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Dîner on the Hudson

Beverly Stephen - August 27th, 2014

Was it a Renoir painting come to life? Some sort of cult gathering? New Year’s Eve on the beach in Rio? A Great Gatsby soirée?

No. It was the fourth annual New York celebration in Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City of Dîner en Blanc, the Paris phenomenon that “my father started as a gathering of friends 26 years ago,” said Aymeric Pasquier, the executive producer of the American dinners. This year, 4,800 New Yorkers attended, up from 3,800 last year. And, according to Pasquier, there were another 20,000 on the waiting list. At this year’s Paris picnic in June, some 13,000 gathered all along the bridges of the Seine.

The sheer number of attendees isn’t the only difference between the events here and in Paris. A quick glance at photos of Paris reveals Champagne bottles on every table. “You’re allowed to drink in the streets in Paris,” Pasquir said, explaining that people could bring their own bottles. Here, Bordeaux, provided by the Bordeaux Wine Council, could only be pre-ordered through the caterer. “And in Paris, we don’t have to pay for the venue, as we do in New York,” he added. Permits, payments, and security notwithstanding, Pasquier was smiling like a proud papa and said he was pleased and surprised by the attendees’ enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm was flaunted by white-clad fashionistas sporting flowing gowns, flapper-style dresses, boas, feathers, Carnival masks, and hats, hats, hats—white cowboy hats, pith helmets, bowlers, fedoras, veiled pill boxes, and chapeaux fit for a royal wedding. Tables were accessorized with ostrich feathers, candles, tall glass jars filled with marshmallows and white candies, and upside-down umbrella chandeliers suspended on a PVC pipe construction. And the attendees were no slouches when it came to food either. Some chose to purchase the Great Performances box lunches “curated” by chef Todd English. But most prepared their own fare, whether simple fruit and cheese plates or multicourse menus complete with amuse bouche. One elegant menu listed chilled silken puree of chive and cucumber vichyssoise en blanc with swimming grilled shrimp followed by asparagus en blanc dressed in brown butter vinaigrette and rooftop herbs.

Although one would be hard-pressed to find a tablecloth in a hot restaurant in Brooklyn or even Manhattan these days, there was no shortage of white napery on these tables, a strict requirement along with china, silver, and glassware. No paper or plastic, please. Formality and dressing up are cool here. And when the music stops, everyone dutifully packs up their belongings and their trash and disappears into the night.