Thursday, April 24, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Posing for Tony Powell's camera at the Kennedy Center in celebration of Once Upon a Prom.
“Prom” Weekend in Washington
By Carol Joynt


From now through May in Washington it is possible to play Pin The Tail on The Donkey with party invitations, there are so many; tie on a blindfold, spin yourself around and stick the pin into an invite which, undoubtedly, will be for a fundraiser of one sort or another. Even though there are rumors that some of the rich have begun to balk at sky-high ticket prices, the parties go on.

This past weekend there were two major events, one for the older generation and another for the young. While the parents had their annual “prom” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (you know the Corcoran: they notoriously canned a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in ’89 and nixed a planned Frank Gehry wing in ’05), their children – sort of – had an actual “Once Upon a Prom” soiree that began with private, intimate dinners at several of the city’s top restaurants followed by a lusty, lively and packed dance party on the Kennedy Center’s rooftop. Taking nothing from the merits of the Corcoran, we chose to go with those who think young.
Where the evening began - tucked away on a side street, Georgetown hot spot Cafe Milano.
What my choice delivered was a chance to dine at Café Milano on the same recipe of veal cheeks that was served to Pope Benedict when he celebrated his birthday lunch at the Vatican Embassy earlier in the week, and another perk: Veuve Cliquot on the Kennedy Center’s outdoor terrace with one of the most beautiful nights of the spring, taking in the stars, the moon, the Potomac River, the many fabled monuments bathed in spotlights and a breeze that felt imported from the West Indies.

But first, about our dinner. Cafe Milano easily had the city’s top buzz this week, having prepared and served breakfast and lunch to Pope Benedict on his 81st birthday. Milano has endured for years as Washington’s most talked about restaurant, because it reliably delivers both good food and a scene.

The Menu, featuring a butter lettuce salad, veal cheeks, Chilean sea bass and warm chocolate cake.
Think Harry Cipriani crossed with Waverly Inn and a soupcon of Emperors Club VIP. Its fans are Georgetown grand dames and party girls, royals, heads of state, the elected and appointed, every kind of celebrity, old money, new money, men with money that’s decidedly on loan, scoundrels, and a Webster’s of cosmetic surgery, shades of blond and fashion trends. When it all comes together, it’s great fun.

For owner Franco Nuschese, and maitre d’ and manager Laurent Menoud, nothing that’s come before compared to the experience of tending to the Pope, Cardinals and other Catholic officials who were the luncheon guests. Menoud explained that the breakfast was a vast and conventional menu, but the four course lunch was more elaborate and special, created by chef Fabio Salvatore and Nuschese, and included a pasta course plus braised veal cheeks. There were two birthday cakes, including the Pope’s favorite, chocolate. All of this was assembled and served by Nuschese, Menoud and more than 20 Milano staff at the Nunciature, which sits directly across Massachusetts Avenue from the residence of Vice President Dick Cheney.

For all these reasons, of the many good restaurants serving dinners before the dance, Milano was the pick of the crop.

Once Upon a Prom is an organization formed locally by Ashley Taylor, Sarah Elder and Katherine Tarbox to provide prom dresses to young women who could not otherwise afford them. They perform the charitable service by collecting second-hand dresses, many of them barely used bridesmaid’s dresses, donations from major partners like Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Wink, Blush and Kiehls, and money raised from the party. The top ticket price was $250, which included dinner, and the low was $95, which covered only dancing, dessert and endless champagne and martinis. MicroStrategy chairman and CEO Michael Saylor alone donated $50,000, and altogether the evening raised a reported $100,000, which benefits girls at ten local high schools and helps also to keep the organization going.
Sarah Elder and Jaclyn Gower.
Ashley Taylor and Katie Tarbox.
The dinner in the private “Placido Domingo” room at Café Milano was hosted by Ashley Taylor and Saylor, with assistance from the sweetly shy but engaging Joe Robert, chairman and CEO of the J.E. Robert Companies, who will become Taylor’s husband on September 27, a wedding that’s received as much column attention here as the Jenna Bush nuptials. Joe is amused by the fanfare, and observes good-naturedly that it is, after all, his third marriage. It’s a first marriage for Ashley who, on the other hand, won’t say a word. Ashley’s parents, Bill and Bridget Taylor, visiting from California for their 28th anniversary, laughed at the contrast between weddings back in their day and what will be a near Broadway-worthy production for Ashley and Joe. What’s a parent to do?

Before everyone piled into cars to head over to the Kennedy Center, Ashley made a toast to her parents and thanked everyone at the table for their generosity. The dinner guests also included Jaclyn Gower, Joanna Block, Jennifer Hosmer, Dennis Lee, Ray Regan, Hadley Gamble, Allison Katz, Mayo and Molly Shattick, and two particularly close friends of Robert’s, lawyer and Ford Administration Transportation Secretary Bill Coleman and his wife, Lovita Coleman.

Washington's other "it" bride-to-be, Ashley Taylor, flanked by her parents, Bill and Bridget Taylor.
The dance party achieved lift-off after ten o’clock, as the guests drifted in from their dinners all over town. The lights got turned down very low and the music up very loud. There were tables of pretty desserts and prettier flowers. There was a full band and a deejay (imported from Denver, we’re told) and all the bubbles and martinis anyone could hope to consume.

There were handsome young men in jeans, t-shirts and blazers, pretty young women in party dresses, and, of course, older men in suits, because wherever the young women go, a certain posse of older men always follow. We’re not going to name names, because we like them and they know who they are.

In the room dancing till the wee hours: Nat Fogg, Marco and Priscilla Cipriano, Juleanna Glover, Rick Rickersten,Coventry Burke, Arash Shirazi, Carlos and Erika Gutierrez, Winston Bao Lord, Tarah Donoghue, Lisa Sun, Mark Ein, Amy Holmes, Patrick Gavin, Kevin Chaffee, Chip Dent, Jon Ledecky, Kyle Samperton, Nancy Bagley, Tandy Dickinson, Andrea Tarbox, Calvin Fong, Justin Fishkin, Sarah Baker, Tripp Donnelly, Joe Kildea, Iman Tyson, Collin Wood, Kathryn Minor, Mike Jaconi and Jason Norris.
After an exciting week of tending to Pope Benedict, Cafe Milano maitre d' Laurent Menoud back at his post.
After a few minutes of comparing Blackberries, Michael Saylor and Joe Robert have a laugh.
Michael Saylor with Ashley Taylor and Joe Robert, who will marry in September.
Joanna Block and Jennifer Hosmer.
Clockwise from top left: Ashley Taylor designates who sits where in the "Placido Domingo" room at Cafe Milano; Placido himself adorns the ceiling of his namesake room at Cafe Milano; As also served to Pope Benedict, Cafe Milano's special braised veal cheeks with spring vegetables; Tortino Caldo di Cioccolato; The dinner scene at Cafe Milano.
Dennis Lee and Ray Regan.
Hadley Gamble with Bill Taylor.
Lovita and Bill Coleman. He's now with O'Melveny&Myers but was once Secretary of Transportation.
Cafe Milano maitre d' and manager Laurent Menoud and asst manager Antonio Ferraro.
No, it wasn't a plan, said Joanna Block and Allison Katz of their matching dresses.
Constellation Energy Group CEO Mayo Shattuck and his wife, Molly.
Joe Robert calls for his car and his greeted by a fan while his guests prepare to head to the Kennedy Center.
Ready to dance the night away.
Champagne under the stars and the moon.
Party essentials: columnists Patrick Gavin and Kevin Chaffee.
At the Kennedy Center (clockwise from top left): The girls arrive; The view from the Kennedy Center rooftop, with the Washington Monument to the left and Lincoln Memorial to the right; Looking from the outdoor terrace toward the doors into the dancing; Relaxing on the Kennedy Center rooftop, with the Lincoln Memorial in the background; Pretty in Pink - one of the dessert tables at the Once Upon a Prom party.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.