San Francisco Social Diary: Spring in the City ~ Charitable Events in San Francisco

Among the Bay City’s many recent charitable events was the fashion show/lunch benefit for the San Francisco Ballet, sponsored by Neiman-Marcus at the Fairmont Hotel.

Civic-minded, cosmopolitan San Francisco offers cultural activities for every age and interest. Here are highlights from some philanthropic events I attended recently.


The San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary held its annual spring fashion show fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel, this year in partnership with Neiman Marcus, the Dallas-based luxury department store.


In a nice coincidence, displayed in the Fairmont lobby on the day of the Ballet benefit was one of the outrageous costumes from San Francisco’s Beach Blanket Babylon, the world’s longest-running musical revue.

Perched atop Nob Hill, the luxurious Fairmont Hotel was the perfect venue for the San Francisco Ballet fundraiser.

In celebration of its 40th year, the pop culture-spoofing show Beach Blanket Babylon is displaying costumes around the city.

One of the over-the-top hats that are hallmarks of the show, this one features such iconic San Francisco sights as the Transamerica Pyramid, City Hall, and the “Painted Ladies” houses across from Alamo Square Park.


A late morning cocktail reception preceded the runway fashion show, where the nearly 500 guests, many dressed to the nines, put on a fashion show of their own.

I noticed lots of booties, peep-toe shoes, and sky-high heeled sandals to complement spring pastel and print dresses that had come out of the closets early, thanks to our unusually warm spring.

Fashion Show Décor Chair Dara Rosenfeld, 2014 SF Ballet Auxiliary Gala Chair Tanya Powell, Luncheon Chair Patty Rock, and Fashion Show Chair Beatrice Wood.

2013 Ballet Fashion Show Chair Claire Kostic, SF Ballet Auxiliary President Jennifer Brandenburg, and Décor Chair Dara Rosenfeld.

Giselle Farris, Samantha Duvall, and Sydene Kober.

Shonaree Michael and Caroline Dixon.

Rosemary Baker, Karen Caldwell, and Dr. Janice Zakin.

Christine Suppes and Yurie Pascarella.

After cocktails, lunch was served in the Grand Ballroom, followed by the runway show plus a live auction and raffle. The event, chaired by Beatrice Wood, raised nearly $350,000 for the Ballet’s artistic and educational programs.

Vanessa Getty, Stephanie Tuttle, and Susan Dunlevy.

Katie Simpson, Lisa Goldman, and Karen Sonneborn.

Sarah Somberg and Lorre Erlick.

Mary Jo Kovacevich and Yurie Pascarella.

Komal Shah, Paula Carano, and Deepa Pakianathan.

SF Ballet Board Member O.J. Shansby was this year’s Fashion Show Honoree in appreciation of her long-time commitment to the Ballet and her help enticing Neiman- Marcus to underwrite this year’s show.

Roberta Sherman, Lois Lehrman, O.J. Shansby, and Ann Paolini, a former Neiman’s senior VP in Dallas, who has moved back here as executive vp at luxury e-tailer


The show was curated by Dallas-based Ken Downing, Neiman’s fashion director and senior vp. It’s his responsibility to know what customers want, so he visits all the fashion shows in New York, London, Paris, and Milan, curates each season’s trend list, and sorts through millions of apparel options. (What a job!)

When I’m in Dallas, I always go downtown to shop at the original Neiman’s, where the selections are so much more colorful than what I see in New York or San Francisco. Founded in 1907, the store has spawned 41 retail outlets and online and catalog businesses, along with a New York subsidiary, Bergdorf Goodman.

Neiman Marcus Senior VP and Fashion Show Curator Ken Downing with the runway models.

Downing, who shines in the spotlight, opened the show with a Texas swagger, but he told me he’s originally from Seattle. Obviously, he’s a quick study.


Usually the show features just one designer, but Downing curated a show of many brands and focused on key trends for spring: pink, prints, graphic black and white, and tribal looks.

Downing says pink is flattering on every woman.

According to Downing, pink was the most important color message on every runway this year.

A new way to wear the color is to mix different shades, such as blush and shocking pink.

Another trend for the season is prints—the bolder, the better!

Downing said he likes “the artistic prints, the brush strokes, where often the flowers look like a Monet painting.”

The tribal trend, he explained, is not to dress in national costume, “but to incorporate an element from another culture into your wardrobe in a modern way.”

Global influences have inspired the multicultural fashion mix, which next season includes elements from the American Southwest, Japan, China, and Africa.

Combining white and black is a major story this year, said Downing. “White is accented with black, and they come together in a graphic style.”

“Everyone understands the idea of an LBD—little black dress,” Downing added. “I’m all about an LWD—a little white dress.”

Once considered classic, black is the new cool. Accessories like a studded clutch or leather jacket are now equally appropriate for day and night.

Bold black and white patterns can be tempered when worn with a solid color jacket, for a “rocker romance” look.

The finale, with all the models strutting together, showed how this season’s trends can work together to create one bold look.


The fashion show sparked a frenzy, inspiring many to rush off to Neiman’s Couture Salon at Union Square to put first dibs on a favorite—those who hadn’t already texted a request to their personal shopper, that is! I was told it was like a cocktail party at the store, with Champagne flowing and jewelry and dresses (especially evening dresses, for the city’s many black-tie events) flying out the door.


On the way to an opening at the de Young Museum, I dropped by to support Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation, the nation’s premier culinary benefit dedicated to ending childhood hunger.

Held at San Francisco’s Metreon Center, the “Evening of Sips and Bites” allowed guests to enjoy nibbles from the Bay Area’s best chefs, while mixologists served libations from local wineries and breweries.

We all know that San Franciscans are food-lovers: According to Bloomberg News, the San Francisco-Oakland-Freemont region has the most eateries per capita in the United States and the highest ratio of real restaurants to fast food joints. With all the young people, dot-commers, and tourists, it’s as difficult to get a reservation here as it is in Manhattan—the two U.S. food capitals, in my opinion.

Taste of the Nation hosts culinary events all across the U.S. and Canada, benefiting starving children the world over.

The stunning City View space at Metreon Center features views of the San Francisco cityscape from the Bay Bridge all the way to the Yerba Buena Gardens.

Guests enjoyed mingling and dining among the city’s skyscrapers.


Fifty-eight restaurants participated in the evening, Regrettably, I couldn’t get a photo of each and every chef and their crews, but here are a few of my favorites. With Napa Valley so close by, there was no shortage of wineries either: 28 were there, plus 8 distilleries and breweries. This added up to a very jolly night for everyone.

These chefs work long, long hours from morning to night, so it’s very charitable of them to contribute their time, skills, energy, and money to events like this. Hats off (toques off?) to them!

Serving as chef chair for the third consecutive year, Chef Michael Tusk of Quince and Cotogna restaurants served veal sausage sliders.

Chefs Nancy Oakes and Dana Younkin of Boulevard Restaurant prepared polenta with scallops and Dungeness crab.

Acquerello restaurant co-owner and Executive Chef Suzette Greshmam-Tognetti shared her tempura-fried mussels topped with citrus foam.

Hakkasan’s Sous Chef Jason Xu served up Peking duck dumplings.

A16 SF’s Chef Christopher Thompson presented bresaola with local asparagus and sheep’s milk cheese.

Chef Brian Gremilon of Delfina offered a sweet pea sformatino (similar to a soufflé).

Chefs Anjan Mitra and Denish Kumar from Indian eatery Dosa prepared Papadi Chaat (“Street Food”) with smoked duck, pickled vegetables, and raita.

Wine Country’s Redd Wood restaurant served classic meatballs with tomato sauce.

Chef Mark Liberman, center, of AQ restaurant, presented artichokes with fig leaf and buckwheat.

The award-winning Suerte Tequila, based in Boulder, CO, offered tastings and lessons on the difference between blanco, reposado, and anejo tequila.

Craft distiller St. George Spirits, based out of Alameda, CA, had a mixologist creating cocktails to order.

Aspiring chef Stephanie Lawrence, Acquerello Chef Suzette Greshmam-Tognetti, and Jeanne Lawrence.

B. Patisserie’s Chefs Michel Suas and Belinda Leong with b. Patisserie manager Candice Ng; the trio offered triple chocolate cake with coffee and mint.

Marlowe restaurant’s Chef Jennifer Puccio.

Steak tartare from Marlowe.

Chef Adam Tortosa of 1760 (Polk), an offshoot of Acquerello, with Stephanie Lawrence and Isabella Paterlini, daughter of Acquerello owner Giancarlo Paterlini.

Pork belly arancini, courtesy of Pizza Antica’s Chef Bradley Ceynowa.

Quince restaurant paired a yogurt, strawberry-rhubarb, and almond verrine with mini black forest cakes.

The crowd was eager to try one of everything!

Guests could bid on unique culinary experiences––such as private dinners and Wine Country tours—from some of the participating chefs.

As you can see, there was no Prohibition at the event—local bewery Speakeasy Ales & Lagers was on hand to represent San Francisco’s craft beer scene.


This spring, Compassion & Choices (C&C) held its annual Empowerment Luncheon at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis in Union Square. Mistress of Ceremonies Jeanne Phillips (aka “Dear Abby”) served as keynote speaker. The event raised money and awareness for patients’ rights and end-of-life decision-making.

Chaired by Lucie Weissman and Merla Zellerbach, with Honorary Chair, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the event was overall upbeat despite the serious concerns of the cause.

Zellerbach has been a leader in addressing end-of-life issues and bringing them to the attention of Californians. “No terminally ill patient needs to suffer a prolonged, painful death,” she told the crowd. “We had no say about how we entered the world, but we can certainly plan how we exit.”

Chair Lucie Weissman, Dear Abby (aka Dear Abby), and Chair Merla Zellerbach.

Mary Poland, Deborah Hannah, and Jane Inch.

Helen Hilton Raiser, Barbara Brown, and Jennifer Raiser.

Former San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein discussed the heartbreak of making end-of-life decisions for children who are wards of the court.

Radio host Ray Taliaferro.

Johanna Spielman, Marsha Munro, Merla Zellerbach, Pat Dodson, and Nan McDowell.

Maya Cooper, C&C President Barbara Coombs Lee, and Agnes Chen Brown.

Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, with Judy Johnston and Alka Agrawal.

Kate Chung, Kate Harbin, Claire Spaht, Victoria Raiser, and Katie Page.

Jill Toff, Sharon Kaufman, and Joan Vinson.

Pamala Deikel, Pat Brown, and Donna Huggins.

Merla Zellerbach and Lois Lehrman.

Joanne Hayes White and Jeanne Phillips.

Debra Dooley and Deann Spaulding.

Linda Cannon and Joan Vinson.

Nicole Lenihan, Brooke Read, and Jenny Riedy.

Karen Kubin, Susan Mooradian, and Carol Doll.

Bixby Jamison, his mother Lucie Weissman, Jerry Weissman, and Natalie Jamison.


The same evening, Lisa and John Grotts hosted a dinner in honor of Jeanne Phillips at the upscale and glamorous Hakkasan, a world-renowned and Michelin-starred restaurant that offers a modern take on Chinese cuisine.

Jeanne’s mother Pauline Phillips founded and started the “Dear Abby” advice column in 1956 under the pen name Abigail Van Buren. Jeanne has been unofficially writing for the column since her teenage years, and in 2000 she took over the column officially.

“Dear Abby” receives 10,000 requests for advice each week, is syndicated in about 1,400 newspapers, and reaches 110 million readers every day. That’s some success story!

Host Lisa Grotts and Jeanne Phillips in front of a poster of Jeanne and her mother Pauline, the original Dear Abby.

Event stylist Riccardo Benavides, of Ideas Events, and Jeanne Lawrence.

Riccardo Benavides, columnist Leah Garchik, Jerry Garchik, and host John Grotts.

Venus and Narsai David.

Haberdasher Wilkes Bashford and Jeanne Phillips.

Jeanne Lawrence, Jeanne Phillips, and Lisa Grotts.

Leah Garchik, Jeanne Phillips, and Dagmar Dolby.

Lisa and John Grotts with Jeanne Phillips.

During the intimate dinner, guests at the round table questioned and talked with Jeanne. We learned how seriously she takes her advice-giving. To get good answers, she researches and consults with various medical, psychiatric, legal, ethical, and religious experts as necessary.

She answers many letters personally, and she occasionally responds directly and seeks professional help for someone whose situation seems particularly dire. Through this column, she has found her calling and has helped many individuals to lead better lives.

What I couldn’t pry out of her, though, was how many people work for her. (Seems that all those activities would take a village!)

Naturally, event designer Riccardo Benavides helped with the table settings.

The settings included old ribbon, found by Lisa Grotts, from San Francisco’s City of Paris department store (open from 1850 to 1976).

The legacy from mother to daughter seemed to be the theme of the night.

Appropriately, we dined on healthy but flavorful dishes like this steamed dim sum platter of scallop shumai, har gau, Chinese chive dumpling, and black pepper duck dumpling.

The stir-fried mushroom lettuce wrap with pistachio and pine nuts is one of my favorites.

Another tasty, healthful option: Stir-fried lotus root, asparagus, and lily bulb in black pepper.


Photos by Jeanne Lawrence, Drew Altizer, and Moanalani Jeffrey.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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