“Buongiorno!” the hostesses exclaims, as we enter Cafe Milano, an Italian stalwart in Georgetown often frequented by diplomats, politicians, and bourgeoisie people alike. “Ciao!” I reply—which is about the extent of my fading Italian vocabulary these days.
She escorts us promptly to our table where four servers were rapidly smoothing the white tablecloth and straightening the silverware in preparation for our arrival. They each pulled out a chair in unison. We were in for a treat.
I was distracted by the decor for the first five minutes. As I tried to wrap my head around an Italian subway map painted on the ceiling like the Sistine Chapel and framed neckties, I came to realize that the eclectic decor was inspired by, and meant to resemble, a stylish fashion boutique in Milan. It was the large vintage Moschino ad that gave it away.
On this Saturday afternoon, the restaurant was packed, but it wasn’t loud. Within seconds of sitting down we were greeted by our server, who promptly delivered a bowl of Sicilian and black olives, drenched in olive oil and whole garlic cloves. Simultaneously, another waiter placed individual pieces of bread from a basket onto our bread plates. It was a good start.
As we debriefed about the movie we saw the night before, The Big Short, I struggled to get my coat to stay on the large, but slippery, back of my chair. Like magic, out of nowhere, a waiter swooped in and lent me a hand—the first display of what I thought was some of the most outstanding service I’ve experienced at a Washington restaurant.
It was Restaurant Week, which we have mixed feelings about. But, we appreciated that the restaurant was also serving its full lunch menu, which is extensive. It’s worth noting that you will not find traditional brunch items on this menu, but we knew that going into our meal.
We started with the burrata cheese with squash purée and the sesame crusted ahi tuna crudo with celery root crema. We inquired about brunch drinks and decided on two bellinis, because, when in Rome. They were effervescent and fresh—and went down easy. After two bellinis, I noticed a small blimp floating above the bar. I think you could eat at this restaurant once a week and discover a new piece of decor every time. We Italians like to keep you on your feet.
The ahi tuna crudo was good, it wasn’t the best ahi tuna I’ve ever had. The dish had red onions and avocado, which are two ingredients I love.
The creamy combination of burrata with the squash purée and toasted pumpkin seeds was spot on. Since it only came with one cracker, we found ourselves using our bread to soak up every morsel.
Gavin’s eyes lit up when he spotted a veal entree the size of a tennis racket go by the table. He was ready to order. I was in the mood for a simple, traditional meal, so I opted for the grilled and pounded chicken breast in an herb olive oil with sautéed broccoli rabe. Christina, who didn’t feel like reading through the wordy menu, picked the first pasta that caught her eye: the strozzapreti with a Romano pecorino cheese and fresh black pepper sauce, served ‘cacio e pepe’ style.
Our eyes didn’t deceive us. The veal arrived, and it was the size of my head. The dish came with a side of string beans, which Gavin ate first before cutting into the thin, perfectly cooked veal.
The chicken breast and broccoli rabe, was simple and perfectly executed. Per Italian tradition, each dish came with a half a lemon to top off your dish. Although, Gavin held back from dousing his veal in lemon, I went to town on my chicken. It was a great addition to the simple pepper flavor.
The cacio e pepe-style pasta was also executed perfectly. Although the presentation was beautiful, Christina wished the portion was a bit bigger. Luckily, she snagged a few bites of Gavin’s tennis racket.
Surprisingly, I’m not a huge fan of Italian desserts. But, since the rest of the meal was so impressive, we decided to order the tiramisu, an Italian classic. It did not disappoint. The dessert was creamy and tasted like a double-espresso dipped in a cappuccino sauce.
I can’t believe that after eight years of living in Washington, this was my first time at Cafe Milano. I see what all the fuss is about, and can’t wait to go back—most likely the next time my big, Italian family is in town.
The Bitches say: A+. Cafe Milano is a treat. The impeccable service and classic Italian dishes reassured us that the Georgetown restaurant scene, although dying, is not dead.
3251 Prospect Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20007
Cafe Milano serves lunch weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays