In 1988, Dîner en Blanc started as a small friends-only picnic in Paris. Over the last 30 years, it has grown into a phenomenon spanning 80 cities around the globe. New York is just one stop on the world tour, and this year’s sold-out guest list was 6,500 people strong — all of whom were required to dress fabulously in white.
Most men wear impeccable suits, and some women even pull out wedding gowns. Others sport lavish powdered wigs, string lights, fairy wings, top hats, masks, and headpieces. People must also bring their own table, tablecloth, chairs, china, stemware, silverware, and food. Due to New York's liquor laws, those wishing to drink alcoholic beverages must preorder them before they get to the site. This year's $43 ticket price covered two guests (plus a $9 Dîner en Blanc membership fee per person).
Daily Meal staffers spotted fanciful meals, as well as Cheesecake Factory takeout. Those who didn’t want to lug their own chow had the option of purchasing a catered picnic basket. This year, Gotham-based Michelin-starred chef Marc Forgione curated four themed dinners: a New York basket with pastrami prime rib, pickles, homemade potato chips, and black and white cookies; a summery basket with chili lobster, potato salad, corn succotash, and key lime pie; an all-white basket that included chicken blanquette, cavatelli mac and cheese, onion soubise, and coconut rice pudding; and a vegetarian option with curries, salads, and spreads, which were inspired by the foods Forgione and his wife Kristen ate on their honeymoon in Sri Lanka. Organizers estimated that 1,000 baskets were made, and all of them sold out.
In past years, Dîner en Blanc’s Big Apple edition has been held in Lincoln Center and Battery Park. This year’s celebration — the city’s eighth installment — took place on a rainy night in a field on Governor’s Island. Ticket-holders weren’t aware of the secret location until just hours before it started, and many became fairly upset about the difficult commute. The island can only be reached by ferry, and thousands of guests showed up long after the iconic “waving of the napkins.” Some didn’t make it at all.
An even greater issue arose after the meal. The DJ shut down around 9:30 p.m., and it was suggested that people clear the dance floor to head home. A sea of white formed at the ferry docks, where thousands of disgruntled attendees were told to wait for two boats running every 20 minutes.
“This year, an unforeseen extreme weather pattern — a remnant band of Hurricane Florence — caused rough waters and unusually high tides at one of our ferry departure locations in New York Harbor,” Dîner en Blanc spokesperson Diane Blackman told The Daily Meal in an email. “The safety of our guests is paramount. The ferry company followed their policy and obligation to safely board passengers given the rough waters, and adjusted the departures accordingly, resulting in some delays. For this inconvenience, we sincerely apologize and are grateful for the patience you showed. To accommodate the delayed arrivals, the team extended the entire evening for all.”
Although there was transportation drama, New York native Sidney Oolongo and Russian transplant Elena Martynova described the night as “magical.” They came along with a group of friends branded the New Amsterdam Exterior Portable Dining Society, which is “just a name we use to sound more fancy, I guess,” Oolongo told The Daily Meal. 2018 marked his eighth time attending Dîner en Blanc.
They brought their own dinner spread, which consisted of hummus, air-fried and curried tuna cutlet balls, and Russian chicken salad, a creamy mixture of chicken breast, cucumber, eggs, onion, and potatoes. Martynova, a Dîner en Blanc first-timer, said they were drinking a “very fancy” white wine. While she thinks the dinner is nice, she’s most enamored by the “labor of love” that comes with preparation. Both spent months creating their outfits, and believe the event is more of a fashion show with a dining theme.
The pageantry is not limited to clothing, either. Richard Stephen and Alex Ifill’s close-knit group of 20 diners had themed décor and food dubbed “under the sea.” Their table was beautifully decorated with romantic faux jellyfish made of clear umbrellas, shear ribbon, and Christmas lights. Over a month before the event, their team got together and divided tasks among designated committees — the beverage team, the décor team, and the food team.
Stephen, Ifill, and their dear friends enjoyed lychee sangria; seafood salad made with octopus, truffle, baby squid calamari, and shrimp marinated in celery broth and garlic oil; and “sea creature surprise,” a key lime pie shell with a white-chocolate crustacean on top and a yogurt white-chocolate espresso-bean pearl inside. Hats off to the food committee, because that dreamy treat sounds like a fancy dish we could never make at home.