By Julie Shapiro
TRIBECA — Every Thursday night for the past six months, Felipe Donnelly and Tamy Rofe have invited friends and strangers into their TriBeCa apartment for dinner.
Donnelly, 29, serves up gourmet Latin-inspired dishes, and Rofe, 28, keeps the wine glasses full and the guests laughing.
"It’s like our laboratory," Rofe said recently, as she waited for guests to arrive. "We try out recipes, combinations of people, playlists."
The couple began hosting the weekly dinner parties shortly after they got married last spring, using them as a way to spice up their social lives and give Donnelly an outlet for his cooking ambitions. They started a blog, called Thursdays at Worth Street, to keep track of recipes and the unique mix of people each dinner attracts.
Each week six people are offered seats at the long table in the couple's one-bedroom apartment.
This Thursday marked the 20th dinner at "Worth Kitchen," as the couple has dubbed the project, and word is spreading. Donnelly and Rofe now regularly field requests from fans of their blog and locals who follow them on Twitter.
Their ultimate goal is to turn Worth Kitchen into a full-fledged TriBeCa restaurant.
"It’s a baby step toward that," Donnelly said as he daubed a miso glaze onto fish fillets. "Jumping into a restaurant without the proper experience is a big mistake."
While preparing a three-course meal for eight every week sounds like a lot of work, the couple said it feels more like play, especially after their day jobs in advertising.
"In advertising it’s all conceptual work, which is very tiring to the brain," Rofe said with a smile. "Just to be creating something, serving food, it’s a nice break."
The pair hasn't had any kitchen fiascos so far — aside from a few sliced thumbs, and they are learning plenty: how to perfect a recipe, how to build a clientele and how to stick to their $85 weekly budget.
The dishes frequently draw on the couple’s shared Latin-American roots, and each week’s dinner has a loose theme, often inspired by a holiday or a seasonal ingredient.
This week, the theme was citrus.
The meal started a crunchy fennel salad, topped with Valencia orange slices, fried Parmesan chips and a tart champagne vinaigrette made with shallots and blood orange juice.
The delicate main course featured baked filets of sole layered with miso glaze, scallions and sliced grapefruit, with hearty sides of walnut-studded bok choy and sauteed oyster mushrooms.
For dessert, Donnelly brought out his first-ever sorbet, made with grapefruit juice and drizzled with Muscat, then topped with a lime garnish — a light, crisp end to the evening.
Guests brought bottles of wine from the local shop Frankly Wines, which provides a list of suggested pairings based on each week’s menu.
The conversation Thursday night wove easily around the food, as the near-strangers discovered friends and favorite restaurants in common, celebrated an upcoming wedding and a new pregnancy and laughed over television shows they had watched as children.
"It’s a great way to keep your social life up," Rofe said. "When you get married, you become a little lame. This is a way to force yourself to meet new people."
Rofe said the guests of Thursdays at Worth Street often stay in touch and meet up on their own.
The next step for the couple’s Worth Kitchen venture is to launch pop-up restaurants, dishing up a prix fixe meal for 25 to 50 people, perhaps in different spaces around the city each month. Donnelly hopes to do his first pop-up before the end of the year.
For now, though, he and Rofe are enjoying the smaller pleasures of the intimate dinners and the bonds they are forming.
"We’re taking it one step at a time," Donnelly said.