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What went down at Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna’s Restaurant

By Renée Suen| Photography by Renée Suen
What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

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Known for her crowd-pleasing recipes that are anything but pretentious (we’re looking at you, #thestew) the New York Times and Bon Appétit food columnist recently passed through town as part of a 13-city book tour to promote her newest release, Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over. Alison Roman’s new book gives readers the permission to be imperfect: by keeping things casual, bright and approachable. “When having people over, just remember that it’s supposed to be fun and that nothing has to be perfect. If you give yourself permission to relax a little bit—and know that from the beginning that it’s not all going to be exactly what you think it’s going to be—you’re probably going to have a much better time.”

Roman kicked off her Toronto tour with a couple of family-style dinners at Donna’s (which sold out 15 minutes after they were announced) this past Sunday. Roman’s plans to prepare the evening’s feast herself were thwarted when her flight was unable to land at Billy Bishop thanks to the weekend’s wintry weather. The Donna’s team took the reins and prepared the 15-dish feast before Roman made an entrance halfway through the first seating. “The main takeaway is that I’m helping people cook more, and that’s what I set out to do,” she says. Here’s a look at what was served for the special one-off meal.

Each guest was greeted with a mug of welcome punch and a behind-the-scenes booklet about the production of Roman’s cookbook:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Here’s the menu:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

The first course—or Wave 1, as it was called—consisted of a series of snacks and appetizers, including Miss Vickie’s chips topped with smoked sprats and peperoncini (a riff on Roman’s spicy marinated anchovies with potato chips):

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Sesame breadsticks with parmesan. Here’s a field of them at the pass:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Garlicky beet dip with walnuts and “The Dip,” almost ranch(y) labneh with sizzled scallions and chili:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Iceberg with pecorino, crushed olives and pickled chili. Roman says that this happens to be the most popular dish that’s been served at all the cities that she’s visited to date:

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What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Grilled carrots with limey hot sauce and cotija:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

And vinegared apples with persimmon and white cheddar:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

People were really digging all the dips and salads:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Co-owner and chef Jed Smith shows off the (heavy) side of roast beef that’s resting for the second dinner:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Meanwhile, Roman made it in time to chat with the guests:

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What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

And sign some copies of her book:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Wave 2 brought out some meatier dishes, like roast beef with chili and salted peanuts:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Clams and cod with potatoes and celery:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

And smushed sweet potatoes with maple, sour cream and buckwheat:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Here’s the spread:

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What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Roman served the dessert course, which included chocolate cake with hazelnut cream:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Here it is now:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

And honey panna cotta with haskap berries:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

Roman took pictures with her fans:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

“I gave the chefs at Donna’s the book and let them decide what to make,” Roman says of the unplanned menu design. “I trust them and I like everything in my book.” Here she is now with said book:

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What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

And here’s the whole team:

What went down at Alison Roman's Nothing Fancy 15-dish dinner at Donna's Restaurant

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