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The Dish On Dinner

BOYKIN CURRY, Managing director, Eagle Capital
Venue: His apartment on Central Park South
Typical guests: City Council leader Gifford Miller, Corey Booker, Courtney Love, actor Mariska Hargitay
Menu: Artichokes, chicken potpie, ice cream with balsamic vinegar

It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and the strongest cocktail in evidence at Boykin Curry’s sprawling Trump apartment is Diet Coke—everyone has an early start tomorrow. Similarly, this is a crowd that likes its table talk serious, so Curry has asked his old friend Thomas Inglesby from Johns Hopkins to give a presentation on biological weapons before dinner. The group gathers around a coffee table laden with cheese—though the graphic photos of smallpox sufferers put a certain damper on the consumption of Brie. “A national crisis is no time to brood alone,” says Curry, explaining why he still feels like entertaining several times a month.

Curry’s parties range from elaborate (he once had an opera performed in the living room) to casual (McDonald’s apple pies for dessert) to unusual (catfights). Last year, Courtney Love crashed his Moroccan evening and got into a spat with Washington’s junior senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell, over the rights to the music of Love’s late husband, Kurt Cobain. “I’d better get out of here before I brain that bitch,” Love shouted before storming off with a plate of chicken tagine.

Beyond tonight’s smallpox alert, there’s another agenda: Curry wants to introduce Bill Clinton’s counselor Doug Band to Corey Booker, who narrowly lost the last election for the Newark mayoralty.

Celerie Kemble, Curry’s decorator girlfriend, helps usher everyone into the dining room, which she has optimistically designed with a centerpiece of doves. “This is a very good time for a home-cooked meal,” says Booker, “and the security of friends.”

JOAN RIVERS, Television personality
Venue: Her Upper East Side penthouse
Typical guests: Lady Dufferin, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, Robert and Blaine Trump, Muffie Potter Aston, Princess Firyal of Jordan, writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, Aileen Mehle (W’s Suzy)
Menu: Wine-braised veal with morels, asparagus, and spring peas; white- and dark-chocolate painter’s palette by Fauchon

‘I always serve pigs in a blanket. Everyone loves them,” cries Joan Rivers, adding quickly, “And we’re having Spanish wines. Not using French was a conscious decision.”

Tonight’s dinner is for Joan’s friend Lindy, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, who has an exhibit of her paintings at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries and is the daughter of the late financier Loel Guinness. Since Lady Dufferin’s paintings feature cows, the hostess has enlisted party designer Preston Bailey to create massive bovine centerpieces that tower over each table. There’s a gold cow for Guinness, a pink “showbiz” cow with heels and long lashes for Rivers, and a green cow inspired by her daughter Melissa’s recent stint on a reality show in the jungle.

“I don’t believe it!” gasps Dufferin when she first eyes them.

Dinner at Rivers’s house is almost as dramatic as the apartment, once owned by J. P. Morgan’s daughter. At one Christmas party, Phil Spector pulled a gun on Walter Cronkite’s daughter while the Gay Men’s Choir was in full voice. “It was very scary,” says Rivers. “Everyone still talks about it.”

She moves swiftly on to give Dufferin a brief bio of everyone coming. “I always make sure everyone goes into the dinner fully armed,” says Rivers. “Because you don’t want to get up from dinner and say, ‘Why did no one tell me he discovered penicillin!’ ” On their way out, guests are handed a gold-lamé gift bag containing jewelry and beauty products that Rivers hawks on QVC—as if Blaine Trump’s going to trade in her rocks for rhinestones.

JEFFREY LEEDS, Founder, Leeds Weld & Co., a private-equity firm
Location: His Park Avenue apartment
Typical guests: Leeds refuses to disclose his guest list, but it includes former Massachusetts governor William Weld, Rudy Giuliani, Sesame Street’s Joan Ganz Cooney, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, and Sheryl Crow.
Menu: Carrot soup, Cornish hen , strawberry tart

When guests arrive for dinner at Jeffrey Leeds’s apartment, he’s often not there. “There’ve been times when they’ve had to start cocktails without me,” Leeds confesses. (He’s found that squeezing in a quick trip to the gym helps dampen the what-if-no-one-comes anxiety.) “It’s always awkward when people first arrive, but I’ve got it down now,” he says. “The last thing I do is leap into the shower. I’m combing my hair as they ring the bell. The fire’s set, the music’s on, the candles are lit. Then I get them a drink right away.”

Leeds’s fetish for long, argumentative dinners began at Yale, when he and his friends used to sit in the dining room for hours as a way of avoiding work. After a stint at Oxford, where lingering, this time at High Table, was a veritable religion, he returned to New York and has been trying to re-create such dinners ever since.

The Leeds theory of entertaining is simple: Anyone, he insists, can pick up the phone and ask anyone else for dinner. “Who isn’t intrigued by coming to someone’s house?” he asks. “Especially in New York, where it is entirely possible to know people for years but not see where they live.” He doesn’t believe in instructing guests on conversation topics. Before they arrive, Leeds carefully sketches out a placement on lined notebook paper—and leaves it to them.

Evenings can get happily out of hand—Kevin Kline recently broke a chair, and during one heated discussion about Iraq, Kate Betts suddenly stood up and demanded that Leeds stop cursing. “For me, dinner parties are the best way to get to argue with people in my own home,” says Leeds. “Actually, it’s very selfish.”

ZANG TOI, Fashion designer
Venue: His one-bedroom garden apartment on the Upper East Side
Typical guests: Arie and Coco Kopelman, Patty Hearst, Janice “Puff Mommy” Combs, Kimberly Rockefeller, Aileen Pei
Menu: Curry chicken with quail eggs, French beans with shrimp, coconut crème caramel

You can smell the spring rolls frying outside Zang Toi’s front door, which opens straight into his kitchen. “I’m playing!” he says. Toi considers a dinner party a three-day “production”—one day to plan, one to shop, and one to cook. Even his apron matches the wallpaper. Last night, he was up until 3 a.m. chopping veggies for the spring rolls. He wraps the trembling crème caramel with gold ribbon.

Tonight is a much-needed distraction for Toi, who’s nervous about his first trip to the Oscars. He’s presenting his current collection at Sharon Stone’s pre-Oscar benefit, and he’ll also be outfitting Farrah Fawcett and Paris Hilton. In New York, he prefers to hold dinners in his gardenia-filled courtyard, but tonight’s rain means he is forced to set up the buffet next to his bed. He serves “only champagne!” to drink, and the only thing he didn’t make is the large red-velvet cake, with his name written in icing, supplied by Janice Combs from her Brooklyn soul-food catering company.

As the assembled group piles on the coconut rice (it’s so good Combs comes back three times), the conversation never veers from Toi’s clothes or his cooking. Hearst is forced to eat quickly since she’s a guest on Larry King Live, to talk about Elizabeth Smart, the teenager who has been found that morning. “Coming to Toi’s is so much more special than those charity things at the Waldorf with the rubbery chicken,” she says before slipping out and climbing into a waiting Town Car. But that’s not the last we’ll see of her tonight. At 9 p.m., everyone climbs onto the bed to watch Hearst on Toi’s small television. When the show cuts to footage of her robbing a bank with a large machine gun, “Auntie” Pei (I.M.’s stepmom) nearly passes out. She’s just figured out who came to dinner.