Our office party this year was quite a different affair. In the past, we always used to get in catering, but this year, my assistant decided on something new, instructing everyone to bring something “they made themselves.” The only things people were allowed to buy were booze and a bit of snack food.

The upshot? It was wonderful. Who knew our employees and guests were so talented? Every one of them rustled up something unique to eat or drink – to the extent you could have never found such variety on a catering menu.

We enjoyed the proceedings, but I got up to go home at 8, leaving our younger contingent to get on with the fun. As I was leaving, my assistant pressed a bag into my hand.

“Here’s a little something for your wife,” she said. “I do wish she could have come…”

“What’d you put in the bag?” I asked.

“I made a note of what you liked the most tonight and prepared a selection.”

My wife was overjoyed at the leftovers on offer. And naturally, there is a tradition for us – and perhaps with yourselves as well: If someone prepares something by hand for you, you never return their plate empty. Instead, you make something as well, put it on the plate and send it back…

So that’s exactly what my wife did. A couple of days later, she put a wonderful cake on the plate my assistant had used and prepared to send it on its way.

“I put the plate in a bag. I’ll put it by the door tonight – don’t forget it in the morning!”

When I got up the day after, my wife was still sleeping. As I was leaving, there were two bags by the door; I took the larger one and headed off to work.

When I got to the office, I gave the bag to my assistant. “My wife thanks you a lot! She made this… ‘I hope she likes it!’ she said.”

Not long after, my assistant poked her head in my door. She was making a valiant attempt to appear furious, but it was clear to all concerned that she was trying hard not to laugh.

“What was it that your wife said?” she inquired.

“‘I hope she likes it!’” I replied.

She delved further: “The things she sent?”

“Yes, of course,” I answered. “She prepared it especially for you!”

Unable to maintain the charade any longer, my assistant soon gave herself up.

“Sir, the bag you brought is full of garbage!” she revealed.

“What garbage are you talking about? Are you kidding me?” I retorted.

“I swear to God… Take a look for yourself!”

As I gawked at the bag, my phone rang – it was my wife.

“I hope you didn’t give her the bag!” my wife said as soon as I answered the phone.

“I did…”

“Well, you just went and took the garbage I had left by the door!” she admonished me. “The bag with the cake is still sitting here. Really, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. Do you know how humiliating this is?”

To be truthful, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. As it was, I had joined the ranks of the septuagenarians with this office party and I sometimes wondered if my mind was starting to go. My tastes, too, were changing, and I was increasingly finding myself a fan of more casual parties and casual restaurants. At places like that, there’s no need for a jacket and tie – everyone is more at ease.

The Cipriani Downtown in New York is one such restaurant. A Cipriani was opened in Istanbul, but the serious ambiance there was a far cry from the casualness in New York. In Istanbul, Cipriani’s snooty waiters acted as if they were waiting tables at Jean Georges. Of course, it didn’t fly, and the Cipriani in Istanbul soon closed down.

Of the several Ciprianis in New York, my favorite is the one in Soho. The food isn’t really anything to write home about – but when the menu is this broad, one can hardly expect fantastic fare.

Still, there’s no reason to complain. What I liked most was the baked tagliolini with ham, which is also a specialty of Harry’s Bar. The Eggplant alla Parmigiano, however, was not as good as it is in Rome – perhaps because of the different eggplant.

However, I can recommend the Mediterranean Branzino al forno. And anyone going there must down a traditional Bellini cocktail.

The restaurant might be a bit noisy, but it’s a place you’ll feel comfortable in. Actually, if I’m going to admit it, the best thing about it might be the chance to engage in some people watching – especially, if I may say so, the many beautiful women in attendance. You really wonder whether all the Big Apple’s youngest and prettiest frequent the bars and restaurants of Soho or, more to the point, whether there’s a rule that they have to do so…