When San Francisco–based entertaining shop Hudson Grace opened its doors at Westside Provisions District last fall, no one was more excited than me. This beautiful brand of tabletop goods was founded by entertaining and retail experts Monelle Totah and Gary McNatton, alums of Williams Sonoma and Gap Inc., respectively, and features a divine array of European-made white serveware, bright table linens, and simple glassware. Both founders have roots in the South and admire its tradition of gracious hosting, so it was only natural that Atlanta host their first location outside of California.
With its shelves of platters, plates, barware, and silver, the store was a ready-made party location, and since Monelle and Gary live on the West Coast, setting it up as their own dining room for a casual, intimate holiday supper was a brilliant idea. The guest list was a veritable who’s who of Atlanta interior designers, who were greeted with a martini served in a chilled glass.
The menu included a starter of Monelle’s Louisiana gumbo in oversize bowls, followed by California Dungeness cracked crab, hot, buttery sourdough bread, butter lettuce with black lava salt, and Gary’s award-winning coconut cake—his grandmother’s recipe—for dessert. The table was set with the brand’s signature California-cool white dishes; vintage blue napkins found at a market in France added a special touch. Each place setting included a little gift: a magnolia scented candle that Gary developed just for the Atlanta store opening. Friends enjoyed laughter and conversation over glowing candlelight and no-fuss greenery—the perfect setting to kick off the holiday season. Turns out Monelle and Gary and I agree on the most important tip for hosting a gathering: Keep it simple so you can enjoy the evening, too.
AT THE TABLE
Domino Media Group
Carter Kay Interiors
Suzanne Kasler Interiors
Carter Kay Interiors
Mathews Furniture + Design
Mister + Mrs. Sharp
Domino Media Group
Peridot West and Peridot on the Line
Monelle’s Louisiana gumbo
Gary’s award-winning coconut cake
2 ½ ounces Cathead vodka
½ ounce dry vermouth, preferably Noilly Prat
Green olive for garnish
In mixing glass or cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine gin and vermouth. Stir well, about 20 seconds, then strain into martini glass. Garnish with olive and serve.
2Monelle’s Louisiana Gumbo
4 bone-in chicken breasts, skin off
4 teaspoons Creole seasoning, divided
1 pound Andouille sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
½ cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 quarts chicken broth
2 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ to 1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco, optional
4 green onions, sliced, plus more for topping
2 teaspoons filé powder, optional
12 cups cooked white rice
Coat chicken with 2 teaspoons Creole seasoning. In a large saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Cook chicken in oil until cooked through and lightly browned, about 6 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and set aside.
In the same saute pan over medium heat, add sausage and cook until brown, turning, about 6 minutes. Remove to same plate as chicken, set aside.
In a large heavy-bottom Dutch oven, over medium-low heat, stir together flour and remaining ½ cup oil with a wooden spoon. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, or until flour mixture is very dark, similar to chocolate in color.
Add onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add broth, bay leaves, Worcestershire, thyme, hot sauce, and green onion. Add reserved chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 1 hour. Remove chicken from soup, and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove meat from bone and shred, then stir back into soup with filé powder. Discard bones.
Serve gumbo over cooked rice and topped with sliced green onions.
2 heads of butter lettuce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
Sprinkle of Hudson Grace Black Lava Salt
Wash and dry lettuce, toss with oil, lemon, and salt. Serve immediately.
4 large Dungeness crabs
Keep live crabs in the refrigerator in a large bowl, loosely covered with foil, up to 12 hours. Grasp crabs carefully from the rear end, between the legs, and put in a pot to make sure they fit, with 3 to 4 inches of clearance below pot rim. Remove crabs and fill pot with enough water to cover crabs by 2 to 3 inches. Cover pot, and bring water to a boil over high heat.
One at a time, grasp crabs as described above and plunge them headfirst into the boiling water. Cover pot, and start timing. When water resumes boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 1 ½- to 2 ½-pound crabs for 15 minutes; 3-pound crabs about 20 minutes.
Drain crabs. To be able to handle quickly, rinse briefly with cool water. Now, it’s time to clean, crack, and shell the crabs. Pull off and discard triangular flap from belly side. Turn crab belly-side down; pulling from the rear end, lift off back shell. Drain and discard liquid from shell. If desired, scoop soft, golden crab butter and white crab fat from shell into a small bowl to eat by the spoonful with crab or to stir into a dipping sauce. If using back shell for garnish, break bony section (mouth) from front end of shell and discard. Rinse shell well
On the body section, pull off and discard reddish membrane that covers the center and any loose pieces. Pull off and discard long, spongy gills from sides of body. Rinse body well with cool water.
Twist legs and claws from body. Using a nutcracker or wood mallet, crack the shell of each leg and claw section. With a knife, cut the body into quarters.
Break apart legs and claws. Using your fingers, a small fork, a pick, or a crab leg tip, remove meat. Pull body sections apart and dig out pockets of meat. Discard shells. One cooked, cleaned 1 ¾- to 2-pound crab (with back shell) yields 7 ½ to 8 ounces (1 to
1 ½ cups) of meat.
Serve with sourdough bread. (Monelle prefers Alon’s Bakery.)
5Gary’s Award-Winning Coconut Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup whipped cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
Bake a simple yellow cake according to instructions on the box. Set aside to cool.
Toast coconut in the oven at 300 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown. Set aside.
To make the icing: In a standing mixer, combine whipped cream and sour cream with 1 cup coconut, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form. Frost cake, sprinkle remaining cup of coconut on cake for garnish, and serve.
Recipes provided by Monelle Totah and Gary McNatton.