Parsing the state dinner menu: choices reflect trends, standbys

February 11
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 10:For the Salad Course, guests will enjoy a petite mixed radish and baby carrots, served on a bed of merlot lettuce with a red wine vinaigrette at the State Dinner in honor of French President Francois Hollande at the White House February 11 which is previewed at the White House Monday February 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. The garden salad pays tribute to the First Lady's White House Kitchen Garden.(Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
The White House previewed the salad course, to be served at tonight’s state dinner. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Tonight’s state dinner feels more like the state of American dining, with all its grand aspirations and contradictions: It combines our contemporary obsession with ingredient sourcing with our age-old love of red meat.

In its description of the menu, released on Monday (see below), the White House names the source of almost every featured ingredient, save, curiously, for the “winter garden salad,” which is just described as a “tribute to The First Lady’s White House Kitchen Garden,” not as a plate of vegetables from that actual plot.

But the tribute hook is understandable: This is a banquet, not restaurant, dinner. It’d be next to impossible to source ingredients for hundreds of guests from the White House garden, unless you served everyone, say, two slices of radish on a salad plate and called it a night. Similar logistical concerns likely figured into the entrée, a fatty slab of dry-aged ribeye, which you can season and grill (or even sous-vide, which would be very French) for a crowd with a minimum of complication.

Still, the steak-and-salad combo lacks imagination. What’s more, it smacks of a political nod to the U.S. beef industry, which you know is just bursting with pride at the opportunity to star at a state dinner for the French president, who after all serves as emissary for Escoffier, Bocuse, Soltner, Pepin and all those other giants who shaped the world’s tastes for generations. We can be thankful, I guess, the meal isn’t steak and potatoes.

Well, scratch that: The opening course includes a fingerling potato veloute and features 12 different spuds from farms around the country. Maybe someone will quiz President Francois Hollande later to name those tubers.

The menu:

First Course
American Osetra Caviar
Fingerling Potato Velouté, Quail Eggs, Crisped Chive Potatoes

Second Course
“The Winter Garden Salad”
Petite Mixed Radish, Baby Carrots, Merlot Lettuce
Red Wine Vinaigrette

Main Course
Dry-aged Rib Eye Beef
Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese, Charred Shallots, Oyster
Mushrooms, Braised Chard

Dessert
Hawaiian Chocolate-Malted Ganache
Vanilla Ice Cream and Tangerines

More state dinner coverage from music to Michelle Obama’s style–and everything in between. 

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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