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dinner party

The Dinner Party Is Dead. Long Live the Dinner Party.

This story is part of The New Rules of Dinner Parties, a new collection of advice, recipes, and perspectives on one of the things we’ve missed the most. Read all the stories here.Nora Ephron, the writer and filmmaker, said that a round table works best for a dinner party. At a long rectangular table, she…

This story is part of The New Rules of Dinner Parties, a new collection of advice, recipes, and perspectives on one of the things we’ve missed the most. Read all the stories here.

Nora Ephron, the writer and filmmaker, said that a round table works best for a dinner party. At a long rectangular table, she wrote, some guests could be left unable to take part in the conversation. M.F.K. Fisher, the grande dame of food writing, would say no more than six people should sit at that round table, and no two of them should be so in love as to bore everyone else. Martha Stewart suggests the host pick a theme rather than cobble together disparate dishes. A round table, a maximum of six guests, a theme: These are mere morsels from the wide array of advice that’s been written down about how to throw good dinner parties. No wonder people fret about them.

I grew up in the ’90s assuming that when I was an adult, I’d pursue the perfection of Martha. The tablecloth would match the napkins and each place setting would be just so in order to display extravagant meals. For a time I tried doing a cheap impression of that kind of excellence and I wouldn’t have any fun because it wasn’t real—and it certainly wasn’t really me. I’d worry that everyone was judging my cooking or noticing a mismatched plate, and I’d make too many dishes in the hopes that anything subpar could be compensated for. I’ve even made whole ice cream cakes, desperate to impress.

Now, given time, experience, and a move from New York City to San Juan, where I’ve, thankfully, had to adjust to a much more relaxed pace of life, I’m more confident. My last year in the city, I worked at a wine bar with a tiny kitchen, and while I was certainly not the best short-order cook, my cooking muscles gained new dexterity from fulfilling the orders by myself that I now put to use for friends. These days, with the striving of my 20s behind me, I am content to be more Ina—Garten, that is, who has said that sometimes a takeout pizza with a big homemade Caesar salad makes the most sense. I’m that kind of host, giving something special on the side of something comforting. Think orange–olive oil cake I whipped up myself, served with a scoop of ice cream from a pint.

When I moved into my apartment in San Juan, a dark wooden rectangular table stood in the dining room. I had intended to move it out for something more my taste (lighter, rounder), but then the pandemic lockdown hit Puerto Rico. Now I’ve gotten used to the table. It’s hosted brunches, birthdays, and random Sunday nights around a massive pot of fettuccine in marinara, served with garlic bread and peppery arugula salad in a Balsamic dressing that reminds me of my hometown pizzeria on Long Island. The table, rectangular though it is, has done its job, and I’ve dared to invite as few as one person and as many as eight over, borrowing mismatched chairs for the latter. My vintage collection of glassware also doesn’t boast any full se

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