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It's Party Time

It takes a lot of work to nominate a presidential candidate. Victor Modic can attest to that.

The co-owner of Ice Art, an ice-carving company in Cedar Grove, N.J., is working long hours to plan nearly 50 sculptures for the Republican National Convention, including the kind with liquor sluicing down an ice luge.

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"We'll probably do it with a large martini glass," Modic says, "and a spigot in the center."

This, in the name of democracy: your convention delegates guzzling booze off a giant ice cube.

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Luge shots are but one of many food and drink concepts in the works for the conventions, where consuming refreshments - plentiful and, more importantly, usually free - is as time-honored a ritual as the roll call of the states.

It's safe to assume that at the Democratic National Convention in Boston next week (July 26-29) and the Republican National Convention in New York City Aug. 30-Sept. 2, the party scene will be almost as important as the politics.

Like the presidential contenders they're feting, the foodies will try to show they're working in the best interest of America. That means both events will make obligatory nods to the unofficial Atkins and South Beach delegations, with chefs offering lower carbs in the convention halls, high-protein energy snacks in the hospitality suites and enough nuts and berries for an entire forest of political animals on the scene.

Still, in the end, a convention is nothing without excess.

"With this group, caution goes out the window - they're in a party mood," says Dan Searby, vice president of marketing at Restaurant Associates, one of four firms that won bids to cater inside Madison Square Garden during the Republican convention. "If somebody wants us to do sushi Latin fusion, we'll do sushi Latin fusion. If somebody wants low carb, we'll do low carb. But at these events, you want a very visual impact both in the food and the design, so the dietary and nutrition concerns are very much in the back seat."

So, in Boston, NXTevent caterers is planning a private party with the signatures of famous statesmen, including Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, replicated on top of the food in edible handwriting. In New York, Restaurant Associates is concocting the Dr. Pepper Sorbet, made from President Bush's favorite soft drink.

Here, political kitsch is not just for T-shirts; it's for the digestive tract.

At the Boston bistro Masa, conventioneers can drink a fizzy Kerry Berry with rum, mint and raspberry coulis or a Bloody Teresa - a cocktail named for Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, with a bloody-Mary tomato base to celebrate the fortunes of the Heinz ketchup heiress. At the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manhattan, Republicans will be offered a vodka, champagne and passion-fruit drink called the Compassionate Conservative or tequila-rum-laced Texas Two-Step to wash down the obligatory red, white and blue tortilla chips and the G.O.Peanuts.

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With the national spotlight on the host cities, food becomes edible P.R.

This Saturday, for example, 15,000 members of the media are expected at Boston's convention site at the FleetCenter for what has been dubbed the "Momentum" party. Boston is attempting to portray itself as a city on the move by putting all the bite-sized snacks on wheels - either on rolling carts or rickshaws or little electric cars.

Caterers believe only good can come of stuffing the national media, so at this event up to 100 different Boston restaurants are expected to offer 300 pieces of finger food each. To make the gorging even easier, journalists won't have to walk to food stations but can sit in one spot and wait for the food to roll to them.

"We've heard from a lot of media that have been to other conventions, and it's typical catered food, tends to be a very across-the-board bland food that doesn't speak out about the city," says Lynne Kortenhaus, president of Kortenhaus Communications, the Boston event planning firm that is staging the media party. "So we really wanted to use this event to showcase the food and the different kinds of restaurants in and around the city."

The media will be well-tended all week. Delaware North Cos., which owns and operates the FleetCenter, will take a break from stocking concession stands, private parties and luxury skyboxes to supply the media tent with provisions - specifically, 1,800 pounds of coffee and 2,700 gallons of New England clam chowder.

Kevin Doherty, the executive chef for Delaware North Sportservice at the FleetCenter, expects to feed a third of the 30,000 people inside the convention center. Making food available at 10 different locations, through seven different 35-item menus, is more complicated than catering a Celtics game, but he says he's undaunted.

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"I've done pretty major events," Doherty says. "The tall ships coming to Boston, the king and queen of Spain, the president of Ireland, business anniversaries - like a 10th anniversary for 7,600 people on a field in the mud."

While some Boston chefs are sounding confident, New York City planning still has a way to go. Restaurateurs and caterers there are still ordering food, drafting menus and trying to puzzle out convention security. Restricted access to the convention hall could foil food delivery and preparation, they say, and they'll need to be inventive.

"There are going to be a lot of restrictions on loading in and loading out," says Penny Glazier, co-owner of the Glazier Group, another caterer providing food at the receptions inside Madison Square Garden. "If you forget your lemons or your limes, too bad. You can't go out shopping once you're in."

In both cities, caterers are searching for food versions of political headlines. For sweets, Democrats can eat the Governor Dean's I Scream dessert at the Boston Ritz-Carlton, in honor of the speech that augured ill for Kerry's defeated primary rival, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. If they want candy, they won't find many jelly beans. Those will be in New York, amid the Ronald Reagan nostalgia.

And then there's the matter of a certain condiment. Even if ketchup were a vegetable, as the Reagan administration once declared, it certainly wouldn't be made by Heinz at the Republican convention. New York's Restaurant Associates has offered to pull that ketchup from its GOP events, loath to celebrate a brand associated with the wife of the expected Democratic nominee. In Boston, though, convention burgers will be glopped with Heinz.

Host cities hope delegates will pour their money into local restaurants and bars, but there's this disincentive: For nearly a week, Democrats and Republicans can survive largely on freebies. The political parties pay for many convention events. That might seem like good news for conventioneers, though in Boston's case several caterers have criticized the Democratic National Committee's host committee for skimping on the budget, calculated at roughly $100 per person - scant, those critics say, for receptions expected to include entertainment, sumptuous spreads and open bars. A Boston Herald story said not long ago: "DNC is very nearly BYOB."

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More lavish eats - but still free - can be found at corporate receptions.

On the first day of the Democratic convention, the fashionable Nine Zero hotel reports it is preparing for America Online to host Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York Democratic senator and actress Sarah Jessica Parker at a party where scores of guests will put on the free food bag.

Gabriel Frasca, the executive chef at the hotel's restaurant, Spire, promises the finest - and, for whoever is footing the bill, the priciest - versions of Boston fare. For example, he's serving only line-caught fish, rather than fish trapped more economically in nets, on the theory that when fish die on the cheap, they taste worse (when they're caught in nets, he says, they panic, their muscles fill with lactic acid and, ultimately, they get tough).

Lobbying, apparently, goes down better when your hors d'oeuvre doesn't taste as though it just ran a marathon.

Chefs like Frasca plan to rebel against local cliches he knows conventioneers will request. He'll oblige them by serving food from area butchers, seafood suppliers and farmers, but he plans to leave guests wondering where those brown pots of syrupy baked beans disappeared to. His take on the traditional Boston bean dish? Six kinds of beans - including the purple-speckled dragon tongue bean - in an herb salad with a confit of organic chicken.

Along with the food comes a serving of celebrity gawking.

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In New York, top-flight restaurants are hoping to lure in political, Hollywood and media luminaries. When the Democratic National Convention came to Manhattan in 1992, the Democratic host committee convinced more than 50 top restaurants to give free lunches to a handful of delegates and celebrity guests. At that convention, the restaurant "21" lured in then-candidate Bill Clinton, his mother, Virginia Kelley, senators, journalists and actors.

As for the Republicans, they're not just trying to fill the power restaurants. The convention's Web site quotes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who suggests hot dogs at Nathan's on Coney Island. The site also lists former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's top 10 restaurants and urges conventioneers to trek up to Harlem and eat soul food at the legendary Sylvia's or head to Staten Island for a slice at Goodfella's Brick Oven Pizza.

Some New York restaurants - even Giuliani's picks - have been slow on bookings so far.

"I haven't got anything planned for it yet," says Rob Russo-Vikos, manager at Goodfella's, explaining that the convention is still a month away. He believes Republicans will respond to any recommendation by their GOP hero, Giuliani. "I'm sure they'll plan on coming," he says. "We've got Giuliani's picture on the wall."

At Frank's, a steakhouse in the meatpacking district, the staff is just waking up to the idea of a city flooded with Republicans. Co-owner James Molinari has yet to decide on a GOP drink. "Maybe we'll call something the 'Elephant.' Or the 'Donkey,'" he says. "Which one's with the Republicans?"

In Boston, Allen Scott knows the answer to that question all too well. The manager at the Elephant Walk restaurant says he hasn't received a single reservation for the Democratic gathering. He blames the name.

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"I'm sure if we had a Republican convention in town," he says, "they'd all come here."

Drinks with convictions

The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manhattan has invented red-state refreshments, including the Compassionate Conservative.

Compassionate Conservative

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces Stolichnaya orange-flavored vodka

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1 ounce passion-fruit puree

4 to 5 ounces champagne (exact amount may vary)

Stir together vodka and fruit puree. Pour into a champagne glass and top with champagne.

Per serving: 227 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 6 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 8 milligrams sodium

Masa, a Southwestern bistro in Boston's South End, will serve blue-state cocktails, including the Kerry Berry.

Kerry Berry

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Makes 1 drink

3 pieces of lime

6 leaves of mint

ice

1 teaspoon pureed raspberry (do not add sugar)

1/2 cup Bacardi raspberry rum

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soda water

Muddle fresh lime and mint together, then add ice in a tall cocktail glass. Then add the puree, and finally pour in the rum. Shake it. Top with a shot of soda water for fizz.

Per serving: 264 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 2 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 2 milligrams sodium


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