The nearly 300 elegantly dressed diners were invited to loosen both their belts and their purse strings, and before the last bite of the Valrhona tiramisu tower and the last sip of the Mondavi Moscato d'Oro 1992 had disappeared late Sunday night, they had done both.
That was the idea behind the sixth in series of annual opulent culinary evenings known as the
Art of Dining: to fill a ballroom of hungry guests with the best food prepared by some of the best chefs in the country while relieving them of a certain amount of folding green ballast.
"You can't take it with you," said Judie Argyros, who, her husband George and Joan and Donald Beall, was honorary chair of the event. "And if you don't fly first class, your kids will."
She needn't have worried. For the beneficiary of this evening, the Newport Harbor Art Museum, the scenario once again worked beautifully. By the time the last numbers had come in from the evening's auction items--first-class vacations to places such as Maui and Tokyo and Switzerland, high-ticket gift certificates to Tiffany and Barneys New York--the museum was able to add about $100,000 to its ledger.
With tables (along with a list of extra perks) for 10 going for $5,000 and $10,000 each and individual seats for $300, it was no surprise to learn from museum director Michael Botwinick that the Art of Dining is the most lucrative fund-raising event of the year for the museum.
There was a difference at this year's black-tie dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach, however, and it was one that was roundly praised by nearly everyone: This dinner was strictly Italian.
In past years, the dinner had been assembled by a collection of top-rated chefs, each of whom was responsible for preparing a single course, so the menu was often eclectic. Sunday, however, the eight chefs under the supervision of coordinating chef Joachim Splichal all came from Italian restaurants and prepared an exclusively Italian meal.
A wine for every one of the seven courses made each table look like a chemist's lab, with a total of--count 'em--80 glasses atop every one. And the weight of all the silver necessary to properly consume each course might have taxed the shock absorbers on a boxcar.
It was that kind of meal.
For the museum, it offered a fine fiscal lift. But for the employees of the Four Seasons, it offered, once again, a chance to work with the currently hot pros, and the often-repeated comment held that staffers not scheduled to work begged to be assigned to dinner duties, just to watch the banquet being assembled by the best.
"They're all so \o7 young,\f7 " Botwinick said enthusiastically after a visit with the chefs in the kitchen. "It's like rock 'n' roll in there."
For those who need to work up an appetite, here are the courses and the chefs who supervised their preparation:
\o7 * Antipasto misto, \f7 by Michel Pieton, executive chef of the Four Seasons, Newport Beach.
* Baby clams and leeks in a white wine garlic broth with parsley, by Paul Bartolotta, executive chef of Spiaggia in Chicago.
* Cedar-smoked salmon with artichoke and mushroom salad, by Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel, owners and chefs at Campanile Restaurant and La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles.
\o7 * Lasagna con verdure, \f7 by Marta Pulini, executive chef of Le Madri in New York.
* Risotto with \o7 porcini \f7 mushrooms and zucchini flowers, by Angelo Auriana and Piero Selvaggio, chef de cuisine and owner, respectively, of Valentino in Santa Monica, Primi in Los Angeles, and Posto in Sherman Oaks.
* Pan-roasted Napa Valley squab with \o7 tealla forma, \f7 potato puree and natural \o7 jus, \f7 by Michael Chiarello, owner and chef at Tra Vigne in St. Helena, Calif.
* Valrhona tiramisu tower with hazelnut ice cream and pistachio biscotti, by Bruno Feldeisen and Joachim Splichal, pastry chef and chef-owner, respectively, of Patina restaurant in Los Angeles and Pinot Bistro in Studio City.
One ritual this year was, mercifully, omitted. According to Jane Piasecki, the museum's associate director, it was the custom to project a photograph of the course being served on a large screen as the chef explained the food and its preparation. The photograph included an imprinted calorie count for the dish.
"People used to look at that and groan," said Piasecki. "So this year we thought we'd just let the chef do the talking."
DINING REVIEW: Art of Dining fund-raiser lives up to its name, says Max Jacobson. F2