Gabrielle Union's Haute Mexican Valentine's Day

When it comes to entertaining, Gabrielle Union's philosophy is simple: bring it on. "The goal should always be to have fun," says the Being Mary Jane star. "There should be no rules! Throw the etiquette books off the table, and just be open." In fact, Union is a planning pro who throws elaborate birthday parties every year with themes like "Ball Caps, Boxers, Beaters, and Barbeque," "Pajama Jammy Jam," and "Old School Ugly Prom." "Instead of going to clubs and spending my mortgage payment on a bottle of vodka, it's more cost effective to entertain at home," she says. "You can get as wild as you want to, and you don't have to worry about people taking pics of you." But with a wedding to Miami Heat star, Dwayne Wade, to plan and frequent trips back to LA, the mostly-Miami-based Union barely has time to breathe these days. So, she was so excited for us to help her throw a colorful Valentine's Day fiesta -- featuring a neo-Mexican menu by chef Jeffrey Nimer of Haute Chefs -- in honor of her new wine Vanilla Puddin and spend some much-needed QT with her BFFs, actresses Essene Atkins, Robinne Lee, and Lisa Vidal. _1 The actress loves Mexican food, so instantly we thought about the rainbow of opportunities that a fun-filled fiesta can offer. And of course, the rainbow bright hues of a Mexican serape were our color inspiration! We layered vivid fabrics from Shop Latitude, Urban Outfitters, and CB2 to make the table pop. Striped linen napkins from Loom Decor worked as a contrast. Fresh bunches of peonies, roses, and mums dotted throughout; the idea was to go crazy -- lots of pink, lots of flowers -- a veritable Valentine's Day explosion. "In Miami, we have fresh flowers delivered twice a week to bring a little life and class and charm to the house," Union says. _2 With so many much color, both on the table and in the food, we kept the dishes to a more neutral palette to give the party a chic polish. White plates with tan detailing from Crate & Barrel, Matte Black Sushi Plates from World Market, and World Market flatware offset the über-bright theme. _3 From the moment everyone sat down, it was clear that this meal was all about fun. "We were appreciative that someone clearly understands how we get down," Union says slyly, referring to the skimpily-dressed, six-packed plastic dude figurines lounging on the table in their skivvies. The ladies were quick to raise glasses of Vanilla Puddin Chardonnay to toast the occasion (and the plastic men). Of her new adventure in winemaking, Union says, "I love vanilla pudding, and I love wine. So when we were able to create a vanilla yumminess, it was kismet." And the inspiration? "I have a pretty extensive wine cellar. And a lot of times I buy one and can't remember the notes. The names don't give away what I love about the wine. I wanted to create something that if you saw it on the shelf you know exactly what you're getting." We made sure to keep everyone's turquoise and lime green CB2 glasses filled with water, too. _4 Chef Jeffrey Nimer created an upscale Mexican feast that the guests ooh-ed and ahh-ed over every time another savory dish came out of the kitchen. Even Union, a self-described taco-truck fan, was impressed. "I'm going to have to open up my mind in terms of tacos," she says. "You can't get great ceviche on the taco truck." Serving pieces -- from the Mallorca Round Platter to CB2's glass appetizer bowl to Molcajete Lava Stone -- helped the vivid food like skirt steak chimmi churris and stuffed poblano peppers stand out. For a fun twist, Chef Nimer served the rice pudding in Margarita glasses.   _header
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-01 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-06 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-04
Macho Man Doll Cake Topper, $4, Party Shop  Acacia Stacking Platter Set, $40, Crate&Barrel  Gold Coffee Spoons, $66, Furbish Studio
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-23 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-21 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-15
 Double Wall Appetizer Bowl, $5, CB2  Rosa Multi Serape, $65, Shop Latitude   Marta Double Old-Fashioned Glass, $3, CB2
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-22 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-14 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-18
 Serape Striped Blanket, $49, Urban Outfitters  Ready Blue Cooler, $5, CB2 Ticking Stripe Custom Napkin Set, $38, Loom Decor 
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-20 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-13 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-16
 Pipeline Tablecloth, $80, CB2 Studio Light Clay Dinnerware, $7-$10, Crate&Barrel Molcajete Lava Stone, $20, World Market
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-19 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-17 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-02
 Mallorca Round Platter, $40, Crate&Barrel  Casa Tablecoth, $17, Crate&Barrel  Teak Appetizer Spoon and Fork, $5-$8, Crate&Barrel
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-12 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-10 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-07
 Event Red Wine Glasses Set of 4, $16, World Market  Matte Black Sushi Plates Set of 2, $12, World Market  Rectangle Wax Resist Sushi Plates Set of 4, $20, World Market
domaine-gabrielle-union-market-11 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-09 domaine-gabrielle-union-market-08
 Hammered Flatware, $16, World Market  5-Piece Festival Basket Set, $20, Crate&Barrel Glory Margarita Glass, $5, Crate&Barrel
Photographs: Koury Angelo -- By Danielle Nussbaum