Eight Guests, Three Courses = $2,625
A listair Clarke is head of Sotheby’s English and European furniture departments; his wife, Blair, is a consultant and private dealer specializing in emerging artists, and they have a 20-month-old daughter, Poppy. As a result, their Upper East Side apartment is a mix of eighteenth-century French furniture, rare eighteenth-century Sèvres porcelain, abstract nudes by Natasha Law, and installations by Wonjung Choi. Sit-down dinners “give us a chance to set a creative table and bring in a theme,” says Blair, who’ll sometimes assign guests a vocation-related trinket (a paintbrush to an artist) to get conversation rolling. They decorate for the holidays with pinecones and holly from their Sag Harbor garden, lots of candles, and family tree ornaments. They have an annual cocktail party for friends and colleagues, with catering from Olivier Cheng, and Alistair’s colleagues come over for a pre-Christmas lunch that’s catered by the Middle Eastern restaurant Persepolis. Our experts took over their dining room (which doubles as the library) to assemble an intime dinner for eight that would pass muster with Louis XIV himself.
How the Experts Would Simulate Versailles
Topiary, crystal, chocolate cupcakes, and eighteenth-century country music.
The DécorMarcy Blum, event planner
The dining room is small, and it isn’t as lighthearted as it could be. Plus, eating in the library is a difficult juxtaposition. We decided to make it a formal dining room, with a whimsical spin. Their china and silver is exquisite, and the colors so beautiful, that it seemed crazy to bring in contemporary pieces. There will be a lot of theme parties because of Marie Antoinette, but none will actually have eighteenth-century French pieces. That was irresistible, so I decided to go over the top with it, with a lot of gold and glistening crystal. It’s a combination of Versailles and Christmas. We changed the table to a 72-inch round from a 60-inch round (TriServe Rentals; 718-822-1930), to allow people to have elbow room and still be able to display all these pieces. We didn’t want to squeeze them; we want them to drink lots of wine and have a long, leisurely dinner.
The topiaries were our version of Christmas trees but festive. They made the room more expansive (Foliage Gardens; 212-989-3089). The screen gives the room less-precise boundaries (Props for Today; 212-244-9600). The bookshelves were making it stodgy, so we took some of his eighteenth-century pieces and used them for color and display purposes. The gold glasses on the table alone were pretty, but there wasn’t enough pop. Adding blue brought in the colors and emphasized the china. Using different patterned plates, and the oddly shaped eighteenth-century knives and forks, made it lighter and fun. I love place cards. People think it is too controlling, but you have to put some thought into it. It can be a party favor when it’s beautifully calligraphed—a Marie Antoinette touch (Bernard Maisner Calligraphy; 212-477-6776). I wanted to get a lot of color in the tablecloth (Ruth Fischl linen rental; 212-273-9710). When you walk in, you see all the swagging; it’s very lush and extravagant, like a painting. The fruit played with that and had a still-life quality to it. We used his candles and added more on the windowsill for drama. We used big chunky candles, because we had the huge candelabra with hurricane lamps, so we didn’t want to use the modern votive glass (Crate & Barrel; 212-308-0011). I’m not a big fan of French service, but there’s something very elegant and old-world about service at the table. With everything on the trolley, it’s easy to make a spectacular presentation.
I wanted to find something that gave the setting a hint of Blair’s humor, so we moved the Tapp Francke neon, Pleasure, from the living room. It was an edict to relax and enjoy oneself. TOTAL COST … $2,200
The FoodDaniel Boulud, chef, Daniel
Smoked-fish salad is always so festive, but salmon is typical; this takes the idea one step further. One fish is warm and soft and melty, the other more salty and cured; it’s a nice contrast. Black cod is a seasonal fish, so it’s not always available, which makes it a little exotic. Yogurt is light and refreshing, and the sharp, tart za’atar goes well with the fatty fish.
The first course is more contemporary, but Alistair has an old-world feeling to him and this is a menu more appropriate to the Old World. A saddle of venison is majestic, and it’s a delicate meat; it cooks very quickly. Cut it in one-inch pieces and give two pieces per person. If you cook it on the bone, it gives a wonderful flavor to the meat and doesn’t shrink as much as medallions would. The sauce is a little sweet and sour; the barberry is a type of cranberry but adds another dimension. I like the Brussels sprouts split and pan-seared and the sweet potatoes in large cubes instead of puréed; it’s easy to serve and nice to present.
The cupcake is in name only; in reality, it’s very sophisticated. It’s more like a chocolate marquise. And they’ll drink enough wine not to worry about the butter.TOTAL COST … $425
The MusicGeorge Steel, executive director, Miller Theatre
One of the favorite theme parties of Versailles was the pastorale or “country-style” party; Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Ballets de Village embody the aristocratic frivolity of these faux-naïf blowouts, and can still be apprehended over the din of a cocktail party.
To call guests to the table, Marin Marais’s Suites des Airs à Jouer from the opera Alcione sets the stage for an elegant entry. Keyboard music makes an excellent accompaniment to the main part of the meal; first, J. S. Bach’s Ouvertüre Nach Französische Art; then, to add a little more richness to the mix, two utterly Gallic nineteenth-century works for piano: Emmanuel Chabrier’s Suite de Valses and Gabriel Fauré’s Huit Pièces Brèves. Over dessert, more-extroverted music can make a return: Bach’s Ouverture (Orchestra Suite) No. 1 in C major. To bring guests out of the dining room, Nicolas Chédeville’s Les Saisons Amusantes, a reworking of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that should have everyone in a dancing mood. As the champagne and cocktails continue, the great pillars of French social music must make an appearance: Charles Trenet, performing his own songs, and jazz by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.
The Royal Treatment
Daniel Boulud’s fish-and-game feast.
The Menu• Salad of Sable Confit and Smoked Sable With a Yogurt Dressing
WINE: Domaine Trimbach, Riesling Clos Sainte Hune 2000
• Roasted Venison Saddle With Barberry Jus and Fall Vegetables
WINE: Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1998
• Chocolate Cupcakes With Chestnut Confit Mousse and Chocolate Sauce
WINE: Taylor’s twenty-year tawny portholiday food 2006
Salad of Sable Confit and Smoked Sable With a Yogurt Dressing
1 liter extra-virgin olive oil
4 whole star anises
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large celery root, peeled and halved; 1/2 cut into 3/4-inch cubes, the rest in fine julienne
1 1/2 pounds black-cod fillet with skin on
3/4 pound smoked sable, skin and bones removed, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cubed
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive
1 1/2 teaspoon ground za’atar (available from Kalustyan’s; 212-685-3451)
Salt and ground black pepper
3 endives, rinsed and separated
1 head of radicchio di Treviso, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 frisée lettuces, rinsed
2 stalks fresh celery with leaves, stalks thinly sliced, leaves separated
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
Add the olive oil, star anise, thyme, lemon zest, and cubed celery root to a high-sided braising pan and set over low heat. When the temperature reaches 140 degrees (use a cooking thermometer), add the black-cod fillets, making sure they are just covered with oil. Cook for about 30 minutes, maintaining the oil at 140 degrees, until the fish starts to flake. Remove the fish, and drain on a sheet pan. Continue to cook the celery until tender, then remove and set aside. Once the black cod is cool, flake it into large pieces and set aside.
DRESSING: In a bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, oil, and za’atar. Season to taste. In another bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of the dressing with the celery-root julienne and toss well to coat. Season to taste, and set aside for at least 1 hour. In a bowl, toss the diced smoked sable with just enough dressing to coat. Toss the Treviso and frisée lettuce with enough dressing to coat, and season to taste. Arrange equal amounts of celery-root julienne in the center of each plate, top with the black-cod confit followed by the smoked sable. Place some of the Treviso and frisée to one side. Drizzle a little of the dressing around the fish. Garnish with the endive spears, confit of celery root, sliced celery stalks and leaves, and sprinkle toasted sesame over each salad.
Roasted Venison Saddle With Barberry Jus and Fall Vegetables
2 quarts chicken stock
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 bunches radishes, trimmed and halved
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red onions, quartered
1 pound black-trumpet mushrooms, cleaned
2 shallots, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups baby mustard greens
1 whole fallow venison saddle on the bone, trimmed, or half a larger saddle (about 6 pounds) (available from Ottomanelli & Sons; 212-675-4217)
1/2 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 head garlic, cut horizontally
1 tablespoon whole juniper berries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 bottle red wine (75 cl.)
1 bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, and bay leaf)
1 teaspoon whole juniper berries
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons barberries (available from Kalustyan’s)
VEGETABLES: In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Add sweet potatoes, simmer for about 10 minutes until tender. Remove them, and use the same stock to blanch the Brussels sprouts and radishes for about 5 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside. Discard stock.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the onion wedges on a sheet pan with 2 tablespoons oil, thyme, salt, and pepper, and toss together. Roast the onions for 20 minutes or until tender. Remove and set aside.
VENISON: Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Season the venison with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large roasting pan over medium heat and sear the venison evenly on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Add the butter, and place the venison in the oven. After 10 minutes, baste the meat with the pan juices and add thyme, rosemary, garlic, and juniper. Continue roasting for another 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees, basting often (cooking time will vary depending on the size of the saddle). Remove from the oven, cover with foil, and set aside.
SAUCE: Meanwhile, place sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar begins to caramelize, carefully pour in orange juice and reduce by a third. Add the red wine, bouquet garni, and juniper, and continue cooking until reduced to a third. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large fry pan set over medium heat, add the black trumpets, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the diced shallots, salt, and pepper, and continue cooking for about 3 more minutes. Remove the mushrooms, and wipe the pan with a paper towel. Add the butter; when melted, place the sprouts cut side down in the pan. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until lightly browned. Add the blanched sweet potatoes, radishes, and sautéed black trumpets, and cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm. Remove the venison from roasting pan and set aside. Pour off excess fat, and place over medium heat, add the chicken stock, and simmer, whisking until the pan juices and particles have dissolved. Pour the pan juices into the wine–orange juice mixture; bring to a boil and reduce until slightly thickened. Strain the sauce into a clean saucepan, add barberries, remove from heat, and whisk in butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep hot. Place venison saddle on a heated serving platter; arrange the vegetables and mustard-green leaves around it. Spoon a little of the sauce over the meat. Serve remaining sauce on the side.
Chocolate Cup Cakes With Chestnut Confit Mousse and Chocolate Sauce
Chestnut Confit Mousse
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup chestnut spread with vanilla (available from Kalustyan’s)
1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 cup heavy cream
Garnish: 8 glace chestnuts, gold leaf, and chocolate shavings
The day before, split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the inside with a small knife. In a bowl, combine the scraped vanilla bean contents with the chestnut spread and mix well until smooth and soft.
Whip crème fraîche and heavy cream in a bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold in chestnut mixture until completely incorporated. Cover and chill overnight.
Chocolate Chocolate Cup Cakes
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 small pinch baking powder
1/3 cup plus +1 tablespoon cocoa powder, (preferably Valrhona)
1/2 cup eggs (about 2 large eggs)
1 1/2 cups hot butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, sift together sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder.
Beat the eggs together with 1 1/4 cups water in a small bowl, and then slowly whisk them into the flour mixture. Add the hot butter, and stir until well combined.
Fill the lined cupcake pans 2/3 full with batter, and bake for about 30 minutes or until firm to the touch. (The recipe makes about 18 cupcakes.;extras will keep well as they are very moist)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Valrhona)
In a sauce pan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and continue to cook until reduced by one quarter. Set aside to cool.
Assembly: Cut off the top of each cupcake to create a flat surface. With a small, star- shaped pastry tip, pipe the chestnut-confit mousse over the top of each cupcake, in a circular pattern. Place a whole chestnut confit on top of the mousse, and garnish with chocolate shavings. If feeling extravagant, top the chestnut can be topped with gold leaf.
Serve with chocolate sauce on the side.