How to
Host a Tasting Party

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Countries on all sides of the Mediterranean enjoy small appetizer–size dishes called "mezze." Hot, cold, spicy or savory, these tapas–style snacks are perfect for a party, making it easy for friends to contribute and keeping the prep–work simple. A meal of such variety is easy on the host when it's served buffet–style and casually alfresco, just as in their countries of origin. Your own garden can provide the most lavish decor and edibles. With every dish, be prepared for intriguing flavors, fascinating stories and travelers' tales from all corners of the world.

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Setting Up

With a mezze spread this varied and interesting, it's all about the food, the cooking and the garden. In your invitations, let guests know that the theme is Mediterranean tapas — but even that can be loosely interpreted. As the host, choose one or two recipes for yourself and forward the rest to guests. Or to personalize the feast, invite friends to bring favorite dishes from their own ethnic heritage. Quantities needn't be large. In fact several small plates attractively presented stays truer to the mezze spirit than one large pot. Since the goal is to taste, steer the menu toward bite–sized preparations, finger foods and interesting salads made with fresh homegrown produce straight from the garden.

We love the idea of bringing a large table outside and eating in view of the heirloom vegetables and fruit trees that engendered the meal. Heirloom vegetables such as tomatoes are beautifully colored, intensely flavored and dense with nutrients. There's also something deeply satisfying about bringing back to life near extinct varieties, harvesting them from your backyard, cooking them in your own kitchen and sharing them with friends. Anywhere you eat them, outdoors or in, the bright flavors shine through.

Since the focus is food, keep the presentation minimal, tasteful and a touch exotic to match the menu. Have your own serving platters, bowls and dishes on hand if guests come with contributions stored in Tupperware. Place water and wine glasses, small tasting plates and flatware near the drinks where guests can serve themselves. And don't forget the music — a lively, engaging playlist can really set the party mood.

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Essentials

We laid out our feast on a Turkish–inspired tablecloth and chose dishware and accessories that have interesting textures and materials. We didn't want bright colors competing with the vibrant food, so kept away from the expected rainbow–hued decor. Hammered metal, Moroccan iron, partially glazed white terra cotta and woven baskets bring a strong textural background without overwhelming the colorful food.

Our pearl white dinnerware collection is the epitome of rustic Italian elegance. A white glazed finish exposes the terra cotta underneath to reveal the embossed, fluted and beaded textures. Salad plates, dipping bowls, platters and condiment sets are perfect for the occasion.

Summery basketware with a thick weave of handwoven natural seagrass makes perfect bread and fruit baskets, and the flatware caddy adds an unexpected touch.

The stoneware of a ceramic drink dispenser is left partially unglazed to mimic the look of vintage pottery. It's generously sized and we love how it can be personalized with initials, a name or a phrase. Keep glassware goblets nearby for guests to serve themselves.

Heathered yarns give the reds and blues depth and dimension against the smooth ivory cotton of our tablecloth. The embroidered floral designs have just enough graphic punch and color to make a subtle statement. Our Lara Linens and Jackie Linens make a nice complement.

Great domed lids cover the platters, whose complex textures are reminiscent of traditional copper — only more casual, easy to care for and affordable. The Serve Spoon Platter is a fun original way to serve tapas and appetizers.

For accessories and candlelight, the Moroccan styling of the lanterns gives them an exotic presence. The punched metal walls and domed double roof have the architectural touches of traditional Moroccan windows.