It is now less than 8 weeks until my trip to France! When I’m not scouring travel blogs and guide books for insiders’ tips to Paris and Provence, I’m getting my France fix in advance by attending French or European style events around the city. Last week, I was thrilled to have attended my second French-themed, Diner En Blanc in Chicago. Although the event originally started in Paris, the idea of the “White Dinner” has caught on across the US and around the world. The event is essentially a pop-up dinner where hundreds of people (most of them strangers) gather in a secret, but public location to enjoy food, wine, music, and dancing, mirroring a huge dinner party or outdoor wedding. And like any good dinner party or wedding, you must be invited to the event – no party crashers allowed.
No longer newbies, we were much more prepared for this year’s event, having purchased a light-weight table and chair set last year along with other white accent pieces. Thank goodness I still fit into my white dress and my husband in his white suit. On a side note, I’m amazed at how pure white can change to an off-white in less than a year’s time.
Although the event was organized in the same manner as previous events, where each couple chooses a starting destination and table leader, the final destination is always a mystery right down to the very last minute. We selected Cloud Gate as our starting point (aka “The Bean”), but due to terrible rain and Chicago traffic heading into the city, we ended up meeting our group at an alternate meeting place on the Brown line CTA in Old Town. It was quite obvious that we were not the only ones late, as at least 2 dozen other couples dressed in white were anxiously awaiting their parties. When we finally met up with our group, we hopped onto a nearby bus which took us closer to the Lincoln Park area. I loved the many quizzical glances and questions we received from commuters – who wouldn’t be curious about 30 people dressed in white all taking the bus together?
Stepping off the bus in Lincoln Park, we were then directed to head a few blocks north and look for others dressed in white. To our surprise and delight, our journey ended in the nature walk near the Lincoln Park Zoo. I’ve lived in the Chicago area for 14 years and have been to the Lincoln Park Zoo countless times but never knew this piece of Parisian landscape existed. Lucky for all of us, this gem is off the beaten path, remaining hidden from most passersby. The location provided the most picturesque spot for our magical dinner. Between the gorgeous natural setting, twinkling lights on the boardwalk and bridges, and reflections on the water, it appeared we had stepped right out of Chicago and into Paris, somewhere in the middle of a Monet or Renoir painting.
By the time we arrived, hundreds of people were already gathered and began arranging their tables for dinner. My husband and I set up on the narrow boardwalk area with a perfect view of the pond and bridges. Due to the threat of rain, we decided to take a minimalist approach to our table display, bringing only the basics – food, drinks, dinnerware, candles, and flowers. Quaint and still just as lovely in the candlelight. Throughout our dinner of roast chicken, cheese, bread, and vegetables, we chatted with our new dining companions and listened to the beautiful sounds produced by strolling musicians on the boardwalk. As the night progressed, we ventured to other areas of the dinner, capturing moments with our camera and taking selfies via the old-fashioned photo booths. Returning to our table just before 9pm, we enjoyed the lovely French macarons provided in our goodie bags by Vanille Patisserie (my absolutely favorite place to find macarons outside of Paris) and ogled the skin care samples from L’Occitane (another French favorite of mine). At 9pm sharp, a massive sparkler display ensued, creating the most beautiful site on and across the water.
From the amazing landscape to the magical atmosphere, this one moment in time painted an incredible image, enviable by France’s greatest artists, and one that will be etched in my mind until next year.