A: Well, the first step, of course, is to think what makes your favorite restaurant special. It's probably more than just the food. Consider the mood: the music, the lighting, the view, those kinds of things. Imagine how you could bring those elements into your dining room. Maybe light a whole bunch of candles around the room and on the table. You'll be able to select the music that put your guests in the right mood, whether it's classical chamber music, jazz, or world music. You need to make sure that you don't confuse being intimate with feeling crowded. You aren't trying to crowd too many people into the room. Use light-colored china, linens, and small flower arrangements.
Q: What kind of menus do you think would work best in a small kitchen that would keep with the elegant feel?
A: First of all, avoid casseroles. The rule of a small kitchen is take make things in stages, because you don't have the space to make everything at once. Sauces always make a difference. Whatever you make, focus on plating. Choose things you can make in advance, such as a vegetable terrine. If you serve a roasted vegetable salad, vegetables can be roasted well in advance. An entrée that can spend a lot of time in the oven works well, such as osso bucco, or an entrée that takes very little time, like a stir-fry (keep the rice warm by holding in a low oven in a covered casserole).
Desserts that you can make in advance and store at room temperature give you the opportunity to conserve counter space the day of your party.
Q: What are some rules of thumb when determining how much food to buy per person?
A: The whole entrée plate should amount to about two cups of food total per person. Here's a portion cheat sheet:
Boneless Chicken -1/2 a pound.
Chicken with bone - 1 pound.
Beef, Lamb, Pork -1/2 pound boneless/1to 1.25 pound bone-in.
Large Shrimp - 7 per person.
Filets or Steak - 6oz per person.
In the shell (Oyster, Clams, Mussels) - 8 to 10 pieces.
Veggies - 4 oz per serving.
Starches (such as rice, pasta, etc.) -2oz by weight, 4oz if dry or fresh.
Salads - One cup of salad per person, fruit or mixed greens.
5oz of ice cream
Tiramisu, cobbler, pudding -1 cup per person.
1/2 cup of cream sauce
2/3 cup of tomato or vegetable base sauces
Q: How much alcohol/what types of alcohol do you suggest for an unique gourmet experience?
A: If you're only serving one kind of wine, figure about a bottle per person. If you're serving cocktails before and after dinner, make it about half of a bottle. If you are serving different wines for every course, 1 cup/3oz per course, and 2 glasses for the entrée.
You can match the alcohol colors to the foods. Any decent wine shop would be happy to suggest pairings. Just bring them your menu.
To make the meal very special, go to the trouble of choosing a dessert wine. Port goes well with chocolate desserts. Sherry or Frangelico is good with nut-based desserts. Grand Marnier goes well with citrus.
(Image by Kathryn Hill)