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How Joan McNamara from Joan's On Third Entertains

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Joan's on Third is a Los Angeles institution (read about it in my LA Guide) and one of my favorite places to grab a bite to eat, whether it's for a casual meeting or just when I need a pick-me-up. Joan McNamara started her restaurant out of a booming catering business, and now manages two locations - her original 3rd and a brand-new shop in Studio City. Joan's livelihood revolves around making her guests happy (she still spends the majority of her time in the kitchen), so she knows a thing or two about entertaining. I'd do anything to score an invite to one of her parties, but the next best thing is to have the entertaining master share her tips and tricks on how to make hosting a breeze. 


1.How do you figure out what you’re going to serve and if it will all taste good together?

"I usually begin by selecting my favorite seasonal dish and then I design the party to center around the dish that I'm in the mood to make. It is always a creative process. One thing that doesn't change is that I always love to have an abundance of food." 

2.What parts of the entertaining process do you try to do ahead of time?

I like to put out the serving platters, set the table, arrange all the beautiful fresh flowers, shop and prep some menu items, select the music, and decide which candles I plan to light…And, of course, get excited to host a beautiful party!


3.What are your signature touches that you always have when you entertain?

"A couple of things: I always have Santa Maria Novella potpourri in the entryway of my loft, keep an abundance of fresh flowers, light plenty of unscented candles, and always Prosecco with dessert (usually something amazing and chocolate of course)! I also like to have a specialty cocktail…right now I have been enjoying serving chocolate martinis, and Aperol with Prosecco and a touch of fresh squeezed juice."

4.Your #1 tip for easy holiday entertaining, especially when everyone is so stressed.

"Call Joan’s on Third. And if aren't Los Angeles-based, hire a server or two to help so you can enjoy the party."


5. What’s your philosophy on entertaining for kids – do you cater a separate meal around them, or keep the actual meal simple enough for everyone?

With a larger group, I'll seat the kids together, and make a special meal for them. The children will enjoy a fun table all together. 

Entertaining with children makes for a lovely party – their energy, so full of life, just adds such a special feel. A great party usually ends with children in their pajamas heading off to bed while the adults enjoy conversation, coffee and dessert.

6.What’s the best way to coordinate a potluck holiday meal? Do you have a fail-safe dish that’s always a hit?

A potluck is best when you invite your chef friends… or if you have a creative group with good, eclectic tastes. Abundance is key. Be sure to plan the menu carefully and consider assigning dishes to each person. But, truthfully, I do not really love to host potlucks…they are not usually my party type of choice.


7. How do you differentiate your table decor from a normal dinner party and a holiday dinner party?

For holidays, I love to use more fresh flowers, accented with many candles, and finished off with some seasonal accents. Of course, holiday music, specialty cookies and cocktails really set the mood!

8. What is your entertaining philosophy: do you try to have everything done beforehand or are you in-and-out of the kitchen while your guests are having drinks?

Ideally, I would love to get as much done ahead of time, it is wonderful to be a guest at your own party and enjoy your company. Guests relax more when the host is participating and having fun.


9.What is your favorite holiday tradition?

I always love waking up early to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey with my grandchildren, Henry and Molly. One of my favorite holiday dishes to make is Coquille St. Jacques on Christmas Eve.

10. I imagine that things don’t go terribly wrong in your kitchen, but do you have any tips on bouncing back from a dish gone awry? 

Put the dish aside, move on and serve the rest - I always have so much food that there is inevitably enough food for everyone, even if I'm minus a dish.  At a later date – I may re-make the item if it’s worth it and adjust it so it’s right for the next time. 

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