The first lady was clad in an elegant red shoulder-baring gown that swished around her in soft folds and the president sported a tuxedo as they welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao on a red carpet on the White House portico. An honor guard stood at attention behind them.
Celebrity star power arrived in the form of singer Barbra Streisand, her hubby-actor James Brolin and action film star Jackie Chan. Big business turned out in force, too, including Microsoft's Steven Ballmer and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, among others. Among the big names: fashion's Vera Wang, Vogue's Anna Wintour, artist Maya Lin, Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to add some gravitas. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter made the cut, too.
Wang wore a floor-length, sleeveless design of her own. Wintour opted for a white, patterned Chanel skirt suit.
The dinner's all-star jazz lineup included trumpeter Chris Botti, two-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz icon Herbie Hancock, rising pianist Lang Lang and four-time Grammy-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves.
Jazz pianist Peter Martin, part of the entertainment lineup, prepped for his appearance by springing for a tux.
"I'm finally a grown-up, graduated from renting to owning," Martin tweeted, adding that he was "super-excited" about the White House gig.
Regular folks who find themselves in a last-minute frenzy before guests arrive can take comfort in knowing that it's the same at the White House: Hours before the dinner, chair cushions were stacked in the front foyer and harried staff shuttled flower arrangements to and fro.
New this state dinner: The 225 guests were spread out among three rooms: the State Dining Room, Blue Room and Red Room, then all shuttle to the East Room for the entertainment. Big video monitors were set up in the Blue and Red rooms for the outcasts to catch the dinner toasts.
The two presidents' toasts featured the usual promises of better relations all around, and Obama used the moment to highlight an agreement that will ensure the beloved giant pandas from China remain at the Smithsonian National Zoo for another five years.
Also new: The Obamas opted against bringing in a high-profile guest chef, instead putting White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in charge of preparing an all-American themed dinner at the request of the Chinese delegation, the White House said.
On the menu: d'anjou pear salad with farmstead goat cheese, poached Maine lobster, orange glazed carrots and black trumpet mushrooms, dry aged rib eye with buttermilk crisp onions, double-stuffed potatoes and creamed spinach. Dessert was to be old-fashioned apple pie with vanilla ice cream.