Love it or hate it — and despite the 20,000-person wait list, there are many people who hate it — Diner en Blanc, the all-white, outdoor conspicuous-consumption dinner party, is back. On Aug. 26, the Metro will fill up with people dressed in white, toting white tables and chairs. For many attendees, it's more about the ornate tablescapes and outfits than the food — but some also prepare elaborate picnics for the event.
If you're not up for the challenge of putting together your own picnic, one local restaurateur has stepped in to help. Mike Isabella has curated a selection of picnic baskets, each inspired by one of his restaurants, that can save attendees from having to lug another bag to the event's surprise location, which is announced that day. It's the first time the D.C. event has partnered with a celebrity chef. While other cities, including Atlanta, have had these sort of partnerships, the rest utilize local caterers, as D.C. has done in previous years.
A recap for the uninitiated: Diner en Blanc is a supper club founded in Paris in 1988, when François Pasquier wanted to host a dinner party but didn't have the space. He invited friends to a picnic at the Bois de Boulogne and told them to all wear white, so they could identify each other.
Today, it's something much bigger — a very public, invitation-only party with an admission fee and corporate sponsors such as Celebrity Cruises, taking place in more than 70 cities around the world. D.C.'s event will welcome 4,500 guests this year, and you have to be invited by someone who went to last year's event or take your chances on the wait list. You pay a membership fee and an event production fee — $49 total, which pays for amenities such as security, DJs and porta-potties — to reserve your place.
But that doesn't cover anything else. You must bring your own tables, chairs, plates, silverware and food, and all of it must be white and upscale, except the food, which should merely be “gourmet.”
For attendees, who put great creativity into their outfits, it's a party and an elaborate photo op. For critics, it's an event that makes public space exclusive and inaccessible; jokes about planning paintball sprees aren't unheard of.
All of this is to say that Isabella is lending his name to an event that evokes strong opinions, both positive and negative. But his “picnic baskets” — actually, they come in white insulated totes — sound pretty good.
The French-themed Requin basket comes with an assortment of cheeses and meat spreads, such as lamb rillettes and chicken liver mousse, as well as a carrot salad and a blueberry clafoutis. The Italian Graffiato basket offers up a selection of salumi and cheese, along with a kale Caesar salad, a pasta salad and tiramisu. The Mediterranean Kapnos basket comes with flatbread, crudités and spreads such as favosalata and hummus, along with a Greek salad, olives and baklava. And the Asian Yona basket — which can also be made vegetarian or gluten free — has seaweed salad, steamed edamame, chilled soba noodles with summer veggies, fried or grilled chicken with radish slaw, and red miso chocolate chip cookies.
They're all priced between $60 and $74 and portioned for two. You'll still have to bring your own plates, flatware, napkins and tablecloth, along with all the other items required by Diner en Blanc's organizers. Wine, which can be purchased through the event, is priced between $16 and $26 a bottle, with sparkling rosé — the drink and lifestyle mantra of summer — among the selections.
Didn't get an invite this year? Don't worry. Throw your own party, instead.
Correction: A previous version of this article listed the incorrect date for Diner en Blanc. It is on Aug. 26. This version has also been updated to include the number of guests who will attend the event this year and the amenities provided by the admission fee.