One of the confusing perks of working in the media is party invites. A PR firm sends you an invitation to some benefit dinner without making it clear if it's a publicity thing (i.e. free), or an opportunity to buy a ticket. You might want to go, but what kind of jerk calls the amfAR to ask, "Can you comp me?" Publishing salaries will never furnish your membership in the Young Friends of the Met, but if a non-profit is giving you a free meal, that's a little less money for the charity. So I usually don't go.
But every so often the invite comes at the last minute, and you can safely assume that they're just looking to fill some unsold seats. Or, it's clear that there's PR value for them in having some media present.
Such was the case last night, when I found myself at a benefit for San Francisco State's International Center for the Arts, trying to play it cool at the sight of Michael Baryshnikov eating short ribs one table away. Alaksandr Petrovsky, one table away! My Nutcracker prince! Nikolai Rodchenko, tormented Bolshoi defector in "White Nights," who must overcome his pride and beg his lover, "Hyelp me!" in a way so stirring to my pubescent imagination that I wasted years thinking tortured men were romantic. Alas, none of them could really be hyelped.
Anyway, I played it cool. And I'm happy to report that Baryshnikov's wife, Lisa Rinehart, though beautiful and an ex-dancer, is very smart-seeming and relatively age-appropriate. According to the PR rep, they have three children and live in "the country," which, in New Yorkese, probably means Connecticut or the Hudson River Valley. Though they both appeared to be having a fine time (he was seated next to Alice Waters, who was fantastically animated in his presence), they were both very light eaters and left before dessert was served.
A shame. The food was by Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, and it was extraordinary. Let's set aside the question of flying a New York chef in to San Francisco to cook for a local cause: the expense, the out-of-joint noses. I have wanted to try Samuelsson's food for years, and I couldn't have been happier. Smoked salmon with celeriac salad; molten foie gras; arctic char with duck tongue salad (mercifully relieved of its chewy cartillage center); short ribs with a sweet potato tart; and green apple sorbet with white chocolate mousse and fenel cream. It was the perfect menu for an event like this: interesting, without being overly challenging, but laced with one really exotic ingredient for bragging rights. Most of all, it was just so delicious. I had chills.