- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

A fiery menu to die for. A first lady's gown to whistle for. And a smaller-than-usual guest list of 136 to enjoy a stately but festive White House dinner held in honor of visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox and his wife, Martha Sahagun.

Last evening's debut state dinner for the Bush administration was "a special and almost sentimental first dinner for us," said Laura Bush hours before she and her husband greeted Mr. Fox and Mrs. Sahagun on their arrival at the North Portico, and escorted them into the mansion for a first-class show of food and entertainment.

In their toasts, the two presidents spoke of the close relationship between themselves and their two countries.

"This is not only a state dinner, it's like a family gathering," said Mr. Bush, speaking of "the ties of heritage, culture and family" that are important to "millions of Mexican-American families, including my own." Columba Bush, wife of the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was born in Mexico.

"We not only have in common Western boots and we like to rest on our farms," Mr. Fox said, toasting the president. "I see President Bush is a man of action, who likes to get results."

The guest list and menu at such affairs traditionally reveals the private tastes of the first couple in a very public way. Protocol is scripted carefully for the event.

One exception this time was the White House decision not to let C-SPAN cover the receiving line, a break in tradition with times past.

Arrangements of white hydrangea, Casablanca lilies, and roses set off by green limes decorated the 13 tables in the State Dining Room, covered with sage-colored damask tablecloths.

The choice of white and gold Clinton china, also known as the millennium china, represented a transition of sorts. Instead of the usual presidential seal, the charger plate had a raised gold replica of the White House.

Not unexpectedly, guests included quite a few well-known celebrities of Mexican heritage such as acclaimed tenor and conductor Placido Domingo, the artistic director of both the Washington Opera and the Los Angeles Opera.

Hollywood film legend Clint Eastwood mingled with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and congressional leaders including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Republican leader Trent Lott.

Diplomacy was the rule of the evening in the culinary realm as well. The menu reflected a blend of Southwestern and Mexican flavors, beginning with the first course of Maryland crab and "chorizo pozole," a peppery sausage, followed by an entree of crusted bison with pumpkin seed and an apple chipotle sauce. "Red meat" had been requested by the first couple, according to White House chef Walter Scheib.

Dessert was a spectacular 18-inch-high dome of mango and coconut ice cream atop a nougat basket backed by an edible flowering hibiscus plant, complete with hummingbird. Each hand-crafted treat, designed by White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, was surrounded by fresh peaches and accompanied by both a red chile pepper sauce and a tequila sabayon.

Mrs. Bush's red gown, made for the occasion by New York couturier Arnold Scaasi designer of choice for mother-in-law Barbara Bush was spicy as well. It consisted of a long-sleeved embroidered sequined top over a taffeta skirt that hugged the waist and hips.

"I made it myself," she joked yesterday before the event.

After soprano Dawn Upshaw's program, guests watched fireworks set off on the South Lawn believed to be a first for a state dinner. Dancing followed, with both first couples taking part.

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