After the hard-to-get tickets, the secrecy, the demanding preparation, and, especially, the schlepping (oh, the schlepping) the Dîner en Blanc foodie-flash mob was basically a very nice dinner party—for approximately 1,500 people.
All of the guests, uniformly dressed in the required head-to-toe white, appeared to have a lively and memorable time as they cheerfully unpacked tables, chairs, glasses, flatware, plates, linens, flowers—and in some instances, candelabra—on the banks of the Anacostia River. After setting it all up, they sat down to enjoy a dinner they either provisioned themselves, or bought from the host organization. “It’s a traveling circus, if you will,” said cohost Bryer Davis.
The dinner, which was effectively the first big soiree of Washington’s fall party season, may have been a “circus,” but it was one graced with a beautiful evening, and a friendly mood that would likely impress cynics who snarked about the cultish concept. No one was complaining about the rule book, which demanded the location, Yards Park, be kept secret until an hour before the event started. Or the rigid dress code. Or the hauling of one’s own “picnic” gear by Metro, in cars, on buses, by foot. The only gripe we heard was a woman who wished it hadn’t been scheduled for the same evening as the NFL season opener. Another said, “I paid to be part of the event, but also to see who else would pay to bring their own table, and chairs, and food to a dinner.”
The breeze off the Anacostia didn’t deter the event’s key rituals: the waving of napkins, and the lighting of hundreds of sparklers at dusk. They’ve been part of the tradition since the diner was started 25 years ago in Paris by François Pasquier. He wanted to have a big al fresco meal with a couple dozen friends in a cool location—then the Bois de Boulogne—and asked his pals to come dressed in white so they could see each other in the dark. Voilà! It has grown substantially, to cities all over the world and to guest lists in the thousands. Thursday evening’s dinner was the first in Washington.
We attended as a guest of the Dîner en Blanc organizers (tickets were $35 per person), but still participated in the requirement of bringing our own set-up and food; it was also possible to rent tables and chairs, and order picnic baskets and wine. Our meal was made easier thanks to Chap Gage of Susan Gage Caterers, who actually built a table to meet the strict guidelines (27 inches square), loaned us white chairs, and whipped up a picnic dinner of paella, tomato and mozzarella salad with figs, and chocolate tarts. We sat embedded among the other guests. On our right were Jamie Nolan, a public relations contractor with the federal government and her husband, Detective Brian Hallahan of the Metropolitan Police Department. On our left were Noe Woods of Reston, and Antwanet Shaban of Manassas, having a girls night out. Both women work for business consultant companies that service the federal government. All four were unable to get tickets when they first went on sale—they sold out in 90 minutes, according to Davis—but got them when they came off the wait list.
Woods and Shaban brought silver and crystal candleholders, but paid extra for the food and wine provided by Dîner en Blanc. We wondered if they were foodies. Woods was quick to respond. “I don’t know if we’re foodies,” she said. “But we love food.”