These recipes veer to the fussy and showy and they're intended as distinctive first courses (with or without cocktails) or late night snacks--though snacks suggest something more casual and slapdash than these carefully thought-out and planned-ahead treats. McNamara and Howell are fond of intricately displayed salads, aspics, and fancy soups; rarely does something so simple as lentil salad or zucchini in salsa verde obtrude. Their delight in the ornate carries over to the organization of the book--ingredients and directions are given with comments, afterthoughts, caveats of the kind that can drive a hostess into a flurry of over-preparation. The dishes themselves however are less novel than they seem: curried mushrooms, fish in aspic, crepes with crabmeat are typical. Only rarely does something truly out of the ordinary pop up--sardines with walnuts, say. But the basic idea is certainly a good one and as the authors point out, many of these dishes are versatile enough to be served at brunch, buffet, or even (if the amounts are increased) as a main course.