May 30, 2024

Balkan Travellers

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Biden's state dinner in Japan: The menu begins with a song from California

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's visit to Washington may have been a few weeks late so he could catch the peak of blossom of the pink-trimmed cherry trees that are the most famous (and most Instagrammed) representation of his country's relationship with the United States. .

But he will still see plenty of evidence of American and Japanese cultural solidarity — and abundant flowers — at the tables at the state dinner held at the White House on Wednesday in honor of him and his wife, Yuko Kishida.

The White House on Tuesday previewed the dishes and decorations that will greet guests at Wednesday's party, which First Lady Jill Biden promised would be “meaningful and memorable.” Guests dining under silk butterflies from both countries were supposed to understand the implication: “As our nations navigate the winds of change, we do so together as partners in peace and prosperity,” Biden said.

The style of the Biden family's state dinners is now well established (this week is the fifth such gathering): menus typically showcase American produce and products while incorporating elements of the visiting guests' cuisines for an elegant mix. Beef features prominently. (And yes, there's always ice cream, the dessert with which the president famously has a decades-long love affair.)

Wednesday's dinner dish that exemplifies this approach is the appetizer, which White House Executive Chef Christita Comerford said was inspired by the California roll — a menu item you'll find at most sushi restaurants in the United States that is widely believed to have been invented by the Japanese. Chefs in the Golden State. “It was a great innovation for both countries, culinary-wise,” Comerford said of the “iconic” roll. The appetizer salad features house-made salmon, served with crunchy watermelon radish, grapefruit, avocado and cucumber, topped with a tempura-fried shiso leaf, a mint-adjacent herb with citrus notes often used to garnish sushi.

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The trends for Japanese cuisine continue in the main course, a rib-eye steak accompanied by butter flavored with an ingredient you often see on Japanese and American menus: grated shishito peppers. The fricassee accompanying the spring morel mushrooms and beans will be served with sabayon sesame oil, an interesting sauce that combines the Asian flavor of sesame with the classic French preparation usually found in the dessert course.

And it wouldn't be a Biden affair without a scoop to end the meal, though dessert — a salted caramel pistachio cake served with Bing's cherry ice cream — had elegance and Japanese influence, thanks to the matcha-flavored ganache. Green tea powder that has become popular in recent years among American drinkers (just order one from Starbucks). Pastry chef Susie Morrison said the cherries are meant to evoke the blossoms that surround our tidal pool every spring (although we might object that this is actually a non-fruiting variety).

The White House chose to abandon its tradition of inviting a guest chef to assist the regular kitchen team, a practice that continued after the Obamas used it to success in adding more star power to state dinners. “Iron Chef” and Japanese native Masaharu Morimoto helped the last time the White House hosted a Japanese leader, when the Obamas celebrated Shinzo Abe, the prime minister at the time.

The decor for the dinner, which will be held in the George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson State Dining Room, will feature Japanese motifs of fans and koi fish, as well as 6-foot-tall hydrangeas native to the United States. The United States and Japan – all designed to impress. Further proof that we're doing our best: after-dinner entertainment is provided by legendary musician Paul Simon.

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There's no sake on the menu, but the wines — a Chardonnay from Lingua Franca Winery in the Willamette Valley, a Long Shadows Peruette red blend from the Columbia Valley, and a Champagne rosé from Argyle in the Willamette — all come from the Pacific. Northwest, an area with a large Japanese American population.

Avocado, red grapefruit, radish, watermelon, cucumber

Shredded shishito pepper butter

Fricassee of beans, morel and cipollini

Salted caramel pistachio cake

Lingua Franca Bunker Hill Chardonnay 2021, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Long Shadows Rotation 2019, Columbia Valley, Washington

Argyle Vintage Brut Rosé 2020, Willamette Valley, Oregon