Obama hosts glitzy state dinner for Japan PM

Obama hosts glitzy state dinner for Japan PM
US President Barack Obama (R) listens while Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a State Dinner at the White House April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON - A presidential haiku, sashimi salads and a red carpet awaited Japan's Shinzo Abe at the White House Tuesday, as Barack Obama offered the prime minister a grand welcome.

In the pink-lit, cherry blossom-bedecked East Room, Obama waxed lyrical about a childhood in Hawaii where "Japanese culture was woven into my upbringing." He also recited a haiku to Japanese-US ties: "Spring, green and friendship / United States and Japan / Harmonious feeling" he said, delivering the last line first in Japanese and then in English.

Obama toasted Abe, his wife Akie and a "magnificent alliance" with a Dassai 23 sake from the prime minister's home prefecture Yamaguchi.

"May it endure for all seasons," Obama remarked.

It was a charm offensive designed to bind ties with a key Asia-Pacific ally in only Obama's eighth state dinner since coming to office.

First Lady Michelle Obama wore a purple gown designed by Japanese-born designer Tadashi Shoji.

But it was Abe, who arrived to the military-flanked north portico of the White House in a black limousine, who perhaps stole the show.

Joking that he was "seriously practicing" his historic speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, the first Japanese prime minister to make such an address, Abe said his wife was none too pleased.

With Japan's first lady getting tired of all the practicing, "we ended up in separate rooms," Abe said, bringing laughs.

An admission that he was a "hardcore fan" of the hit US television show "House of Cards" also won giggles, which reached a crescendo when he admitted he would not show the cut-throat political series to cabinet colleagues.

Dinner guests included foreign policy heavyweights, lawmakers and the occasional celebrity.

"Star Trek" actor George Takei was there, joking to reporters on the way in that "I grew up with chopsticks." Other guests included "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who showed up with singer Ciara on his arm.

Fusion food

High politics has dominated Abe's Washington visit, but there was still time for some haute cuisine.

The dishes linked Japan and the United States, with a bit of flair from Hawaii, Obama's home state.

For starters, guest chef Masaharu Morimoto, of "Iron Chef" fame, rustled up his fusion take on a salad classic - the "Toro Tartare and Caesar Sashimi Salad." "The salad is wrapped in a clear acetate and tied with Mizuhiki cord emulating a gift to be opened," according to the programme.

Then a consomme was given a twist, with bok choy and Wailea hearts of palm and bamboo shoots from Hawaii.

"This is served with a crisp Hawaiian pineapple tempura topped with a sliver of cured ham from Virginia," the programme notes say.

The main course was roasted American wagyu beef with spring vegetables.

For dessert, the American-style cheesecake will get a healthier spin made with silken tofu and soy milk, garnished with a selection of seasonal berries from Florida.

All the dishes will be served on a new 11-piece state china service.

Instead of opting for the traditional primary red or blue normally seen, the First Lady opted for a blue "inspired by the waters" off the coast of Hawaii - a "Kailua blue." The food will be washed down with a Freeman 2013 "Ryo-fu" Chardonnay and a 2010 Morlet Pinot Noir.

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