ... so often it boils down to a realization that you really don't know a person at all - you have no idea whether they like to golf, or drink coffee, or enjoy artwork, or read historical biographies. Other times your problem is just the opposite: after years of picking out the perfect presents, setting a consistently high standard, you cannot imagine that your sister/grandfather/best friend/mother-in-law could possibly be in want of anything else (at least not within your budget).

Either way, I’ve happened upon a fabulous go-to gift: the gourmet pre-made dinner. Everybody needs to eat (obviously), and most people appreciate good foods; pre-selecting a home delivered dinner is a creative and more thoughtful alternative to a restaurant gift certificate. By and large, the companies that tender these services offer either full plated gourmet meals or allow you to create your own menu, selecting appetizer, entrée, sides, and dessert; the dishes are flash-frozen, elaborately packaged with dry ice, and shipped directly to your gift recipient. Love it! Okay, without further adieu, here’s a list of the best sites I’ve found for fabulous gourmet dinner gifts:

Artiko Chef

Home Bistro

A La Zing

Omaha Steaks

Chef by Mail

DineWise

Gourmet Station

Impromptu Gourmet

In consideration of both my budget and the freedom to select my own menu (including bakery breads, which most of the other sites did not offer and which really completed the meal), I went with Artiko for my parents’ 32nd anniversary gift, and for just under $80 put together an amazing romantic dinner comprised of the following:

Asparagus Rollups: “Tender green asparagus spears rolled in flaky puff pastry and topped with Romano cheese.”

Artichoke & Spinach Tarts: “Chopped artichoke hearts, chopped spinach & melted mozzarella cheese fill this light flaky pastry with beautiful scalloped edges.”

Racy Ribollita Soup: “A basic minestrone but kicked up a notch…with haricots beans and a hint of pesto.”

Rustica Baguettes: “A warm old-fashioned Rustic baguette.”

Chicken Florentine: “Four grilled, boneless, skinless chicken breasts stuffed with spinach, parmesan cheese and pine nuts.”

Romanesco Stir Fry: “A blend of seasoned eggplant, mushrooms, red peppers, onions and romanesco seasoned with herbs and spices.”

Apple Tartlets: “Thin tartlet shell topped fresh granny smith apple slices.”

Chocolate Saucy Cakes: “A rich and moist chocolate cake is filled with an intense chocolate ganache center that melts when warmed.”

To top it all off, I found an online coupon for free shipping and a complimentary salmon-and-dill quiche with my order. I ordered it on Sunday night, and they shipped it overnight on Monday, arriving at my parents’ home on Tuesday afternoon. Does it get any better than that?

2 Comments:

Blogger Steve Robinson said...

Sarah:

Thanks for the useful post and roundup of gourmet meal-to-order outlets. I came to visit after reading your MeFi post.

I do have a question though. Your suggestion to send a gift of gourmet food seems a bit unusual if all you're doing is sending food.

Does the recipient have to do the final prep? What advantages do you feel are gained over taking them to dinner at a great restaurant (or buying them a gift certificate for the same)?

12:48 PM  
Blogger Sarah Wilkerson said...

Steve -

Thanks for the comment! In response to your questions, for virtually all of the sites listed, the vast majority of the prep work is done; all the recipient need do is heat - usually in the oven (or, in the case of homebistro.com, boil water and add the freezer-packed bags to gently heat) - the selections.

To me, such a gift is more personal and unusual than simply sending a restaurant gift certificate (though I, too, have done this in the past and think it can be a great gift as well), and while taking someone out to dinner is certainly a personal - and generous - gift, it simply may not be possible where distance is an issue. Additionally, depending on the lifestyle of the gift recipient, just finding time to go out to dinner can itself be a challenge. In this case, I was mostly attracted to the distinctiveness of the gourmet delivery -- it comes elaborately packaged in a nice big box, it's memorable and unexpected, and there is certainly something to be said for the convenience and intimacy of dining in!

1:31 PM  

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