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.