Monday, August 29, 2011

Dîner en Blanc: A Parisian Pop-Up Dinner NYC style

On Thursday, August 25th, New Yorkers finally had a chance to experience in a highly talked about event from Paris called Dîner en Blanc (translated to "Dinner in White").   It started in 1988 when the founder, François Pasquier, returned from a few years abroad and wanted to hold a dinner party to reunite with old friends. Alas, he had so many people RSVP'ed that he asked everyone to all meet at the Bois de Boulogne and dress in white so they would all recognize each other.  

Photo Courtesy of Dîner en Blanc: New York

Twenty-three years later, the dîner has grown in Paris to over 4,400 diners this year converging in the plaza at Notre Dame and 6,200 in the courtyard of the Louvre. That is a lot of close friends!  And amazing how unknown it is to most of Paris still when you have such a huge number of diners popping up in a very public location for a few hours of dining and fun.  Given the nature of the dîner where each diner brings their own table, chairs, food and cleans everything up themselves at the very end, it is the quintessential pop-up, phantom picnic. This year they also launched the first Dîner en Blanc in Quebec and Montreal. 

While Paris' original version still remains pretty exclusive with invitations only going out to friends of friends, the first New York event has proven to be more egalitarian with half of the 1,000 invitations given out on a lottery system. Thanks to a heads up from the Mistress of Spices, I signed up for the waiting list and marked the date on my calendar to register for New York's event.  

Despite the technical fiasco (since over 31,000 visitors tried to register at the same time), my registration made it through and the planning for Dîner en Blanc New York began! 

A little over a week before the event, I received an email from the planners with the list of what we needed to bring with us to the event and found out I didn't have ONE thing from the list including a WHITE (not ivory or cream!) outfit or white shoes. I'm from New York and my closet is pretty much stock full of black, greys, and you add major clutz to the list and it explains why I have no 100% white outfit.  :)   Thankfully, I was able to find my outfit quite easily (yay for end of summer sales!) and realized I had clear plastic Melissa flats with little crystals embedded that would work perfectly! Whenever I wear them, I feel like a princess!

With my outfit crisis solved and other list of things to bring with us slowly being checked off, it was time to focus on the all important issue: WHAT TO EAT? The organizers asked for us to bring the following: 1 first course + 1 cold main course + 1 cheese and/or 1 dessert + 1 bread.  All of it was to be brought with us in a white picnic basket with 1 water & 1 soft drink. Wine, unfortunately, could only be pre-ordered via a caterer due to liquor restrictions. 

This was the final menu for the evening:

A few days before the dîner, we received another email from our group leader giving us the location for our meeting point down in the Financial District.  From there, we were told we would be taking the subway. My sister insisted we would be going to Battery Park, though I was hoping for Central Park so that it would lead us back home afterwards quickly.

The night before the big night, I am in my kitchen cooking away and packing everything that is needed. 
Look at the beautiful colors of the vegetables especially the baby carrots!

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce commonly used as a condiment in Moroccan dishes to add a little heat and dimension to tagines and couscous. It can be made fresh or found in a tube paste like the one I have above.


The food is cooked and all packed in easy, disposable white takeaway Chinese cartons. At the very bottom of this blog is the recipe for the grilled Thai marinated steak and arugula salad.

The day of the event finally arrived on Thursday, August 25th with weather forecast being rain and thunderstorms ALL day.  Of course, we all knew that it would go on rain or shine.  So there was a last minute hunt to locate a clear/white poncho or umbrella. Thank you Bed, Bath and Beyond!

As my sister, Tzu-i, and I hopped into a taxi with all of our props a little before 6pm, the sun broke through the clouds and we prayed that the rain would stay away for the evening or at least until the dîner was finished.  We made it downtown with 15 minutes to spare and found our group leader quickly enough. Picture time!

At half past six, we were told to get our Metro passes ready and that we were walking a few blocks to meet up with other groups.  The sight as we converged with all of the other groups was pretty amazing.  Along the way we had several local New Yorkers and tourists stop us to ask why we were all dressed in white. We received comments ranging from "Must be a bridal party" to "Cult?" 
Photo Courtesy of Dîner en Blanc

A half hour later, past the World Trade Center site and still walking, we all figured the only place we could go at this point that would be large enough to hold all the diners comfortably was Battery Park City. Tzu-i was right!! And it was a sight to behold as we walked up with earlier guests setting up their dining area already. Over 1,000 excited participants all dressed in elegant white attire. Some with masks, feathered plume hair accessories, white hats, gloves, etc. It was truly an incredible event to be a part of.
Photo Courtesy of Dîner en Blanc

After a quick set-up, we were ready to eat and enjoy the view and music along the NYC riverside on a gorgeous and cool summer night. 


We made new friends with our fellow diners and had one of the most unique dining experiences in New York.  After such a beautiful night in New York, it's almost unbelievable to think that the next few days afterwards that same area where the dîner was held would be subject to a mandatory evacuation by Mayor Bloomberg due to Hurricane Irene.  Dîner en Blanc is definitely blessed for twenty-three rain free dinners! We can't wait till next year! 

Amazing performer from the evening. Her haunting voice and songs added to the drama of the evening.

Here are some photos from our picnic dinner:

 First Course: Arugula Salad with Peaches, Proscuitto & Almonds in Dijon Vinaigrette. See recipe below.

Main Course with Side Dishes: Thai-Marinated Steak 
with Grilled Harissa Vegetables and Israeli Couscous

Dessert: Smore and Cheesecake Brownies

And here are the recipes at last from two of the dishes I prepared for Dîner en Blanc. Bon appetit mes amis!

Salad of Peach, Proscuitto, and Almonds 
in Dijon Vinaigrette
Serves 4

8 oz washed arugula or mesclun (I used arugula because I love the bitterness)
1 peach, thinly sliced
2 slices proscuitto, roughly pulled into bite size pieces (optional)
1/8 cup toasted sliced almonds

For vinaigrette:
1/2 large shallot, finely diced
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1/2 tbsp clove honey
1/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTE: I like to make my own vinaigrettes because it is super easy to make and I know exactly what is going into them. You'll rarely find pre-made dressing in my frigerator. But feel free to replace it with a pre-made vinaigrette of your choice.

1. In a large mixing bowl, add arugula, peaches, proscuitto, and almonds. Lightly toss together. Store in container for no more than a few hours if not serving. immediately.

2. For the vinaigrette, add all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Using a whisk, mix it until it comes together.  Store in a small, glass container with sealed lid.

3.  This is important! Do NOT add dressing until you are ready to eat it.  Otherwise, the greens will be soggy. Dress the salad at the very last minute tableside and use it sparingly.  You only need a little bit for each serving. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Grilled Thai Marinated Steak
Serves 4
2 pieces 1/2-pound hanger steak
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For Thai Marinade:
2 cloves whole garlic, peeled
1 cup basil
1 cup cilantro
1/2 cup mint, stems removed
1 1/2 tbsp sriracha (or to taste)
1 freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil

1. Thoroughly clean meat and pat dry.  Season with salt and pepper and put to the side.

2. In a food processor, add all ingredients for the thai marinade and process until smooth paste. Feel free to taste it to see if you need to adjust seasoning to your likening. 

3. In a resealable plastic bag or flat container, place steak and add marinade, making sure that both sides of each steak is fully covered.  Seal/cover and refrigerate overnight or minimum of 6 hours.

4. On a skillet over high heat(I used my Le Creuset skillet which I think gives my steak a nice char), add steak and grill approximately 4 minutes on each side for a medium rare.  

5. Remove from skillet and let rest on the cutting board for no less than 5 minutes to let the meat rest and juices to come together. Thinly slice at a diagonal and serve immediately or at refrigerate the night before and serve at room temperature. 


  1. Loved your post! It was fun dining with you :) ~Carrie

  2. Very cool post. Great photos. Looks like such a fun event!

  3. I am so bummed that I didn't know about this before it happened! I already sighned up for next year. :) Love your blog, from a fellow NYC-er :)

  4. This looks like it was such a magical evening, and I'm so glad that you guys got to check it out! I love both of your dresses, and it looks like you did a great job with your dishes, as usual!

  5. Thanks for checking out my blog Carrie! Hope you and your husband wasn't forced to evacuate for Irene this weekend.

    Becka, it was awesome! Fingers crossed for you that you get in next year. :)

    Juanita and Mistress, you should definitely check it out. I know Mistress has a better chance being in Paris where the event originated!