What to Expect at the State Dinner Table: Lobster, Wine and a Reset Button

WASHINGTON — More than a year after a trans-Atlantic contretemps threatened to sour U.S.-French relations, President Emmanuel Macron and his wife will be at the White House on Thursday as honored guests for the first state dinner since President Biden took office.

In the days leading up to the black-tie dinner, the office of the first lady, which handles most of the planning, made every effort to show that relations were strong as the White House marks a return of the diplomatic pomp that was largely on hold during the pandemic.

“This dinner was inspired by the shared colors of our flags,” the first lady, Jill Biden, said as she unveiled the menu and floral decorations for the dinner. “And our common values: liberty and democracy, equality and fellowship. These form the bedrock upon which our enduring friendship was built.”

The tributes ranged from the design of the menu to the French-made wine glasses. The leaders will toast with American-made wine, and an image of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, will be the backdrop of the toasts.

The White House will place red roses and blue delphiniums alongside white irises, the official flower of France, on each table during the dinner to symbolize the shared colors of the nations.

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The Macrons will also be treated to an American cheese course, including Oregon-based Rogue River Blue, the winner of the 2019-20 World Cheese awards. The dinner will include more than 300 guests, an administration official said.

Jon Batiste, the Grammy-winning musician and composer, will perform with the U.S. Marine Band. Dr. Biden noted on Wednesday that Mr. Batiste grew up in New Orleans, “which has been shaped by both French and American culture.”

“Our hope is that the end result will be a night that balances the beauty of our friendship with the seriousness of our purpose,” Ms. Biden said. “And we hope that French citizens everywhere feel the warmth of our welcome.”

Both countries have made efforts to reassure the world of the strength of their alliance in the 14 months since Mr. Biden reached a deal to help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines, dooming an earlier French contract to provide conventional submarines and prompting Mr. Macron to recall his ambassador.

Mr. Biden later said the administration was “clumsy” in how it handled the deal and has since met with Mr. Macron on multiple occasions. On the eve of the official state dinner, the two presidents and their wives dined together at Fiola Mare, a waterfront Italian restaurant in Washington.

Mr. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, visiting Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday. They will be greeted with an official arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday.Credit…Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse/Pool

But challenges were looming.

The state dinner will provide an opportunity for a diplomatic engagement with an ally pivotal to the administration’s foreign policy strategy amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global inflation and a potential energy crisis in Europe.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron are likely to discuss the importance of a unified front against Russia, as well as concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, according to a senior Biden administration official.

France has also warned the United States that Mr. Biden’s recently passed climate and energy law, which includes tax credits to entice consumers to buy American-made electric vehicles, would threaten a European economy struggling with inflation. Mr. Macron, who also attended a state dinner during the Trump administration, is also likely to emphasize the need to bolster Europe’s defense systems so it does not need to depend on the United States in times of conflict.

On Wednesday, Mr. Macron joined Vice President Kamala Harris at NASA headquarters to discuss the space strategy between the two allies.

“We are at a conjuncture in trans-Atlantic relations in world history where you’ve had a lot of things that have happened in the last four years from when Macron met Trump to when Macron met Biden,” said Célia Belin, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution focusing on United States policy toward Europe and French politics. “The Americans know when faced with Russia, the thing that made the West so powerful was unity and solidarity.”

She said the state dinner could also amount to the one of the final stages of reconciliation since the low-point of the alliance after the announcement of the submarine deal.

A place setting for the state dinner, which will be held under a tent on the South Lawn and will feature rented plates because White House china is not permitted to leave the building.Credit…Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Mr. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will be greeted with an official arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House before the two world leaders hold a bilateral meeting. Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron will then host a joint news briefing.

The leaders will then return to the South Lawn for dinner under a tent set up to shield guests from the winter weather. While squashes for the meal were picked from the White House garden, the plates were rented. (The official White House china is not permitted to leave the building to prevent it from getting damaged.)

The menu, designed by Cristeta Comerford, the White House executive chef, and Susie Morrison, the executive pastry chef, includes butter-poached Maine lobster, followed by beef shallot marmalade with triple-cooked butter potatoes.

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