4 Better Parties

’Tis the season of the party. But what kind should you throw? Here’s our Better guide to hosting the perfect party—one you’ll enjoy as much as your guests. Our secret? Know what you want to wear and go from there. We’ve got menu ideas, decor hints and even caterers who can make you feel like a guest at your own party.

Elegant Dinner Party

Outfit: Little black dress, pumps and pearls

Party: You want to look elegant and beautiful. So wear the perfect black cocktail dress and host a sit-down dinner party for 8 to 12. Start the evening with a signature champagne cocktail and passed hors d’oeuvres. Then move into your festively decorated dining room for an evening of warmth and holiday cheer.

Guest list: Nearest and dearest friends

Signature cocktail: Blood Orange Bellini

Menu:

Hors d’oeuvres:

Potato nest with sour cream and caviar

Dinner:

  • Mesclun salad with pears and pomegranate seeds
  • Baby rack of lamb
  • Wild rice and grains timbale with dried cranberries
  • Haricots vert with walnut butter

 

Dessert:

Individual chocolate souffles with a raspberry reduction

Decor: White linen tablecloth, mother-of-pearl chargers, and lots of polished silver and white candles.

Music: Instrumental jazz such as “Floratone” by Bill Frisell, Matt Chamberlain, Tucker Martine and Lee Townsend; or “Django” by The Modern Jazz Quartet.

Caterer: Sault & Pepper & Co., Highland Park; Sari Cohen, co-owner; 847-433-3180

Cocktail Party

Outfit: Fitted jeans or leather leggings, metallic high-heel shoes, dressy fun top

Party: During a busy party season, make time to see cherished friends without the commitment of a sit-down dinner. Mingle, gossip and sparkle—then send guests off to their next engagement. Serve elegant bites that are easy to balance with a martini glass.

Guest list: Everyone you love and don’t see enough of

Signature cocktail: Savory Martini–Vodka shaken with fresh rosemary and garnished with blue cheese olives on a rosemary sprig

Menu:

  • Pecan-walnut coasters with cream cheese, cucumber, smoked salmon and dill
  • Toasted bread rounds with beef tenderloin, Maytag blue cheese, horseradish cream and fresh thyme
  • Jicama canapes with date, mint and lime pate
  • Thai shrimp rolls with peanut dipping sauce
  • Asparagus wrapped in proscuitto with horseradish cream spread
  • Spicy sugared almonds

 

Decor: Think subdued metallics—brushed golds and silvers—nothing shiny. For flowers, try orchids or ostrich feathers to escape the ubiquitous poinsettias and evergreens.

Music: Have your favorite teenager set up a song list on your iPod: Vampire Weekend, Kings of Leon, Andrew Bird and Fleet Foxes

Caterer: Chow! Bella, Wilmette; Tierney Sharif and Cory Conti; 847-828-0379

Bloody Mary Brunch

Outfit: Jewel-colored dress and high heels

Party: You love AMC’s “Mad Men” and long for the glamor and the cocktails. Your homage this season is a Bloody Mary Brunch. Grownups only—send the kids for their annual grandparent-chaperoned visit with Santa—and enjoy a break from the shopping and wrapping. Pull out the stops in a richly toned dress and then extend the color to your decor.

Guest list: Friends who won’t ask for a glass of seltzer

Signature cocktail: Bloody Mary

Menu:

Passed trio of tartlets:

  • Swiss chard, shallot and Parmesan
  • Wild mushroom and fontina cheese
  • Potato, bacon and Gruyere

 

Buffet:

  • Smoked salmon with New York bagels and herbed cream cheese, tomato, capers and cucumber
  • Savory egg strata
  • Salad with oranges, red onions and crumbled goat cheese
  • Mini vanilla walnut muffins

 

Decor: Match napkins and candles to the color of your dress. Edit your decorations to the sparkly and jewel colored.

Music: Frank Sinatra’s “The Christmas Collection,” “This Time I’m Swinging” by Dean Martin and “The Decca Years,” Sammy Davis Jr.

Caterer: Limelight, 2000 N. Racine Ave., Chicago; Margurerite Lytle and Rita Gutenkanst, co-owners; 773-883-3080

Family Buffet

Outfit: The Warm-and-Fuzzy Holiday Sweater

Party: For those of you itching to get out that Christmas sweater with the light-up Rudolph nose (more on that in a moment), a gingerbread-decorating party should suit you just fine. Pre-assemble the houses, so your guests can concentrate on creativity and serve a buffet of easy-to-eat food when they need a distraction from the Necco wafer roof. Now back to that sweater: May we suggest that you keep Rudy packed away this year and try a simple and classic sweater? We believe you can wear your holiday spirit on your sleeve—and a little elegance too.

Guest list: Families with children the same ages as your children

Signature cocktail: Hot apple cider spiked and unspiked

Menu:

  • Caramelized onion, spinach and goat cheese wraps
  • Petite beef tenderloin sandwiches with Béarnaise sauce
  • Homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese dipping fingers
  • Crudites with roasted red pepper dip
  • Gingerbread cupcakes with lemon icing

 

Decor: Bring on Christmas. This is the party to pull out every Santa reindeer and snowman you have.

Music: Cheery Christmas tunes like “Kids Christmas Cartoon Favorites,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and “Merry Christmas” by Johnny Mathis.

Caterer: A La Carte, 111 Green Bay Rd., Wilmette; Christine DiClementi Harlow; 847-256-4102