Like many things — twice-a-year sales, monthlong holidays, lunches with wine that stretch far into the afternoon — the French do things differently, and this certainly applies to entertaining.
In Paris, dinner rarely starts before 8 p.m. At a restaurant, you’re hard-pressed to get a reservation before then — I’ve been turned away at 7:30 by empty restaurants waiting for the clock to strike 8. And if it’s a dinner party at a friend’s house, you wouldn’t show up on time anyway, because it’s considered rude.
But just because dinner is served later than we’re used to in the States, that doesn’t mean that nothing happens before then. Au contraire — 7 p.m. is considered the apero hour, which in my experience always means champagne.
That is, champagne with something light to nibble on, of course, because dinner is still a couple hours away.
Naturally, there are parties for this — call it a pre-dinner, pre-party, whatever. No cocktail mixing required. No fretting over what foods might go with which drinks. Champagne parties simply mean popping a cork and putting out a few bites to eat. These are the easiest parties to pull together, as well as some of the most fun and memorable, because they’re at the beginning of the evening, when everyone’s fresh and sparkly and full of anticipation for what might lie ahead.
All of these recipes can be made in advance and either baked or warmed up minutes before guests arrive. Which means that you can join in on the party fun from the very start. It is not uncommon to have a champagne party in France any night of the week. The first one I went to, hosted by the wife of an American diplomat, was on a Sunday. The point here is that champagne needn’t be saved for special occasions; rather, it ought to be enjoyed as much as possible and at every opportunity.
Starting with New Year’s Eve. Now that’s a resolution I can fully embrace.