Saturday, November 10, 2007

Our Dinner with Bob

The Los Angeles Public Library foundation’s “Literary Feast” is possibly the group’s biggest and most successful fundraising event of the season, bringing in no less than $500,000 every year it’s held. The Feast offers contributors the opportunity to dine with famous authors—many of whom are well-known celebrities—in fabulous homes throughout the southland.

Having attended the last Literary Feast, we were thrilled to receive an invitation to participate again this year. Dining arrangements are made strictly according to how much money you contribute to the event. For instance, top donors ($2,000 a plate) get to eat with one of two authors of their choice. Those of us at the bottom of the financial ladder get to choose six authors and then cross our fingers that we’ll be asked to dine with our top choice. This year we chose:

1. Judith Freeman, author of one of my favorite historical novels, “Red Water,” about the 1857 Mormon Meadows Massacre

2. Peter Greenberg, travel editor on “The Today Show” whom we know through Tim’s work

3. comic genius Bob Newhart

4. Patt Morrison, National Public Radio personality and L.A. Times writer

5. John Sacret Young, producer of the TV shows “China Beach” and “The West Wing”

6. Pulitzer Prize winner David Oshinsky

Three weeks later, we learned we were to be one of 25 couples eating with Bob Newhart at a mansion in Bel-Air. Cocktail attire required!

I had planned ahead and bought a low-necked Lycra dress for just such an occasion, but Tim was in a dither. Somehow, the suit I bought him seven years ago had mysteriously shrunk (wink, wink) and so, with just a week to go, we went shopping for another suit. He settled on a nice navy-blue pinstripe by Jones of New York (see photo below). Thank heavens for Men’s Wearhouse!

Our hostess, Fabienne Guerin, wife of movie producer J.P. Guerin, called us on Saturday to make sure we were still coming. “Cocktails are on the patio at 7PM,” she cheerily added.

Indeed! The house, located at the very top of the Bel-Air hills, overlooked the entire westside. (We heard later that the Guerins, who had just sold their home for $35 million, were renting this place while their new house was being built!) A shuttle brought us from the street up to the residence. I felt like Cinderella masquerading as nobility.

Bob Newhart and his wife appeared a few minutes after we arrived. “He looks so old,” a woman said to me. But I thought he looked very much like himself. Some people brought books for him to sign, others just casually went over and chatted with him. Tim had met him a while ago at the radio station (see photo above) and so didn’t feel compelled to mingle. Instead, we staked our place under one of the outdoor heat lamps and snacked on hors d’oeuvres (mini-Kobe beef hamburgers, champagne flan and caviar, puffed pastry filled with shrimp, and mushrooms and cheese)—rather, Tim snacked while I chatted with the other guests.

After about an hour-and-a-half, a woman came out and announced that dinner was about to be served. Seating was prearranged, forcing spouses to sit apart. However, since Tim and I have separate last names, the hostess goofed and sat us together, making it a lot easier to share food during our seven-course (!) meal.

Two long tables were set-up side-by-side in a great hall that seats 50. The Newharts were at what I guessed was the $2,000-a-plate table, surrounded by movie producers and the like. We sat at the “other” table amongst a clutch of real estate investors and lawyers. A guitarist, who styled himself after Carlos Jobin, was playing softly in the corner.

“This is so much better than the dinner party I attended last week,” the woman across from Tim enthused. “The hostess had hired a ten-piece band to play while we ate. I was hoarse the next morning from yelling all night!”

(Gee, I thought to myself, and what were we doing last weekend? Oh, that’s right—we were scarfing down free appetizers at one of the California Library Association conference receptions. Well, at least we didn’t get hoarse from talking over a ten-piece band!)

Dinner was served. The courses consisted of (in order):

1. Three small bowls of soup: onion, butternut squash, and fennel. “What’s fennel?” the man next to me asked. “It’s an herb,” I answered, smacking my lips at how amazingly tasty the soup was.

2. Two salads: crab and mixed greens. Tim and I discreetly exchanged plates so he could eat my crab salad.

3. A small lamb chop with couscous baked in a filo purse. Even though I hate lamb, I took a small bite and then retreated to the couscous, which was heavenly.

4. Then the main course: medallions of beef on wilted spinach, with seabass on a bed of rice. I ate my vegetables and left the rest, but, thankfully, was not alone because by then everyone was just about stuffed.

5. A cheese platter, which Tim and I shared. Gorgonzola on pear pieces—YUM!—along with brie on a cracker that looked and tasted suspiciously like figs (yuck).

6. A cookie platter, which our server told us to “share with our neighbors.” (Whaddaya mean share?) And then finally . . .

7. Dessert: cantaloupe sorbet sprinkled with cinnamon and served with a warm berry cobbler. To die for!

We chatted with our tablemates during the entire meal, until Fabienne finally got up and introduced the guest of honor. Bob Newhart then moved over to a microphone and began to tell stories from his book, “I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny.” Everyone, including Newhart himself, laughed hysterically at his jokes about Frank Sinatra, et al. Mrs. Newhart, however, just sat there stoney-faced.

“She’s obviously heard these stories a million times before,” Tim whispered, as I giggled behind my hand.

Then suddenly it was 11:10PM. We bid our dinner companions adieu and raced down the hill to our car. We wouldn’t want our small Honda to turn into a pumpkin, now would we?


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