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Then the first lady breezed off to check on preparations for the big dinner, saying, “I have to go look at the tent.”

And that’s no ordinary tent: It features a 150-foot-wide glass wall overlooking the White House grounds.

The entire menu was a U.K.-U.S. blend, featuring bison Wellington, using buffalo tenderloin from North Dakota instead of beef. It also included crisped halibut served on braised baby kale from the White House garden. The salad greens, too, came from the White House backyard.

Mrs. Obama told the schoolgirls that the dinner emerges from a “little-bitty kitchen,” but said the chefs would have a little extra elbow room Wednesday with the dinner taking place outside.

One detail that doesn’t appear on the extremely detailed menu: the specifics of the “American wine” selections. Without explanation, the White House stopped listing the wines after catching criticism for serving some pricey bottles at earlier state dinners.

Executive chef Cristeta Comerford told the schoolgirls that the garden was a big inspiration for the evening’s menu.

“It just came from the backyard, which is kind of cool,” she said.

It was one more way to find common ground with the Camerons, who have their own vegetable patch at the official 10 Downing St. residence.

The meal was all about fostering that oft-spoken-of “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain. And so while the prime minister is not a head of state, making this an “official visit” rather than a “state visit” by the Camerons, the Obamas nonetheless chose to call it a “state dinner,” with all of the attendant ceremony and pomp.

Evidence of the effort to bolster the friendship was everywhere, even in the Obamas’ and the Camerons’ gifts to one another.

The Camerons received a wood and charcoal burning grill engraved with American and British friendship flags, along with his-and-her White House chef jackets embroidered with their names. The gifts were inspired by the Obamas’ May 2011 visit to London, when the two couples grilled burgers for American and British members of the military.

The Camerons, in turn, presented the Obamas with a pingpong table, a reminder that the president and prime minister played table tennis with some schoolboys during the Obamas’ visit to London. Cameron joked during the luncheon that he and Obama had chosen the wrong gifts for one another, noting that the president is in much better shape.

“I gave him a table tennis table and he gave me a barbecue, but when you see us standing next to each other, it’s quite clear that the person who needs the exercise is the British prime minister and the person who needs the barbecue is the president,” Cameron said.

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Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nbenac and Darlene Superville at http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap