Cafe Milano is not your average Italian restaurant. Opened in 1992, Cafe Milano has become like The Tombs and Tuscany’s — a place of tradition. Of course, Cafe Milano is very different from either of those restaurants. Having won “Power Spot of the Year” in the 2005 RAMMYS, the “Oscars of Washington, D.C. restaurants,” and the Star Diamond Award for hospitality four years in a row, one can expect no less than quality Italian dining. The restaurant’s website boasts that it is the “hub” for diplomats, lawmakers and celebrities — even a (failed) plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador was planned to take place here.
With all this in mind, my friends and I set off to Cafe Milano with high expectations. Unfortunately, I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment. While the restaurant strives for the down-to-earth feel common in Italian cuisine, it really is only a small step away from “fine dining.”
The decor of the restaurant, however, is worth noting. With wood paneling and painted ceilings, one could easily imagine one is in Europe. Don’t be fooled by the word “cafe” in its name; while “cafe” in Europe denotes cheap, quick food, this isn’t the case at this restaurant. Starters cost about $20 and entrees about $30 — rather pricy for miniscule portions.
As typical college students, my group and I finished three breadbaskets in approximately four seconds. Soft and warm, the bread was just how it ought to be, and the accompanying balsamic vinaigrette made the basket disappear even faster.
To begin the meal, I ordered the crispy calamari and zucchini. While it looked massive at first due to the uncountable amount of calamari, the tininess of the individual pieces made them satisfying without being overly heavy or filling. The zucchini was superb: thin, crispy and full of taste. However, like some of the calamari, there was perhaps too much batter coating the vegetable.
Next, we ordered the mussels in lemon and white wine broth which, unfortunately, were much different than I had expected. Rather than the standard garlic and white wine, the broth was made with lemon and white wine, giving it a sour taste that I avoided soaking up with the bread at the end of my meal.
As an entree, I opted for the roasted black grouper with a chickpea, porcini mushroom and fresh tomato guazzetto (fish stew). The grouper had great texture, but what struck me was the burst of flavor from the guazzetto. However, the saltiness of the dish made everything else taste bland in comparison, and, after a while, it became inedible and loaves of bread had to be devoured in order to restore the balance of my palate. The half-moon ravioli that my friends ordered looked and smelled great, but they complained about the tiny portion size.
While Cafe Milano is a must-visit as a Georgetown student, don’t bother frequenting it because one, college kids are poor and two, college kids are hungry.