On The Avenue

Central Park Sets Ultimate Dinner Table

by Kelly Laffey Photographed by Zach Hilty/BFA
Friday, June 8, 2018
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Dinner was served al fresco on Wednesday night, as New Yorkers gathered at the annual Taste of Summer event in Central Park to benefit the Conservancy.


As dusk turned to dark, guests entered the event through the Bethesda Terrace, descending the stairs into the magic of the park during an early-to-midsummer night.


A VIP designated section was set up near the Bethedsa Fountain, which was lit up with colored lights, “special for tonight,” said event co-chair Gillian Miniter. “The chefs create incredible bites. It’s such a nice way to support Central Park. To be here in the evening on a gorgeous night—it’s just magical.”


Among the more popular tastings were toasted ricotta gnocchi with white truffle cream from New York staple The Smith; Frrrrozen hot chocolate from Serendipity 3; and ravioli salvia from Serafina.


“We have some [of the same] restaurants come every year,” continued Miniter. The Loeb Boathouse is obviously one of them. “They always make their famous crab dish,” she said, but “one year, they made something else and there was a real backlash!” This year’s jumbo lump crab cake was served with a marinated cucumber salad and bell pepper remoulade—and it went quickly.


“It’s one of our great events of the year, and it’s just so much fun,” said Elizabeth Smith, who took over as president of the Conservancy on March 1. “The event really takes advantage of how beautiful the park is. It gets people in to see [that] and to encourage them to help us take care of it.”


Seventy-five percent of the park’s $67 million operating budget comes from the privately funded Conservancy. “The Central Park Conservancy is a public/private partnership, but it’s private money that takes care of the park,” said co-chair Kelly Coffey. The benefit, which included a silent auction, raised $900,000. Among the organization’s current initiatives is renovating Belvedere Castle, which has been standing since 1869.


“We’ve got a big challenge because we’ve restored the Park, and now we have to continue to make it beautiful,” said Smith.


After sampling sweet and savory bites, and a few libations, guests hit the dance floor, enjoying some late ’80s and ’90s tunes by the likes of TLC—there were “No Scrubs” here—and Whitney Houston.


Lest you forget you were in the Park, a quick walk outside the arcade reminded you that you were dining in the middle of an urban oasis, as the lights from the nearby Boathouse reflected off the lake. Some may even remember that the evening’s setting was once the home of the lively Bethesda Fountain Café. But the focus of the night wasn’t the past, it was the future, with many attendees reflecting on their favorite areas of the park.


“I go running every morning—it’s a good way to see everything,” said Smith. “We’re restoring the rambles as well—you could be anywhere [when you’re in there.] You could be in the Adirondacks.”


Among the other attendees were event chairmen Joe Coffey, Kristy and Jonathan Korngold, Laurie and Jay Mandelbaum, Sylvester Miniter, and Melissa Vail and Norman C. Selby. They were were joined by guests ncluding Chef Todd English, Anne Harrison, Gillian Hearst, Tracey and Craig Huff, Sharon and Bill Jacob, Thomas L. Kempner, Jr. & Katheryn C. Patterson, Alexia Leuschen, Shawn Lytle, Pamela Schein Murphy and Chef Marc Murphy, Fiona and Eric Rudin, NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver and John Stossel.


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