Monday, September 22, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Daniel Boulud and French ambassador Gérard Araud. Daniel joined the dinner for the dessert of Baked Alaska and stayed for wine and coffee.
by Carol Joynt

Attention is paid when a new French ambassador comes to Washington, and not just from the White House, State Department and Capitol Hill, but also up and down Embassy Row, among charitable organizations that toss fundraisers with honorary diplomatic chairs, the media, and the city’s peripatetic but committed social groupies.

Daniel Boulud and Gérard Araud.
In a city with almost 200 ambassadors, the French envoy is a major draw, and has been dating back to the Kennedy Administration and beyond. It’s about our historic friendship, but also the passionate Francophile in so many of us, and the elegant parties and 3-star food. And there’s this: the lighting in the French ambassador’s dining room takes off five years and five pounds. Who wouldn’t beg for an invite?

The new French ambassador is Gérard Araud, New York’s loss and Washington’s gain. It had been rumored for months but now he’s here and it’s official. Coincidentally, the most recent ambassador to Washington, Francois Delattre, is now in Araud’s old job at the U.N. Maybe they crossed paths and waved on the New Jersey turnpike? Hmm. Maybe not.

When you read this Araud will have been here only a month, after serving for several years as the French Ambassador to the U.N., a job that came with a residence at one of the toniest Manhattan addresses: 740 Park Avenue. In mourning over his departure, France sold the duplex in September for more than $70 million. (I’m kidding about part of that, but not the sale price).

If he’s wistful about leaving New York for Washington, it doesn’t show. Or at least it didn’t show at a dinner of welcome hosted by another French transplant to New York, chef Daniel Boulud. The private dinner for 12 of us was held in the sleek and quiet upstairs dining room of Boulud’s new Washington restaurant, DBGB DC (which we wrote about last week).
Boulud is all smiles for the new French ambassador, Gérard Araud.
The guest list had a sprinkling of family (Boulud’s daughter, Alix, who just moved here), old friends (my son, Spencer, and me), interesting influencers (Smithsonian magazine editor Michael Caruso and his wife, Andrea Sheehan; defense industry consultant and China expert Michael Pillsbury and his wife, Susan, an art collector), and spanned the generations. It occurred on the eve of Araud’s first official visit to the White House to present his credentials to President Obama, a time-honored ritual. Also among the guests was Protocol Officer Nick Schmit, who would be Araud’s State Department escort to the White House in the morning, and White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard.
The table in the upstairs private dining room.
Le menu.
Since the dinner was private there's no table conversation to quote, but because it was reported on in local media it seems fair to share some observations:

Top to bottom: The duck breast; The trout; The grand Baked Alaska. It was glowing even though the flames don't show in this iPhone shot. 
• Like current EEAS Secretrary-General Pierre Vimont, who was U.S. ambassador from 2007-2010, Araud will live in Washington as Araud as more or less a bachelor ambassador. (This is an asset)

• His English is excellent.

• Tall, lean and crisply turned out, he’s the very model of the modern elegant and handsome diplomat.

• He has a laser wit. Don’t engage if your smarts and humor aren’t fully charged. My sense is he will not suffer fools and he’s skilled at spotting them.

• He uses Twitter and he’s good at it. And if you follow him (@GerardAraud) he may also follow you. He has approximately 5800 followers and is verified. A new follower was among the dinner guests, Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post editorial board.

• He wants to explore Washington, a city where he was posted in the '80s and where he already recognizes the positive changes. A few of us recommended key restaurants in happening neighborhoods such as H Street, Petworth, Shaw, Bloomingdale, Barracks Row and Yards Park, and along 14th Street. 

• He’s beyond eager to move out of his current Foxhall rental home and back into the official French residence on Kalorama, which is undergoing an extensive renovation. The interior will have a new look – out with the rose silk and the green walls. Move-in day may come in February.

• There’s a gym across the street from his office and he plans to use it, and as often as possible.
Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post (and Twitter), Nick Schmit of the State Department, CJ, Amb. Araud, Alix Boulud, and Spencer Joynt.
Daniel created a classic menu to welcome Araud. Maine Lobster Salad with avocado, hearts of palm and lime vinaigrette; Truite au Lard et Sauge with hen of the wood and glazed fingerling potatoes; Roasted Duck Breast with charred scallions, beets and horseradish; and for dessert the signature grand Baked Alaska with pistachio and vanilla ice cream, raspberry sorbet, and fresh meringue flambéed with chartreuse. The chef sent everyone home with a personally inscribed first editor of his latest book, Daniel, My French Cuisine.

There’s been one profile of Araud, so far, and that was in Foreign Policy, and the headline nails it: “Can Washington Tame France’s New Tart-Tongued Ambassador?” Please, no; don’t let that happen. He’s a breath of fresh air that the Washington diplomatic scene, the social scene, and the city in general, dearly need.

Worth noting: Araud’s social debut, and the ensuing stampede, is coming: he’s hosting one of the pre-dinners before the annual Meridian Ball next month.
Daniel Boulud welcomes Jonathan Capehart and Susan Pillsbury to his dinner for Amb. Araud.
Jeremy Bernard and Daniel Boulud.
Rep. Ed Royce and Marie Thérèse Royce, who stopped by the dinner only for drinks, with Andrea Sheehan and Michael Pillsbury.
Nick Schmit, Jonathan Capehart, and Jeremy Bernard of the White House.
Jeremy Bernard, who arrived at the dinner from the annual congressional barbecue at the White House, with Daniel Boulud. Susan Pillsbury, who is on the board of the Smithsonian's Sackler gallery, with Michael Caruso, editor of Smithsonian magazine.
Daniel's Washington public relations manager, Aba Kwawu, with Amb. Araud and Andrea Sheehan.
Michael Pillsbury and Michael Caruso.
This photo, of Daniel Boulud with his daughter Alix (along wth CJ and her son Spencer) shows that the New York chef has the right Washington priorities. (Go Nationals!)
Jonathan Capehart, Alix Boulud, and Spencer Joynt.
White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard said he would be seeing Amb. Araud the next morning, when he presented his credentials to President Obama.
In the foreground, Spencer Joynt and Michael Caruso, deep in discussion. The private dining is upstairs at DBGB DC, which is located downtown at the new CityCenter.

The Four Seasons Hotel is celebrating 35 years in Washington, and gave itself a big party to celebrate. It has competitors but it has no equal in the city, having become the fashionable choice that the Madison Hotel was back in an earlier era. It was a nice, happy party with lots food and lots of Champagne.

For 20 years we lived across the street and it was, more or less, our breakfast, lunch and dinner place and gym, swim club and steam room and place to meet friends for a drink. It’s where we spent the first night of our honeymoon. It’s practically where I went into labor. It’s where some of us gather on snow days for burgers and laughs with bartender Duane Sylvestre. I probably take the hotel for granted but I’m also grateful that it’s here in my neighborhood, Georgetown.
Four Seasons hotels founder and chairman Isadore Sharp with Washington City Council member Jack Evans and Four Seasons Washington GM Dirk Burghartz.
In its first iteration the Four Seasons was a much more low-key place than it is today. It was always a luxury hotel, but it has kept up with the demanding pace of luxury as luxury has kept up with the demanding pace of the very rich. What used to be just breakfast is now a full-blown “power breakfast.” The gym is twice its former size and offers all kinds of extravagant services. The spacious, plant-filled and neighborhoody lobby lounge got blown up and transformed into a cool guy steakhouse, Bourbon Steak. There's security at every turn. A bullet proof "royal suite" was added to cater to the needs of heads of state and Oprah. During the recent Africa Summit the hotel and adjacent streets were a locked down fortress.
A memory wall at the Four Seasons party featured photos and news clips spanning the hotel's 35 years.
For a lot of us though, at least in Georgetown, it remains the local hotel and a fine place for breakfast but also to sit at the bar for fries and a burger and a drink while the snow falls. According to the winter forecast, we could be doing that a lot in the next several months. 

On to the next 35.
An archival shot of power breakfast at the Washington Four Seasons hotel.

Araud dinner photos by Daniel Swartz.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt