Holidays are near, which makes it a good time to become friends with some of the ethnic delis now dotting the cityscape. You can call on these high performance places when you need to supplement a menu, or create one.
There is nothing like sushi, for example, to rescue a last minute cocktail party.
At Yaohan, a super supermarket in Little Tokyo (333 S. Alameda St.), you will find sushi of every type ready to take out on a tray or party platter. You can get single or assorted sushi (nigiri)--everything from pickle to shrimp, eel (anago), eggs (tamago), cucumber, shrimp, tuna and even California roll. A tray of 15 pieces of pickled turnip sushi (takuan maki) , for instance, costs $2.50. A beautifully arranged, family-size tray of about 41 pieces (including shrimp and tuna) ranges from $10 to $15. You can actually supply 40 to 50 guests with three family trays (allowing three sushi per person) for under $50--a bargain for a high quality cocktail appetizer.
A Meal in a Box
Yaohan also carries bento boxes (lunch boxes), packaged and ready to eat if you're planning an after-theater or a tree-trimming party. Some bento boxes include rice with meat, fish or poultry dishes. There is also beef teriyaki, barbecued chicken or pork, Japanese style macaroni, spaghetti and potato salads to go as well as tempura (batter-fried foods) of all kinds.
For another last-minute menu plan, Rincon Chileno restaurant's deli next door (4354 Melrose Ave.) has Chilean tamales, called humitas, empanadas (meat pies) and corn and chicken casseroles called pastel de choclo, which would normally take hours to prepare. You can serve the tamales or empanadas as an appetizer and the corn casserole as the entree. If you don't have time for another stop, add Chilean red, white or rose wine (also available at the deli) and the crusty rolls called pan amasado, which are baked on the premises several times daily. All that leaves is for the cook to make a salad.
If you want to grace the holiday buffet table with a whole Spanish ham (jamon serrano )--usually weighing 12 pounds and up-- you'll find it at La Spanola, at 2020 Lomita Blvd. in Lomita. The ham is great for make-your-own party sandwiches with mayonnaise and sliced tomatoes, or as an accompaniment to both hot or cold buffet salads. Paper-thin slices of jamon serrano can also be wrapped around melon, figs, strawberries or other fruit, as you would Italian prosciutto. After-the-party leftovers can be diced to add to pea or bean soups and omelets.
For a cocktail party with an Argentine tango theme, visit the Catalina Super Market (1070 N. Western Ave.) for all the makings. There is matambre (the stuffed, rolled beef appetizer), empanadas , and Argentine escabeche (made with marinated tongue), which can be served on toast or crackers. Look around the market for table decorating ideas, while you're it. Some hosts enjoy decorating an informal buffet table with attractive canned goods, jars and other grocery store items.
Consider Dim Sum
You can't go wrong with dim sum if you are planning a cocktail party or late supper. And some of the freshest take-out dim sum in town can be purchased at The Golden Dragon restaurant deli (690 N. Broadway) in Chinatown. Other authentic dim sum outlets are Golden City deli (960 N. Hill St.) and Hong Kong Low (408 Bamboo Lane), all in Chinatown. Depending on the item--there are more than 30 to choose from-- dim sum runs 30 cents to 60 cents or $1.50 to $3.50 per three- or four- piece servings of everything from siu mai (pork-stuffed steamed dumplings) to barbecued spare ribs.
Most places carry both standard and mini-size char bao (steamed buns stuffed with shrimp, pork, beef, green pepper or bean curd). There are also turnip cakes, fried pastries, taro root cake, mini egg rolls and others. A wonderful way to serve dim sum is in a multi-tiered covered basket which also keeps them warm. The baskets can be found in most Chinese gifts stores. Or otherwise, use warming trays or chafing dishes if you want to keep dim sum warm during the party. Dim sum goes well with champagne or a somewhat fruity white wine.
No other cuisine in the world is better equipped for the cocktail hour than Middle Eastern, which is actually based on appetizers called meze. You can outfit an entire cocktail party by shopping at a single grocery store like Bezjian's (4725 Santa Monica Blvd.) or C & K Imports (2771 W. Pico). There are take-out dips such as houmous bi tahini (sesame seed dip) , eggplant dip (baba ghannouj), cheese dips (labanah) that are wonderful with cut vegetables, pita bread or crackers.