Ever watch those viral videos of flashmobs dancing or doing other crazy things? San Francisco had it’s own version of a flashmob – a dinner al fresco where everyone dresses all in white called Diner en Blanc San Francisco.
Originally from France, the Diner en Blanc phenomenon is where diners are dressed with the height of fashion and descend upon a secret location at a designated time and dine al fresco, until the end, when everyone magically clears up their picnic and tables and vanish into the night leaving nary a trace of ever being there. Imagine it as an Occupy movement but with food and happiness instead of violence and arrests.
I was invited to attend Diner en Blanc San Francisco with some friends. Months ago the tickets to the event were purchased and the date was set for the late fall but the location was a secret. We waited excitedly for the email announcing the location, and by 3 pm on the day of the event we learned we would be dining at the Marina Green!
Sadly our brief warm weather departed that morning and the fog was thick and “frizzle” was falling heavily. Frizzle, if you are not in the know, is fog and drizzle, where visibility is hazed and one feels a constant and light prickling of tiny droplets on your skin. It’s quite refreshing if you are a fern but for humans and cats it is quite sodden.
(Warm but with damp hair)
We had a great time figuring out what to wear and how to decorate our table for the dinner. Our shopping efforts to find elegant, all white evening wear resulted in mostly white denim and linen but we added warmer things like blankets for the laps and luxurious pashmina throws for chilly, frizzled shoulders. I was fortunate enough to have on loan from my mom a luscious cream wool coat with a white fur trimmed hood, normally my apre ski wear but perfect upon this chilly and damp occasion.
We arrived at the Marina Green by 5:00 pm to claim our table and rent our white chairs from the organizers. There were hundreds of dining tables set out on the green and thousands of diners setting their tables and arranging their decor for the evening.
Our table was dressed in D___’s great aunt’s heavy white damask linen and lace table cloths with matching serviettes, her grandfather’s railroad silver service (Reading Railroad, no less) and a variety of white table wear. I brought along the Block china demitasse set from my late neighbor Lucille, complete with silver demitasse spoons, a S’Well thermos of espresso and another of frothy steamed milk. We had a lovely floral arrangement of cream roses and hydrangea and lime green Irish belles, wrapped in a banana leaf inside a round vase. Tiny votive candles were arranged in little clear cups weighted down with a spoonful of water.
Despite this elegance, our first effort at Diner en Blanc made our table look like we were the poor churchmice cousins at a fancy dress ball. Surrounding us were tables with extremely elaborate settings teeming silver chargers, 5′ high floral arrangements, candelabra, tiered stands filled with the finest delicacies, silver footed champagne buckets and fancy cocktail shakers, arbors of fairy lights and hanging Chinese lanterns. Someone had recreated the Golden Gate Bridge all in white as their centerpiece!
We vowed next year to take our decor up to the next level and go all out. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed our cozy and quietly elegant table for four.
Our menu was representative of the bounty of San Francisco: Columbus Salami’s new Farm to Table fennel salami, local cheeses from Rouge et Blanc and an Acme baguette, a salad with strawberries, feta, walnuts and a balsamic dressing, red cooked Chinese chicken, garlic roasted mushrooms and a deluxe French chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate shavings.
We sipped Mumms Cuvee Rose sparkling wine and Stag’s Leap Pinot Noir under the foggy skies, and at dusk, lit our candles to dine. The event began with the ceremonial waving of the serviettes and the crowd hooted and cheered until our arms tired of waving the fine linen around in circles.
Throughout the night pockets of cheering erupted as the San Francisco Giants dominated over their playoff game for a spot in the World Series. We saw elegantly dressed people furtively watching the game in flickering candlelight. GO Giants!
The wind picked up and the frizzle fell firmly but everyone was undeterred in their enjoyment of the evening. Under the drapery of our table linens we were cozy and warm with heavy blankets covering our laps and feet. The breeze played havoc with our votives but we discovered by toppling the cups over they still burned perfectly protected from the wind.
We savored our wonderful dinner. The salad was teeming with surprise goodies with each bite. The red cooked chicken was so complex and melt in your mouth and was perfect with the garlic laden miniature mushrooms. Our bread basket lined in heavy linen became damp from the frizzle but the chewy sourdough and fresh, sweet butter were the quintessential San Francisco accompaniment to our multi-cultural meal.
We lingered over the wine, nibbling here and there on cheese and salami until the dessert hour was reached. Cheers went up and more serviette twirling ensued when the Giants won the game, hooray! We finished the wine at last and then poured steaming hot espresso topped with hot, steamed and frothed milk. The gorgeous cake was cut and a wonderful sugar and caffeine high lifted our laughter above the crowds around us.
(After – sorry for the flash photo)
Finally, at 9 pm, we hastily packed up our leftovers and table settings, returned our chairs and strolled over to our princess parking by the seawall.
Farewell Diner en Blanc, until next year!