Gorbachevs Try Bush Hospitality, Skip Wine : State dinner: A gold and red carpet greets Soviet visitors. Maine lobster seems to please.


After a hard day's work at the office, there's nothing quite like a good dinner. A little Heinz Cellars Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon '74, anyone?

After the first hard day of summit talks Thursday, it was dinner at the White House for Mikhail S. Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa: the Johnson China, mezzo-soprano Frederica Von Stade, crystal bowls filled with white peonies and red roses, millionaires and movie stars.

And wine, of course: rare, expensive California wine. In addition to the '74 Cabernet ($100 and up, if you can find it), a Flora Springs barrel-fermented Chardonnay 1987 and an S. Anderson Blanc de Noirs Cuvee Extraordinaire 1985 were poured. All were wasted on the Gorbachevs. The Soviet first couple did not drink.

Nor, apparently, does Raisa Gorbachev have a taste for meat. She turned down the roasted filet of beef, a fellow dinner guest said, although her husband ate it heartily. Both seemed pleased with the Maine lobster and the iced raspberries for dessert.

A state dinner is an occasion to trot out all the pageantry of which the White House is capable. A military honor guard flanked the White House north driveway as the Gorbachevs drove up in a long, black Soviet Zil limousine. They stepped out onto a gold and red carpet, carefully laid down the five steps of the North Portico, and were greeted by the Bushes.

"Quick change artists," said the President as the Gorbachevs emerged from their car. In fact, although Raisa Gorbachev had changed from her earlier red-and-black suit to a multicolored, tea-length floral dress, her husband appeared to be wearing the same suit as ever. Soviet officials traditionally shun tuxedos and black tie, and perestroika has not changed that rule.

After a brief photograph, the four turned and walked into the foyer, where a red and blue uniformed chamber orchestra played Shostakovich. Across the hallway, the dome of the Jefferson Memorial was perfectly framed in the center panel of the window of the state dining room.

A few minutes later, workmen rushed out and rolled the carpet away.

The rest of the 130 guests entered through the White House East Wing, each clutching what for weeks has been the hottest ticket in town.

Unlike most hot tickets, however, this one could not be scrounged. President Bush, whose hands-on management style extends to the most intimate details of his White House, personally drew up the dinner invitation list, along with Barbara Bush.

Who got those coveted invitations provides insight into the style and social priorities of the President and his wife. By contrast with Ronald Reagan-era dinners, for example, the Bush guest list had relatively few Hollywood names.

Jessica Tandy was there with Hume Cronyn, who danced with Barbara Bush after dinner while the President stood in a corner, deep in conversation with Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Morgan Freeman sat at dinner with Gorbachev and Barbara Bush. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Soviet Embassy's cultural office has rented a videocassette of "Driving Miss Daisy" in case the Gorbachevs want to watch a movie late one night, officials say.

There were several longtime foreign policy experts, such as George Kennan and Henry A. Kissinger, who sat next to Marilyn Quayle, the vice president's wife, at dinner.

And, as is almost always the case, there was a member of Bush's large family; in this case, son Neil and his wife, Sharon.

Many of the guests were longtime Bush friends from government and industry, including producer Jerome Weintraub and his wife, Jane--prominent California fund-raisers for Bush who, like the President, have a vacation home in Kennebunkport, Me.

The entertainment for the night also fit into the friend category, the President said, noting that he had known Von Stade and her family for many years. "Barbara and I knew President and Mrs. Gorbachev love music. We could think of no finer art than opera to transcend the differences and bring out the things we have in common," he said after she sang.

Like the issues of the summit, itself, state dinners have their own arcana. In the case of the dinner, it involves the world of fashion. Thus, White House officials carefully revealed that Barbara Bush's gown, a sapphire-blue, floor-length taffeta, was by Scaasi, a New York designer.

Much of the attention, however, went to Marilyn Quayle, in a head-turning, gold, silver and black, tightly fitted dress. "Just say it's sexy," she said with a laugh when asked how best to describe it. "No one will believe it."

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