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For China's President, An Evening Of Lobster, Lamb and Ne-Yo

Someday, White House event organizers will be able to tell their grandchildren about this week.

But for now, they just have to get through it — with loads of energy and grace.

Staffers spent the first half of the week preparing for a visit from Pope Francis, who pulled up in a little Fiat. Now they are switching their focus to that most formal of Washington events: a state dinner. This one will honor Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi arrives in Washington, D.C., Thursday for a summit Friday at which he and President Obama will talk about a range of issues, from security to the economy.

And then in the evening Friday, it'll be time to strike up the Marine orchestra and greet about 200 guests headed for dinner in the East Room of the White House.

Thursday morning, the chefs, ushers and other staffers paused their preparations to give journalists a preview.

First, let's talk food.

White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Susie Morrison joined forces with Chef Anita Lo, who owns the restaurant Annisa in New York City, to create the menu. According to a White House press release, the dinner was "inspired by the harvest of the late summer."

So that means using fresh vegetables from first lady Michelle Obama's garden and other local gardens and fields.

The dishes will "highlight American cuisine with nuances of Chinese flavors."

The menu includes wild mushroom soup with black truffle, poached Maine lobster with leek rice noodle rolls, and grilled lamb with baby broccoli. Dessert features poppy seed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd litchi sorbet.

The dishes were presented to the journalists, who could look — but not taste. (Drat!)

The White House party planners are trying to outdo themselves because this is the Obamas' second state dinner for a Chinese leader. The first was in 2011 when then-Chinese President Hu Jintao came to Washington.

That dinner had a "quintessentially American" theme, involving rib-eye steak and apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

At this dinner, tables will be decorated with coral- and salmon-colored roses and candles. The entertainment will feature a miniconcert with R&B artist Ne-Yo, who is part Chinese.

The White House has not yet released the invitation list.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
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