How to impress your SO's parents on a budget
My girlfriend's parents are coming into town, and I'd like to take them out to dinner. Any suggestions for good spots to meet the folks? Ideally it'll be fancy enough that I look like a big shot who can support their beautiful daughter, but not too fancy, as I'm not actually a big shot who can support their beautiful daughter.
– Hungry for Approval
You gotta cook for these guys! Taking your girlfriend's parents to a fancy restaurant might seem like the thing to do, but it sounds like you're just going to end up feeling nervous about your card getting declined when they order both appetizers and dessert, plus a nice bottle of wine. You'll feel more at home in your own space, able to play the gracious host. And making dinner for them is a way to demonstrate that you are a competent adult, someone who has a kitchen they clean semi-regularly, knife skills decent enough that they won't cut off their fingers, and a robust and thoughtfully stocked pantry.
"But wait," you say. "None of those things are true. I'm not actually a competent adult! It's all an elaborate ruse!" Settle down kid, of course it is. That's the big secret of adulthood, isn't it? I'm sure your girlfriend's parents feel that way too. Fortunately, I'm an expert in faking adult competence. After all, that's how I tricked these rubes into giving me a column!
So here's what you do. Go to Salt & Time and pick up four steaks, strip, rib-eye, whatever they have that looks good. Stop by the market and get a bottle of wine, plus some arugula, zucchini, pine nuts if you're feeling fancy. Buy some premium ice cream, and whatever stone fruit feels soft and smells sweet. Go get a baguette at Easy Tiger. Come home and relax for a while.
About half an hour before the parents arrive, take the steak out of the fridge. Leave it on the cutting board to warm up, covering it with a clean dishcloth to keep things sanitary. Use a vegetable peeler to sliver the zucchini into ribbons, and toss it with olive oil, lemon, and salt. If you got the pine nuts, toast them on the stove and set them aside for later. Slice the bread. Set the table. Put the bottle of wine on your coffee table, next to a little bowl of potato chips and a littler bowl of olives. Sit on the couch and read something. Eat a few potato chips. Try not to fidget.
Oh no, what's that? The doorbell! Say hello, shake hands with everyone, call them Mr. and/or Mrs. until they correct you. They probably brought along another bottle of wine, because they've been doing this whole pretending to be adults thing longer than you, and they know the drill. Open it up, pour a few glasses, and tell them to sit down, you'll just put the steaks on the stove, and then dinner will be served. They will offer to help. Do not let them.
Heat up your cast iron skillet 'til it starts to smoke. Put some kosher salt in there. Throw in your first steak; I usually cook it for about a minute on each side, but I like my meat bloody. If you're more civilized than me, two minutes should do it. Repeat with the rest of the steaks. Meanwhile, toss your arugula with the waiting zucchini. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top. Put the steaks on a platter, take everything out to the table and sit down, mopping up lemony steak juice with your bread, drinking wine, making congenial conversation. Remember there's fruit and ice cream for dessert. And relax, they're gonna love you. Take it from the best faker in the business.