Dining Out 2005: A Midwinter Night’s Dream

What does event planner Brian Kappra, owner of Evantine Design, do on his night off? Throw his own glamorous dinner party, of course

Brian Kappra designed the $100,000 billowing beach tents for model Eva Herzigova’s wedding to Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres in Asbury Park. He made a room glow lilac when the famously violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor jetted into Philly to pick up the Marian Anderson Award a few years ago. Kappra, who owns Evantine Design, which comprises a booming party-design business, floral design, and a retail store, stunned everyone from Governor Rendell to Elton John with the beauty of the Kimmel Center’s opening gala, with its intricate web of tables and flowers for an intimate crowd of 1,500.

At Kappra’s own winter dinner party, though, a dozen of his best friends are busting his well-groomed chops. “It’s good that Brian was able to execute my design tonight,” deadpanned bandleader Eddie Bruce, who, amazingly, had this Friday night off. “When Brian just listens to me, he gets it right.”

Kappra, 47, could have hosted his party at his Center City townhouse, but since he had dozens of yards of sexy white curtains, a massive chandelier, gauzy lanterns (from Evantine’s retail boutique in the Rittenhouse Hotel), candles, and flowers galore on ice, he instead installed a one-night-only setting in his own warehouse.

Evantine’s warehouse, five minutes from the airport, is a 50,000-square-foot temple to partydom, a “quiet-on-the-set!” Hollywood soundstage where Kappra’s staff can prep for balls, weddings and bar mitzvahs round the clock. His stock of objets de fête is legion: In neatly arranged rows on 15-foot-high shelves, rather like the furniture pickup area at Ikea, are modern vases, traditional vases, six-foot-tall urns, ornate silver candelabra, tabletop items, endless lanterns and votives. There are fabrics from amber to fuchsia to zebra in neat hangers along one long wall. There are columns, chuppahs, topiaries and minimalist white sofas; add a check-in desk and some blank-faced staff, and you could open an Ian Schrager hotel in this space.

“As soon as the holidays are over, we’re focused on spring,” says the always-calm Kappra, noting that in January, flower shops are lush with tulips and lilies. Kappra, who subscribes to every magazine on earth and picks up ideas for decorations from Europe to Mexico to Vegas, was thinking post-holiday, streamlined, Zenlike, at first, for his dinner’s vibe. Somehow, though, once he’d created an all-white template with curtains, carpet and a Lucite tabletop, color began to infiltrate the room. He purchased beautiful cut-paper lanterns for a dessert area, and dangled colorful orange and red streamers overhead; the table settings and chair cushions turned pale green, lavender, red and orange. Flowers and vases took on alternating heights, and the look turned into ’60s mod-meets-English-on-hallucinogens, complete with peacock feathers and Indian fabrics.

The effect was sumptuous, and suitable for trying at home, even if you don’t have thousands of decorative objects at hand. Kappra can create designs that are all-modern, or ultra-traditional, but for this sort of look, don’t hesitate to mix colorful china, stemware, linens and vases; try to vary scale. Add flowers of all kinds, and light every candle — masses of candles, white, colorful, votives, tapers — you can fit in the house, and all your guests will look beautiful.

By seven o’clock, champagne flowing, Sharon Phillips Waxman, in a glamorous red dress and pearls, was wandering toward the glowing, massive table, where her husband, Brad Waxman, executive vice president and general sales manager for Southern Wine & Spirits, was pouring the Estancia chardonnay and Whitehall Lane merlot he’d brought.

Kappra’s close friend Fran Rosenstock, a travel agent, sipped champagne and praised Kappra’s charitable deeds — he gives away tons of time, flowers and decorating services to the Breast Health Institute, which honored him this year, and which many of his guests tonight are involved in. He’s also a huge supporter of MANNA, the Metropolitan AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance, among other charities. Rosenstock was mesmerized by the table: “Every time he does a party, it’s more beautiful than the last,” she said.

Interior designer Creg Oosterhart was inspecting the cocktail area, with its low sofas, and fellow decorators Renee and Don Freeman were nibbling lobster crabcakes prepared by Eric Gantz, the new chef at MANNA Catering (which helps fund the charity). Gantz, who until recently owned Amea bistro in Cherry Hill, was putting a delicate crab salad into its conveyance, a hollowed avocado, and preparing the rest of his light, seafood-focused menu, a welcome change from the calorie-laden holidays. Of course, Gantz and his MANNA staff had also brought a half-dozen intricate and lovely pastries, because as every good host knows, a “light menu” doesn’t apply to dessert.

RECIPES:

Lobster Crabcakes with Lemongrass Aioli

1 lb. fresh or pasteurized crab claw meat
½ lb. fresh or pasteurized lobster meat
1 egg
½ c. mayonnaise
1 small red onion, small dice
1 small red pepper, small dice
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. sriracha sauce (available at Gourmet of Olde City, 26 North 3rd Street; 215-627-8890)
Panko bread crumbs, just enough to bind

Combine all ingredients and bind with panko bread crumbs. Form into two-ounce cakes, and sear to golden brown in a hot pan.

Aioli

¾ c. olive oil
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil and lemongrass in pan for three minutes. Remove and let cool. In a blender, add yolks and drizzle in lemongrass oil to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Plate cakes and drizzle with aioli. Serves eight.

Dungeness Crab and Avocado Salad with Fines Herbes Vinaigrette

4 ripe avocados, cut in half and scooped out; reserve shells
Juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
1 oz. fresh fines herbes (chervil, parsley, tarragon and chives)
½ c. olive oil
¼ c. sherry vinegar
1 lb. shelled crabmeat (you can use blue-crab meat instead of Dungeness)

Mash avocado pulp with juices and salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, combine herbs, oil and vinegar. In another bowl, combine the crab with half the vinaigrette. Place avocado in avocado shells, top with crab mixture, and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Serves eight.

 Seared Scallop Martini with Absolut Vinaigrette

16 U-10 sea scallops
½ c. olive oil
¼ c. Absolut vodka
1 oz. capers
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ c. apple cider vinegar
1 lb. baby mache
24 large Belgian endive leaves
1 oz. shaved Romano cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
16 green olives

 Sear scallops on a grill or in a hot pan. In a bowl, combine oil, vodka, capers, salt and pepper, and vinegar. Divide baby mache among eight martini glasses, and stand three endive leaves in each glass. Place two scallops in each glass atop the greens, drizzle with vinaigrette, and add shaved Romano, lemon zest and olives to garnish. Serves eight.

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