Tapas – Spanish-style small plates built for sharing – encourage around-the-table socializing and are surprisingly easy to prepare. The result? An ideal meal for a casual yet impressive dinner party.

Tapas Party

To get the fiesta started, invest in some small plates. Modern white plates feel springy and fresh against the rich dishes, but I love the idea of using traditional terra-cotta dishware, too, for a touch of undeniable authenticity. Keep in mind when writing your guest list and buying ingredients that each recipe is meant to be shared, so to keep everyone satisfied, I’d suggest offering up to six dishes per person.

To help you kick off your planning, we’ve snagged a recipe from Ken Oringer’s much-adored Boston tapas spot, Toro: the classic and ever-popular gambas al ajillo (grilled garlic shrimp with chilies).

Gambas al Ajillo
Serves 4 – 6


  • 20 medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups white wine
  • 3 dried cascabel chilies, stems & seeds removed
  • 4 cups lobster stock
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Canola oil, to grease the pan
  • Chili threads, for garnish


  1. Combine shallots, garlic, and white wine in heavy-bottomed stockpot. Reduce over medium-high heat until almost all of the wine has evaporated.
  2. Add chilies and lobster stock and reduce by three quarters. Let cool slightly, then put contents of pot into blender.
  3. Blend on high until smooth. Add lemon juice and slowly incorporate softened butter while blender is running. Taste sauce and add salt if needed. Keep lobster sauce warm, but not on direct heat.
  4. Place heavy cast-iron pan over high heat with a thin layer of canola oil until very hot. Season shrimp with salt and pepper and add to pan without overcrowding.
  5. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes per side and transfer to a mixing bowl. Toss with lobster sauce, then plate, garnish with chili threads, and serve.

Along with the shrimp, try a menu including chicken-stuffed avocado, seared chorizo, fried chickpeas, and sautéed vegetables for a variety of delicious flavors. And of course, don’t forget to embrace Spanish tradition with a batch of springtime sangria.

Our The Professional Kitchen: Stainless Steel Cookware, Spotlight On: White & Wood Serveware, and Prep Like a Pro: Cutlery & Kitchen Gadgets Boutiques open Wednesday, April 3, at 3PM ET.

By Jess Huckins, Staff Writer

Have a question about party hosting or food prep? Comment below or tweet us at @ruelala, then check back every Wednesday for more on Food & Entertaining.

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April 3, 2013

While the seating schemes of decades past have become mere suggestions, modern dinner-party etiquette still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Read on for some tips on how to seamlessly seat guests, and revive the (commonly thought “lost”) art of the dinner party.

Dinner Party Seating

It’s all about balance. When assembling your invite list, aim for an equal number of men and women. It’s not a strict rule – the more important goal is to have guests who offer lively discussion and pleasant company. As Amy Vanderbilt wrote, “It’s far better to have an extra man or woman than to ask someone on the dull side just to make the number even.” 

Divide and converse. One age-old rule still applies: separate couples. Romantically involved people may talk only to each other, get too touchy-feely, or bring at-home arguments to the table. Concerned that someone will be too shy? Listen to Miss Manners: “If they have no social interests or skills, they can always stay home.” Harsh, but true.

Lay the (place) cards. Use a chart to keep everything organized, and decide on the final seating based on everyone’s personality traits. Put a super-chatty person at the end of the table to avoid a conversation monopoly, and seat a more introverted friend near her. Offer that guy everyone likes a seat near the middle. And if you know two people disagree on a topic, don’t place them beside each other – especially if either is prone to starting arguments.

Once you’re finished with the seating chart, move on to planning your menu and setting the table. Then prepare for a lovely, stylish evening.

By Jess Huckins, Staff Writer 

Do you have any tried-and-true seating strategies? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us at @ruelala

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February 27, 2013

The 12 Days of Merry: The Festive Holiday Table Boutique opens Saturday, November 10, at 11AM ET.

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November 10, 2012