How To Throw A Summer Dinner Party — S.F. Style!

One of the top florists residing in S.F. (in a killer modern Presidio Heights abode, no less), Natalie Bowen struck us as a natural choice to host an impeccable dinner party. Which is why we prodded the fiery-haired entertainment-scene fixture to dream up her ideal summer dinner soiree and invite us along for the ride. During the main event, we of course soaked up the festive atmosphere and jotted down all of her easy tips. Want to see what a locavore-themed fete (sooooo S.F.!) looks like and then throw one of your very own? Just click through our amazing pics and tricks for a taste.
Bowen, in a my custom bow tie by This Humble Abode, putting together her gorgeous flowers-and-peach arrangements.
Tell us about the concept for this party.
"I love to throw a dinner party and I believe that no occasion is the perfect occasion. San Franciscans love a theme, so we subtly dubbed ours 'A Summer in S.F.' party. Our color concept was inspired by the gray fog and the golden color of the Golden Gate Bridge. For the food and wine, we used local purveyors, farms, bakeries, and wineries."
Locavore treats from Cowgirl Creamery, Marshall Farm, The Fatted Calf, and others.
How did you plan the food for this party?
"I love to cook, but don't believe that a good hostess has to actually make every single dish herself. I built the menu around the main course, which was paella. I wanted something that could be easily prepped ahead of time and didn't need to be served the second it was out of the oven. I love cheese, so I always serve cheese during the cocktail hour. I like to go to Cowgirl Creamery since they have a great selection and give a generous sample. I love to bake, but decided not to for this party. I enlisted the skills of Batter Bakery for the shortcakes and then added my own fruit and whipped cream for a partially home-made dessert. I'm also a big fan of Bluxome Winery in S.F. and thought the wine there perfectly complemented our summer meal."
Guest Taylor Carter, co-owner of Pilates Proworks, lends a helping hand.
What ingredients do you think go into having a great dinner party?
"I love fresh and beautiful ingredients. A good hostess is aware of the dietary needs of guests, so there should be plenty of variety so everyone is happy. It is also good to have food out when people arrive. Everyone loves to snack and everyone needs to snack when drinking our killer pisco sours!"
Party goers soak up the sun (and some booze) in the backyard.
Tell us about your idea for the floral arrangements.
"I saw peaches on the branches at the market and let that lead my design. I felt that they were the perfect choice for a summer party and their warm coral color matched the table perfectly. For a dinner party, I love a centerpiece that is beautiful but also has an unexpected element to it, and I feel the peaches served that purpose in these arrangements. "
Three arrangements graced the table, as well as 12 mini-vases-cum-nametag-holders, each with a bloom.
What are some quick tips on doing DIY floral arrangements for a dinner party?
1. "Don't try to do anything too elaborate. A mass of a single flower can be just as striking as an intricate arrangement."
2. "If you do multiple arrangements make sure to leave room for dishes if you are serving family style."
3. "You can use scraps from the arrangements to garnish the platters and other dishes. It is a detail that makes everything looked finished."
Bowen in a beautiful coral jumper (left); We're loving the cheese nametags (right)!
What creative elements of your party were you the most proud of?
"I loved the gold culterly and thought it pulled the whole table together. I was really happy with the way the table looked and loved that the chairs almost disappeared. I also loved that we served the soup course in teacups all from my own collection. Each teacup was different and our guests had so much fun choosing their own cup."
Advertisement Bowen's husband, Seth Brookshire, mixing up the Pisco Sours, inspired by those served at Spruce.
Get in our tummy!
What's your philosophy on cocktails and booze at a dinner party?
"I always like to enlist my husband as the bartender as it frees up my time to greet guests as they arrive. I love a fun cocktail, but don't try and serve them the entire time or said husband will be making cocktails all night! After everyone has had one cocktail, transition to wine or a glass of bubbly. Most importantly, make sure you serve everything in a pretty glass. Everything tastes better in a nice glass."
Refinery29 Senior Editor Katie Hintz-Zambrano and Bowen share a smile ... and an affinity for jumpers!
What's your go-to hostess outfit?
"Something fun, and I make sure the top half if not boring. Since you are sitting at a dinner party, people only see you from the waist up, so you want to make sure you have an interesting neckline, color, or statement necklace on."
Figs and cheese — simple, local, rustic, and perfect.
In terms of decor, how'd you maintain the vibe?
"I like to set the table the night before so that I have enough time to get the placement and seating perfect. While I like a formal table, I like the rest of the house to feel easy and comfortable. I am a firm believer in good lighting. And, make sure you have cocktail napkins in multiple locations — you never know when someone may need to use one for a drink, in lieu of a plate, as a coaster, or as a piece of scratch paper."
Designer Michele Janezic chats with Turk + Taylor's Mark Lee Morris.
What's the ideal guest-list mix?
"A good mix of guests is very important. I like to make sure that there is a good male-to-female ratio. I also like to make sure that there are some overlapping interests, but that not everyone is in the same industry."
Something looks fishy...
Do you generally like to do everything yourself or delegate the duties?
"I like to have a plan and then I love to delegate. Before the party I asked one friend to help me plate the soup and one to help plate the dessert. If I have more than six people for dinner, I need a second set of hands to get the timing right."
Paella prep!
Did you play music? What jams did you sling?
"My husband is the bartender and the DJ. He chose a Latin-jazz mix. I thought it complemented the meal and worked as good background music without being too serious. As the night went on, we did have a dance party and a lot of jams were being thrown around."
Trust, it tasted as good as it looks.
We love how you served your soup in beautiful teacups. Where did you get all of those?
"Both my mother and I have collected teacups over the years, so I used cups from our two collections. I didn't have soup bowls for 12, so I was trying to come up with an idea of what else I could use and remembered the teacups. Plus, they were the perfect size for a first course. You don't want people to fill up just as the meal is starting."
Bowen pouring the tasty soup in a collection of her and her mother's teacups.
Your home and backyard are gorgeous! Tell us more about them!
"My husband is an architect and designed the house we live in. I love that it is great for entertaining and that we have the backyard, the courtyard, and a terrace. Even in the cold S.F. summers we have a lot of light and can bring the outside in through the windows. Our backyard is very simply landscaped and my husband and I garden together when the weather allows."
An aerial view of the main event.
Did anything not go according to plan? How'd you roll with the punches?
"The paella took longer to get in the oven and I started to panic a bit. I am obsessed with time and I was afraid that the dinner was going to lag. At that point, I just made sure that the wine was flowing and that the appetizers were abundant, so nobody would notice a little delay in dinner."
Dessert time!

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