What do you get when Jesse and Katie Biter decide to throw an elegant soiree at their downtown Sarasota penthouse? You get an evening that spares no detail in style and flavor.
Tech entrepreneur Jesse, who owns downtown’s four-story HuB, a creative incubator for entrepreneurs, is a high-profile proponent of making downtown more vibrant and accessible to young people. He and Katie are also active supporters of a variety of charitable causes. They have a wide and diverse social network, and they love to host friends for dinners full of conversation, great food and fun—often on the rooftop of their penthouse, where they have created an inviting space that’s perfect for parties.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how often we entertain,” Katie says with a laugh. “It’s kind of ridiculous. My girlfriend says our elevator is a revolving door!”
The views from the penthouse rooftop are stunning. Turn your head one way and you can see over the Ringling Bridge, past St. Armands Circle and—on a clear day—straight to the Gulf of Mexico. Turn the other way and you’ll see all of downtown Sarasota.
But it’s not just the views that are the attraction. “We like to spoil our guests,” Katie says. “We want people to sit and stay awhile.”
To help them achieve the kind of relaxed elegance that encourages guests to linger, they often call on the catering and design team at The Francis and Louies Modern, a downtown enterprise housed in a building the couple owns in partnership. The team includes Roger Capote, artistic director of Louies Modern and the Francis, and Lisa Seidensticker, owner/partner and director of catering and events, and Chef Keith Dougherty. “I can give them a vision and it will come out 20 times more beautiful than I could ever imagine,” says Katie.
For the dinner party pictured here, she asked them to create a white wonderland that would evoke the feeling of a sidewalk cafe in Paris. “I love using white,” Katie says. “It’s peaceful and easy and you can use it during any holiday or season. It always works.”
The design team chose white hydrangeas, white linens and white servingware, with shimmering Mercury glass accents and white floating candles thrown in for a little sparkle. They even brought in street lamps for added Parisian authenticity.
“We wanted to keep it very simple,” explains Roger. “And we wanted romantic lighting. Lighting, whether it’s artificial or natural, is key to an outdoor party.”
The designer moved the existing garden lounge furniture and replaced it with a long communal table, where guests gathered to pass dishes family-style. Katie likes to mix traditional dishes—in this case, honey-sage, oak-roasted beef tenderloin with wild rice—with some surprises, including, tonight, an appetizer of star anise duck dumplings in spicy cinnamon broth. “We like to serve something that people haven’t tried,” she says. “I always make sure the menu is unique, but still within everyone’s comfort zone.”
Bathed in the glow of the setting sun, guests took their seats and toasted their hosts with champagne. Conversation and laughter grew as the six courses were served and wine glasses were filled and refilled. Even after the sun dipped below the shimmering expanse of water far below and the plates were whisked away, everyone lingered, soaking up the last little bits of golden light. At the head of the table, Jesse and Katie exchanged smiles: Another evening to remember.
Star anise duck dumpling with spicy cinnamon broth
Shichimi-spiced tuna sashimi salad with flaxseed crackers and butter lettuce
Arugula noodles in porcini juice with freeze-dried black trumpet mushrooms, ricotta salata and truffle oil
Braised monkfish with almond milk tapioca, pomegranate and coriander
Honey-sage oak-roasted beef tenderloin with wild rice and sunchokes
Vermont Creamery coupole cheese with pickled beets, upland cress and orange powder
Katie Biter's Top Five Entertaining Tips
Know what you want. “Figure out your vision before you bring in other people, like florists and caterers.”
Dress the part. “I always try to complement my outfit to the décor. When Roger and I worked on the American Cancer Society’s Cattle Baron’s Ball, I would buy a dress in the shade of flowers he was using. I really follow through!”
Respect your environment. “We live in a downtown Sarasota penthouse, which most people would call super-modern—but we’re also on the water, so a lot of times we’ll do a nautical theme. I you’re out in the country, go with that. If you’re right on Siesta Key Beach or Casey Key, take that beach theme and run with it.”
Mix up the menu. “We like to have a unique dish and something more traditional—that way people don’t leave hungry, but they also have a new experience.”
Use a seating chart. “If people don’t know each other, I like to spread out the couples so not everyone is sitting next to his or her spouse. That inspires conversations that otherwise might not happen.”
Click here to see a behind-the-scenes video from our rooftop photoshoot:
This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine. Like what you read? Click here to subscribe. >>