Crab Cakes, Gochujang and Irish Poetry: Biden’s State Dinner With South Korea

WASHINGTON — Visiting foreign leaders often go for flattery when addressing the president at a state dinner. But President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea went straight for President Biden’s weak spot on Wednesday night, quoting Irish sayings at the beginning and end of his toast at a lavish state dinner at the White House.

Mr. Yoon thanked Mr. Biden and then quoted the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, a presidential favorite who makes rather frequent guest appearances in Biden speeches. “Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere,” Mr. Yoon said.

If that were not enough, the South Korean leader later wrapped up his toast with what he said was an old Irish saying: “A good friend is like a four-leaf clover — hard to find and lucky to have.” That generated “awwws” and applause from the crowd.

It was all four-leaf clovers and bonhomie on Wednesday night as the two chummy leaders put on an elaborate show of friendship while ignoring the recent tension over revelations of American spying on South Korean officials. Mr. Biden honored Mr. Yoon with only the second state dinner of his presidency, with Jill Biden treating their guests to a classic American menu with a Korean flair.

The Maryland crab cake was accompanied by cabbage, fennel and cucumber slaw in a gochujang vinaigrette. The yellow squash soup was followed by braised beef short ribs with butter bean grits, sorghum-glazed carrots and pine nuts. And dessert was a banana split with fresh berries, gingersnap cookie crumble and doenjang caramel.

Mr. Biden has only recently revived the tradition of state dinners after years in which the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic and his predecessor’s hostility to traditional American allies largely sidelined the practice. He began with a state dinner for President Emmanuel Macron of France in December that was so crowded it was moved to a tent on the lawn.

For Mr. Yoon and his wife, Kim Keon Hee, the White House festooned the East Room with massive arrangements of cherry blossoms and organized a head table that included stars like the actor Angelina Jolie and the Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim, as well as lesser lights like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader who opted for a suit rather than a tuxedo. (“This is as tux-ey as I get,” he explained.)

Ms. Jolie, who brought her 21-year-old son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, was chatted up by Vice President Kamala Harris before the dinner began. The actor opted against answering questions from reporters, although Mr. Jolie-Pitt, when asked about studying in Seoul, allowed that it was “great.” Ms. Harris brought her niece Meena Harris.

Among other guests was Samantha Cohen, the daughter of Michael D. Cohen, the longtime lawyer and fixer for former President Donald J. Trump who turned on him. Mr. Cohen provided testimony leading to the recent indictment related to hush money paid to a porn star who claimed an extramarital sexual liaison with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Biden invited a few Republicans but unlike the Macron dinner, he included only those who are not Trump supporters, namely Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont and former Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.

Ms. Kim, who is described by some as the greatest female snowboarder in history, admitted to jitters entering the White House. “I am very nervous,” she said. She revealed that she has lost her Olympic gold medal.

“I didn’t wear my medal,” she told reporters. “I don’t know where it is.”

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