"I love having friends over to my house," said Govind Armstrong, co-owner of Table 8 in Los Angeles and South Beach, Fla., and author of "Small Bites Big Nights: Seductive Little Plates for Intimate Occasion & Lavish Parties (Clarkson Potter/Publishers; $30), his first cookbook. Armstrong, who grew up in Encino, serves seasonal California cuisine on his market-driven restaurant menu.
"Entertaining should be loose. I try not to impose too much structure, as every party has its own personality. I generally have appetizer parties with five or six or a dozen people over at a time. It is the easiest way to entertain. I would prepare four or five items - and normally make them all - but if I'm in a pinch, I'll buy some components like tapenade, hummus, etc."
Choose food that can be prepared or prepped ahead so you only need to focus on last-minute presentation details. Mix and match foods from around the globe - Spanish, Italian, Tex-Mex, Mediterranean and the like - or choose a single theme. Include a wide range of items, from pre-prepared and ready-to-go dishes to bites that the guests can assemble and customize to their liking.
"I definitely would offer both a few specialty drinks [such as mojitos or Table8 Sangria] and wine.
"Recently I've been drinking sauvignon blanc from New Zealand [Craggy Range, about $20 a bottle], which goes beautifully with all these appetizer suggestions." *