On a warm Saturday night in Los Angeles, guests arrived at a nondescript gate in a warehouse district, hoping that they’d found the latest incarnation of The Dining Room LA.
More than fine food was on the menu. The dinner also combined high-production décor and entertainment, plus a surprise element: The location was a secret until just days before the event. Guests knew only the date, city and zip code.
The Dining Room LA, a members-only VIP experience (in which members can purchase up to three tickets for friends), is the creation of partners Michael Habicht, a veteran event producer and founder of iii Designs in West Hollywood, and Pamela Ferrari, an event designer with a corporate background in health care.
“We like to create a feast for the senses,” Habicht says. “Each experience is completely different.” The location, theme, menu and more combine in unlikely, but captivating, scenarios. An earlier dining experience had included perfectly chilled martinis funneled from ice sculptures, and masked dancers pouring champagne from oversized moon-shaped swings suspended from the ceiling. “I wanted to show people that with the right elements, you can create magical moments,” says Habicht, who has also created customized events for clients as diverse as Wal-Mart, Cher, Drew Barrymore, Victoria Beckham, Kathy Hilton, the Playboy Mansion and Dr. Dre.
The invite-only Dining Room LA has some 300 members; attending one of the dinners is a $150-and-up ticket after membership. Habicht and Ferrari engineered The Dining Room LA concept to be adaptable to nearly any environment or occasion, including corporate meetings and events. “We think it’s a great fit for VIPs and executives,” says Ferrari.
More than a dinner party, the events are staged like three-act theatrical productions. The recent dinner, which was held in Culver City and attended by approximately 70 people, even had a title: “Food in Bloom: Feeding the Body, Mind and Spirit.”
Act One: Guests arrived to valet attendants who parked their cars, then stepped into the decked-out courtyard of the Charles Jacobsen showroom, an importer of antique Asian furniture and accessories. The fenced outdoor space had been transformed into a lush garden with grass, planters, exotic birds in antique cages and wafting, white latex balloons three feet in diameter. Gloved waiters served sparkling wine, Cosmos and red wine from silver trays while bartenders mixed cocktails on a patio near the enormous showroom.
Act Two: Dinner inside the showroom. As guests, many of whom met for the first time, sat around a variety of for-sale ancient tables with the price tags still attached, chef Nina Curtis introduced the fundamentals of raw and vegan cuisine in a plant-based seasonal menu. Curtis is a skincare guru who was recently appointed the executive chef of the fitness retreat The Ranch at Live Oak/Malibu. “This is a botanical experience you’re going to have tonight,” she told the guests. “I want to take you on a journey of what food can be without dairy or animal ingredients.”
The four-course meal began with an almond ‘feta’ pesto torte framed with caraway-flecked crackers and an edible orchid blossom garnish. The “Enchanted Garden” second course was a colorful plate of wild greens, black rice, avocado puree and herb blossoms that complemented the centerpieces of orchids, evergreens, bananas, pomegranates and mangoes. Course three: Curtis created “scallops” from trimmed King Trumpet mushrooms, and served them with sprouted fonio, a farina-like African grain. Dessert was a rhubarb tart with coconut cream and fruit compote.
Act Three: Entertainment. Motown studio musician Rick Whitfield and his namesake band began playing irresistible dance tunes from the likes of Jackson Five, Pharrell Williams and Eric Clapton. The camaraderie that began over dinner continued after the last crumbs were brushed away and, just as Habicht and Ferrari hoped, the combination of wine, wonder and song lifted energetic guests to dance amid the Buddha statues and mahogany cabinets, for a night unlike any other.