The National Geographic Society building was transformed into a gala dinner venue Monday evening as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an intimate event for Japanese Prime Yoshihiko Noda and a couple hundred others, including your humble Cable guy.
Chef Bryan Voltagio, the proprietor of the Frederick, MD restaurant VOLT and a finalist on the 2009 season of Top Chef, was brought in to cater the event and he went with a menu of hybrid courses that mixed Japanese themes with locally sourced American ingredients. The appetizer of Peekytoe crab was served wrapped sushi-style in an avocado encasing, and the entrée of Wagyu beef came with a melée of English peas, maroon carrots, and vadouvan granola with smoked golden raisins. The "Tomodachi" (friendship) chocolate dessert featured dark chocolate ganache with a side of caramelized milk chocolate sorbet.
State Department officials in attendance included Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Assistant Secretary Tom Countryman, and Assistant Secretary Mike Hammer.
Senior Asia hands at the dinner included former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless, former NSC Senior Director Jeff Bader, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Gen. Chip Gregson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer, now with Sen. John Kerry's staff, Brookings Institution scholar Richard Bush, AEI's Michael Auslin, CNAS's Patrick Cronin, and many more.
Before the dinner, guests toured National Geographic's Samurai art and artifact exhibit while eating finger sandwiches and sipping white wine. After dinner, the mononymous violin virtuoso Midori serenaded the crowd, after which Clinton hurried off to catch her plan to Beijing, which left late Monday evening.
The event was elegant, although unusual, in that diplomatic dinners are rarely held in what by day is the employee cafeteria for the National Geographic staff. The idea was the brainchild of Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who ironically was not there because he had sped to Beijing early to deal with the crisis over the fate of blind activist Chen Guangcheng.
"We are here tonight to celebrate the friendship between the United States and Japan. This is a bond between us that promotes security, stability, and prosperity not only in the Asia Pacific but around the world. Our countries are standing side by side to meet the most important challenges of our time," Clinton said in her remarks.
She touted America's gift of 3,000 dogwood trees, which will be planted all over Tokyo to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Japan's giving Washington the cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin.
"Japan remains an essential world leader, even in the face of the unspeakable tragedies that it suffered. Americans are inspired by the bravery and resilience of the Japanese people," Clinton said. "In addition to the partnership between our two governments, what is most important about our relationship are the ties between our two peoples. Many of you here tonight have played an important role in strengthening the bonds that our countries share. But we want to be sure that it is not just a relationship of the present and the past, but also one of the future."