Anne Zwack never did find anyone to play a new acquisition, an ancient Hungarian cimbalom, or box zither. Not to worry. The black-tie vacsora or seated dinner she and her husband, Hungarian Ambassador Peter Zwack, gave last week accomplished their objectives.

The party introduced Hungarian playwright-President Arpad Goncz to U.S. cultural leaders as well as politicians.

Food writer Anne Zwack showed off the best of Hungarian cuisine, as prepared by that country's best chef, Kalman Kalla.

And for a few brief hours the attention of 26 people was turned away from the Persian Gulf and toward the promises and the problems of Hungary reborn. The evening was a fine illustration of the importance and pleasures of the small Washington dinner party.

The Zwacks selected guests as much for cultural interests as political. Goncz, who learned English while jailed by the communists, holds the international Wheatlands Award for his translations into Hungarian of works by James Baldwin, Thomas Wolfe and others.

The president admitted that the production of his plays in several countries has gone up since he became Hungary's leader, but the writing of new ones has gone down. "Now all I write is my signature," he said. His first engagement on this trip was in Athens, Ga., where the University of Georgia put on two of his plays, "Hungarian Medea" and "Persephone." Another will open off-Broadway in May. "It is good to be a Hungarian in the United States. I feel at home," said Goncz.

Political fund-raiser Pamela Harriman, once involved in the theater by marriage to producer Leland Hayward, sat in the place of honor, to the right of Goncz, at dinner. She offered a toast: "Winston Churchill used to ask, 'What is the thread?' Arpad Goncz is the thread that holds Hungary together."

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a native of Hungary, took the opportunity to say that Anne Zwack's dinner was the second best he'd ever had -- the first being the one he had recently with the troops in the Persian Gulf. He spoke strongly of his support for Operation Desert Storm.

"We don't all agree with you," said Ruth Adams pointedly, but politely. She went on to toast Hungarians who had "contributed to American democracy," including physicists Edward Teller and Leo Szilard. Adams is program director of Peace and International Cooperation at the MacArthur Foundation. She has been living a split-level life between the Chicago MacArthur offices and Washington, where her husband, Robert McCormick Adams, is Smithsonian Institution secretary. Ruth Adams said in conversation earlier at the party that she expects to open an office for the program here in September.

The Hungarian president said that compared with the democratization of Eastern Europe, "Baghdad is not going to change the course of history." He added that recent restrictions in the Soviet Union are an endgame, the result of the military's fear, and will not seriously slow down democratic reforms in Hungary. "It's like water pouring down a slope. I am a short-term pessimist, but a long-term optimist. I'm sure the same process strengthening human values will come to the Soviet Union."

James Billington, librarian of Congress and a Soviet scholar, said he was sure that the desire for peaceful revolution was strong even in Siberia.

Much talk was about the links between Hungarian and U.S. culture. John Frohnmayer, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, just back from a trip to Hungary, talked about the interest he found there in private funding of the arts. Bela Szombati, first secretary at the embassy, said the country would welcome people who could tell them how -- such as guests Laughlin Phillips, head of the Phillips Collection, and his wife, Jennifer; and Ann Townsend, president of the Trust for Museum Exhibitions, and her husband, Louis.

Bruce Gelb, U.S. Information Agency director, nominated to go to Belgium as ambassador, was also a guest, along with Hungarian congressmen Gabor Roszik and Zsolt Nemeth, here to attend thecongressional prayer breakfast last week with Goncz; and Eniko Bollobas, the new deputy chief of mission.

After the serious talk, Anne Zwack proudly introduced chef Kalla to take his bow for the five remarkable courses.

But some perfectionists are never satisfied. Zwack, presiding over the handsome Hungarian china and linens, deplored the embassy's shortage of bouillon spoons (round). No matter, little oval spoons made the delicious consomme last longer, and effectively extracted the goose liver pate' pastry puffs from the bouillon. Those wanting the last drop of broth properly used the double handles on the cup to good effect, before going on to Hortobagy pancake (a chicken paprikash dish named after a grasslands region), beef Wellington and Hungarian trifle. (Lantos's wife, Annette, also of Hungarian origin, requested a vegetable plate, and was served one that was seven courses in itself.)

Still, there's the problem of the cimbalom. If you know a good cimbalom player -- please call Anne Zwack.