7 p.m. The first 300 guests had already begun slurping down oysters at the Embassy of Ecuador and still no sign of the country's president, obviously tardy for his own party. The last 200 were heading up the street.

"The president is running late . . . everyone comes on time to these things," lamented Ecuadoran ambassador Ricardo Crespo-Zaldumbide.

Like Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. 7:10.

"We live right up the street, so we walked," she said.

7:15. Still no sign of Osvaldo Hurtado Larrea, the president of Ecuador, who spent the better part of this week trying to muster up sympathy and support for the economic dilemma of Latin American nations.

White House Chief of Staff James Baker had already arrived. So had the ambassadors of Paraguay and Saudi Arabia and former national security adviser Richard V. Allen. Everyone kept eating and drinking.

7:25. The Arrival.

Hurtado looked quite refreshed for someone who spent the better part of the day being propelled from appointment to appointment, the plight of visiting dignitaries.

"I have to say the government of the U.S. has a remarkable conscience about the severity of the Latin America economic crisis," Hurtado said of his Friday meeting with President Reagan. "We did not discuss the specific case of Ecuador, but I am encouraged . . ."

Hurtado, who used the ambassador as a translator, spent the better part of an hour clutching and kissing as the overstuffed receiving line crammed through the embassy. He didn't need his interpreter, however, when U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick came through the line; she spoke to him in Spanish.

"He's so young . . . How old do you think he is?" chief of protocol Selwa Roosevelt asked former Mideast negotiator Sol Linowitz.

"Depressingly young--that's all I know," said Linowitz.

"Well, he's either 34 or 43," offered Roosevelt. In fact, he's 43.

"Just look at him," said Linowitz. "Young presidents do something to me."

It was a remarkably good turnout for a rainy Friday night, when official and social Washington traditionally fold up. This was in part because Ecuador is one of only five democracies in South America and is considered a valuable U.S. ally.

"We have given Ecuador a great deal of moral and political support because we feel very strongly about the success of their democracy," said Thomas Enders, assistant secretary of state.

7:45. The Food.

After all the hands were shaken, the food was available. Caviar. Scallops. Strawberries.

"I'm so glad he's eating," sighed the wife of one White House official, watching her husband circle the buffet table for the third time. "Now he won't expect me to cook for him tonight."