From setting the table to the mood, preparing the menu to the wine, we're making dining al fresco at home an experience to savor.
Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by Maison Lorgeril. All opinions are our own.
As soon as the weather turns warm, Philip and I yearn to dine al fresco. Whether it's a picnic in the park, a BBQ in our parent's backyard or even a restaurant patio, eating outdoors is a whimsical adventure that enhances the dining out experience, and celebrates the idea that you can find a dining room table anywhere you go — so long there’s good company and conversation.
What is Dining Al Fresco?
Dining al fresco means to eat outdoors in a casual setting. It's an experience that places importance on mindful moments, simple decor, and delicious food and drink – all in good company – and is best enjoyed in the warmer months. In the Italian language, it loosely translates to mean "in the fresh air". However, in Italy, the expression al fresco has a different context and means “to spend time in the cooler" (think storing canned tomatoes in a cellar) or more literally "prison".
Tips for Dining Al Fresco at Home
1. Select the Location
Work with your space to choose the best setup and allow nature to help set the mood and tone of the meal. Whether it's a family-style banquet table on the patio, a picnic on the grass in your backyard, or a bistro meal for two on your balcony, embrace the outdoors and allow it to guide the meal. Trust us, there's no wrong way to dine al fresco.
We live in a Downtown Toronto condo with a view of the CN Tower and city, so for us, it's essential to bring greenery in through plants and flowers to soften the harshness of concrete. We chose to dine al fresco bistro-style, surrounded by our plants and facing the city for a clear view of the evening skyline.
2. Plan the Menu
As it translates, dining al fresco means "in the fresh air," and when it comes to eating outdoors, fresh is always best. For our balcony bistro, we let our wine inspire the mood with a rosé-inspired evening featuring L'Orangeraie Rosé Pays D'OC. With a pale peach hue (the result of a few hours skin contact), soft floral notes, and hints of young raspberry, wild strawberry, rosé petals and citrus, it was the perfect choice for an evening spent under the sky while dining al fresco.
As a complement to the rosé, we paired it with the Fig, Ricotta, and Basil Panzanella Salad found in our cookbook, Eat With Us. A simple, sweet, and sophisticated bread salad that is quick to prepare, beautifully plated and holds up well to any outdoor gathering we also paired it with a cheeseboard featuring local cheeses – Albert's Leap Ashley Goat, Upper Canada Cheese Niagra Gold, and Stonetown Grand Trunk, as well a rosé wine jelly.
Keep the menu simple and embrace the elements found in nature – a dish that encourages you to use basil from the garden, seasonal fruits that add color and brightness, or lightly grilled meats on the BBQ that only require a squeeze of lemon. Select ingredients that are in season and make them the center of your meal.
3. Style the Space
Pulling inspiration from the wine, we transformed our patio into a French bistro perfect for a romantic date night with a small bistro set as the anchor. Dressing it in a checkered table cloth, we finished the table with linen pillows as well as a jute rug beneath for added comfort, and tucked the whole set into our balcony garden for views and scents of florals with a city backdrop.
For the tablescape, no table is complete with fresh flowers, candles and light linens. Since our outdoor meal was on our balcony patio we opted for our everyday glass dishware since our kitchen is only a few steps away. While melamine is probably best for any outdoor event, there's something fun about using glass plates and white wine glasses that make the dining out experience that much more special.
4. Set the Mood (and be prepared)
One of the most exhilarating parts of dining al fresco is the chance that the weather could change at any moment. Whether it's sunshine to a rainstorm, light to dark, or warm to cool, the cardinal rule of eating outdoors is to always be prepared. It's part of the experience and just so happens to be the ultimate touch to creating mood as well.
A couple of tips: if it rains, get an overhead umbrella if your table allows, or prepare ahead of time if you need to move your soireé indoors. One of the most romantic parts of dining outdoors in the evening is the moment when the darkness falls and the twinkle lights turn on. It's a magical moment that is can easily be replicated at home with a set of string lights. Of course, a couple of candles and a set of matches is a solution that works well too. Candles also keep you warm if the weather shifts to cool, although we don't think it gets any better than a cool summer night, a glass of wine, and a warm blanket?
5. Enjoy the Moment
What's time spent outdoors if you aren't relaxing and enjoying the moment? Look for simple pleasures that connect you with your space and company. Whether it's diving into a good book, snapping photos of the event, or embracing childhood favorites (like blowing bubbles into the sunset sky), do as the French do, embrace the joie de vivre, and cheers to a beautiful evening spent dining al fresco at home.