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SPECIAL HOLIDAY ISSUE / ENTERTAINING

A party that raises eyebrows

A renowned salon owner and a chef team up for an annual celebration of fine food, good cheer and Champagne aplenty.

December 06, 2007|Andrea R. Vaucher | Special to The Times

AS Anastasia Soare languished in communist Romania in the 1980s, waiting for an exit visa for herself and her young daughter, she never imagined she would be here, dressed in a hip-hugging Chanel jacket and patent leather Bottega Veneta boots, receiving friends at her Beverly Hills home for a holiday party.

"I didn't even know what Bottega Veneta was," Soare says, a flute of Veuve Clicquot Champagne in her hand as she mingles with guests, including former Olympic gymnast and fellow Romanian Nadia Comaneci, Beverly Hills plastic surgeons Randal Haworth and Frank Ryan and gossip girl Janet Charlton.

Soare throws the annual party with organic chef Beth Ginsberg, and the women have perfected their duet over the last seven years. But receiving 40 guests for dinner is a high-wire act, and until minutes before the first arrivals, Soare was still dressed in sweats, dye painted on the roots of her jet black hair as she scattered gold leaves, glittery glass berries and real tangerines down the center of the four dining tables, one placed poolside under heat lamps for the smokers -- this would be, after all, a very European crowd.

In the kitchen, as her assistants open bottles of Australian Shiraz and label platters with the dishes they will cradle, Ginsberg kicks off her Manolos and transfers two 19-pound turkeys to another pan to capture drippings for gravy.

"I only use hens," says Ginsberg, who co-wrote "The Taste for Living" cookbook with Michael Milken. "They're juicier and plumper than toms." These were the largest hens that L.A. butcher Harvey's Guss could find -- plenty big, it turns out, given that two legs of lamb are simmering in the adjacent oven, to be served with a pomegranate sauce.

Ginsberg met Soare at Anastasia Beverly Hills, the beauty salon that Soare opened 10 years ago. These days Ginsberg waits patiently for the eyebrow guru, as Soare is known, alongside the likes of Sharon Stone, Penelope Cruz and Reese Witherspoon.

Soare's cosmetic line is overseen by daughter Claudia, now 29, a dark-haired beauty with piercing azure eyes. As her mother drifts down the circular staircase from the master suite, gliding past the scarlet wall covered with Picasso drawings, Claudia sips a rum and Coke and awaits the arrival of her fiance, Bartolomeo Ruspoli, son of the Italian prince who supposedly inspired Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."

Ruspoli's mother, Debra Berger, chats with LA Weekly founder Jay Levin at the bar in the den, nibbling on smoked salmon with goat cheese on dried fruit and nut crackers. Along one wall, Ginsberg's over-the-top desserts beckon: pumpkin white chocolate cheesecake with a ginger cookie crust, chocolate hazelnut flourless cake with orange-zested gray sea salt. One guest pops a bite-sized brownie into her mouth. "Dining in reverse?" someone else quips.

In Romanian, Soare asks her niece and salon manager, Luca Popescu, to light more candles. The two women spent the previous night setting tables and arranging flowers: Casablanca lilies, orchids and bunches of multicolored roses, their stems cut short.

"We were up until 2 in the morning, drinking Champagne," Soare says with a laugh, taking another sip from her flute. She had arrived from Beijing on a Tuesday, waxed eyebrows all day Wednesday, and is hosting dinner just a day later.

Ginsberg, meanwhile, had spent the previous day in the Milken Family Foundation's Santa Monica kitchen, where for 13 years she has cooked for foundation events and the Milken family. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, Milken "was looking for a chef who could cook soy and tofu," Ginsberg says.

"You mean someone who could cook soy and tofu and make it taste good," Claudia says.

Tonight, Ginsberg's soybeans are camouflaged with green peas and shiitake mushrooms in a truffle essence, complemented with equally healthful fare. "Everything's organic and low-fat, except the desserts," says the chef, citing the kabocha squash tart with caramelized shallots and figs.

This annual bash unfolds seamlessly because Soare and Ginsberg oversee only those tasks each loves. "She does the front of the house," Ginsberg says, "and I do the back."

A fire roars in the living room; the sun slides behind the hills surrounding the 5,000-square-foot midcentury home. Soare greets more guests with exuberance, making each one feel as though the party could never have come together without their presence.

"I was a perfectionist in gymnastics," Comaneci says, handing her toddler son to her husband, former Olympic gymnast Bart Conner. "Anastasia is a perfectionist in everything else."

On their way to the bar, guests peek into the kitchen to greet Ginsberg, now supervising the transfer of cuisine from pots to platters.

"Close the window, I don't want the food to get cold," Ginsberg yells. "I'd rather sweat to death."

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