A Sweet Dinner At The White House

It seems hard to believe that there hasn’t been an official state dinner at the White House yet during the Obama Administration.  I thought those were fairly regular sorts of occurrences for visiting ambassadors and heads of state of other nations, but in fact this seems to be the first one, to honor the visit of the Prime Minister of India.  And this is the menu:

Potato and Eggplant Salad
White House Arugula with Onion Seed Vinaigrette
2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Modus Oprendi, Napa Valley, California
Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cheese
2008 Riesling Brooks “Ara”, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Roasted Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney
Chick Peas and Okra
Green Curry Prawns
Carmelized Salsify with Smoked Collard Greens and Coconut Aged Basmati
2007 Granache, Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez, California

Pumpkin Pie Tart
Pear Tatin
Whipped Cream and Caramel Sauce
Sparkling Chardonay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia
[With coffee]
Petits Fours and Coffee
Cashew Brittle
Pecan Pralines
Passion Fruit and Vanilla Gelees
Chocolate Dipped Fruit

First off, let me concur with Stephen Bainbridge that the Grenache paired with the prawns sounds like a disaster in the making.  I’ve had the Beckmen Grenache and while I think well of it and I’m excited to see a maker I’ve patronized get this sort of publicity, I think the White House sommelier could have made a better choice in this case.  It’s a lighter, sweeter red, to be sure, but it is still going to be way more powerful than those shrimps.  I’d serve it with a salmon, a char, or some other robust pink-meated fish that had been simply grilled, but otherwise I’d reserve it for a stand-alone drink.

Unlike Prof. Bainbridge, I also think the potatoes in tomato chutney are a bad pairing for the Grenache.  Unless that chutney turns out very light and watery, or is made from naturally-sweet grape or pear tomatoes, then I think the Grenache won’t stand up to it — tomatoes carry a hearty, acidic, robust taste that Grenache won’t be able to compete with.  And it’s very bad form for the sommelier to misspell “Grenache.”

Finally, this is heavy on the sweets and desserts.  The sweet end courses all sound good, to be sure.  But so many!  And in fact, all the wines are sweet.  I’d say the driest wine of the bunch is the Sauvignon Blanc they’re serving with those famous White House arugulas — and that’s about a middle-of-the-road wine on the sweet-versus-dry scale.  Frankly, I’d have thought that sophisticates like the Obamas would have preferred drier wines than this.

Given that this is a dinner for the Prime Minister of India, the prominence of the vegetarian selection is wise.  And maybe the plethora of sweet tastes is intended to cater to the preferences of Prime Minister Singh (or his wife).  To be sure, Indian cuisine has a sweet component to which is generally lacking in the heartier, more savory fare of European or New World origins, a sweetness which mixes with the heat of peppers and curries to much pleasure.  But all the same, man, this sounds like it was a sugar-heavy meal for President Obama, Prime Minister Singh, their families, and 220 of their closest friends crammed on short notice into a too-small room in the East Wing.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I had the identical reaction to the Grenache. But they may have had some guidance from the chef indicating that the pairing would work. Sommeliers do like to surprise.The whole dinner does run sweet — and given the fact that Obama weighs about 85 pounds soaking wet I'd guess this was not at his direction. That said, the multiple desserts thing is very common now in tasting menus. It may be an overcompensation for the fact that for a long time high end restaurants treated dessert as an after-thought.You'll notice there's no cheese course. I find that a missed political opportunity since excellent artisanal cheese can be had from just about every state. Surely they could have had something from, say, Maine, Louisiana, Nebraska. Just to name three states off the top of my head. Isn't this more fun than yet more talk of public options?

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