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Getting Personal

How to make a dinner party at a restaurant feel as intimate as one at home

Nina says...
I was 25 when I gave my first dinner party in a restaurant. As a food lover, I was always listening for the buzz about new restaurants, and I had heard that An American Place was amazing. I tried it one night and was knocked out, so I marched into the kitchen and begged the chef, Larry Forgione, to allow me to throw a dinner party there. At this stage, my personal touch mostly involved the cigars I offered guests (from my own humidor) after coffee. Since then, I've given countless dinners at restaurants and have found that the best strategy is to decorate with personal objects from home. I have turned my leather-bound books into centerpieces topped with bud vases, and used my antique shawls as tablecloths. I have brought pink light bulbs, which give off a more flattering glow than white ones. For my husband's birthday dinner at the Metropolitan Club in New York, I put my own perfumes, brushes and monogrammed hand towels in the powder room. Not a smart idea. Some of my guests paid me the compliment of taking the perfumes home! No one, however, clipped the soaps I'd left out.

Blass Style
I am lucky to count Bill Blass, as one of my closest friends. He adores food and loves restaurants. And he never does the expected. Recently, at a lunch at Daniel in New York City, Blass declared he wanted to eat in a sitting area above the bar--a room not intended for dining. Naturally, he got his way, and it was much more cozy. To personalize restaurant dinner parties, Blass uses his own antique glasses and decanters, conveniently distinguished by the letter B; when he brings flowers, he keeps them simple.

Chinatown Chic
I've loved going to New York's Chinatown since I was a little girl. To me, it was an exotic place where you could buy baby turtles on street corners (although my parents never let me). I still love eating in Chinatown; you can get a big bang for your buck. Christine Muhlke, the managing editor of Paper magazine, recently gave a dim sum party at Nom Wah Tea Parlor. With a decorating budget of $50, she headed to Pearl River Mart to snap up paper lanterns, tiny gold Buddhas to use as place-card holders and beautiful paper to serve as place mats. But what would a party in Chinatown be without goldfish? At Win Tropical Aquariums, Christine bought four. Finally her guests arrived, and they all ate until everyone screamed, "No more!"

Quick Tip
When I have a large party at a restaurant, I sometimes pick a theme, such as flowers. Every table gets a different type, such as orchids or roses; then my guests each receive a seating card with their name and a picture of the flower that is the centerpiece of their table.

Vera Wang's Way
Fashion designer Vera Wang, can't help herself--she has more creative energy than a pair of Borateem mules. Recently, she gave a small dinner at the '21' Club, a New York institution that has played an important part in my life. (My grandparents kept wines in the cellar of '21', and when I was born the owners sent a silver baby cup, which I still have. I celebrated my 21st birthday there too.) When Vera visited '21' to check out the space, she started throwing out ideas: "I want cigar ashtrays for the guys, a few toy cars for fun from Classic Toys and flowers from Calabria, my favorite florist. "Tiffany plates and flatware and Baccarat crystal would complete the look. And then she was gone, off to another appointment in her 18-hour workday.

Published July 1999
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