Ritorno di Roberto!
by Chevalier Eric Haun
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC was thrilled to visit Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano in Vienna, Virginia, on October 16, 2022 for a lovely evening filled with exquisite Italian cuisine, fine wines, and, of course, the Chaîne’s camaraderie of the table on October 16, 2022.
We are blessed to count Maître Rôtisseur Chef Roberto Donna as not only a local icon in Washington’s culinary scene, but also as an active professional member in our bailliage. Hailing from Turin, Italy, Chef Roberto has been engaged in Washington’s food scene for over 40 years – an oeuvre that has earned him numerous awards and recognition over his illustrious gastronomic career.
Opening its doors in February 2022 to much local and regional excitement, Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano showcases the chef’s most recent expression of fine Italian dining. This evening, Roberto’s was open exclusively for the bailliage.
The evening began in the main dining room of the restaurant, which was opened exclusively for the bailliage. Arriving members and guests mingled while enjoying a selection of sophisticated hors d’oeuvres paired with a refreshing Brut from Gosset, the oldest wine house in Champagne. The opening bites included: a mini potato filled with sour cream and topped with caviar;
tuna crudo comprised of fine portions of raw tuna in a light lemon vinaigrette and topped with avocado and presented on tasting spoons; and seared duck served on a red blood orange gel atop a petite potato cake.
The Gosset Brut is characterized by its notes of green apple, toasted almonds, and citrus zest, and an open and expressive nose, all creating a mineral tension that is highly refreshing on the palate. The House of Gosset holds a lineage of wines that were at one time popular with the Kings of France. Thus, this sparkling wine was a delightful opening of the evening that honored our French roots while celebrating Roberto’s distinctly Italian ambiance.
Following a warm welcome from Officier Allan Kam, members and guests made their way to their seats. Chef Roberto then greeted the bailliage and expressed his happiness and excitement to be hosting us for the evening. He proceeded to provide an overview of the first course.
The antipasti consisted of a sea scallop served with seasonal lobster mushrooms and black truffles on a potato foam. A squid ink net balanced the dish with a crispy top, adding dynamism and complexity to each bite. Accompanying the dish was Terlan’s Sauvignon Quarz, 2020. The wine’s name is references of the veins of quartz lining Terlano’s volcanic porphyry rock. Its interplay of ripe fruit and herbal aromas created depth while mineral notes that reflected the vineyard’s unique terroir in the volcanic hills of South Tyrol created a slightly salty finish, enabling it to pair beautifully with the dish.
As the second course was served, Chef Roberto joined us once more from the kitchen to introduce the primi before us. A silky risotto with hints of white truffle essence, served with finely grated parmesan, this traditional northern Italian dish did not disappoint. Glasses of La Mesma Gavi Black Label 2021 accompanied this rich Italian classic. This delicate and flowery Italian Gavi was in superb balance with the hearty risotto. La Mesma has received notoriety for not only producing some of the world’s best organic wines, but for also being owned and operated by three Italian sisters.
Between courses, our bailli, Judy Mazza, spoke to welcome the bailliage and thanked members and guests alike for joining in the evening’s special dinner at Roberto’s. Dr. Mazza noted that the last time the bailliage was treated to Chef Roberto’s renowned cuisine was during the height of the pandemic in October of 2020 when Chef Roberto and his wife personally delivered a seven-course Piedmontese dinner to 20 different homes throughout the Washington region. Over Zoom that evening, the chef coached everyone through recreating his exquisite cuisine in their own kitchens. Now able to gather in person, everyone in attendance was thankful for being able to enjoy the chef’s gastronomic creations in the warmth of his new restaurant.
The third course was a savory Raviolini del Plin, with veal jus and shaved parmesan cheese, topped with a sharp cheese crisp. “Plin” means ‘pinch’ in the local dialect of the southern Piedmont and was accurate in describing the bite-size nature of the handmade raviolini, each of which was bursting with flavor. The dish paired beautifully with bottles of Cascina Alberta Barbaresco 2018. Sourced from the Italy’s Piedmont region, this robust wine evoked notes of tart berries, truffle, and black spice.
For the main course, the Chef Roberto’s kitchen prepared a sautéed breast of partridge, served on top of potato foam, with cromesquis legs, foie gras, black trumpets and partridge jus. The partridge was cooked to perfection, with a slightly crispy crust leading to lean and tender breast meat. Azienda Agricola COS Cerasulo di Vittoria Classico 2008, which complemented the dish flawlessly. This bold and dry Sicilian red is made from a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes, producing a wonderfully complex yet balanced tasting experience that included notes of black cherry, tilled soil, and hints of new leather.
The meal concluded with a warm apple tart served with tiramisu ice cream, nuts, and caramel sauce, all dusted with powdered sugar. Tenuta Col d’Orcia Moscadello di Montalcino Pascena 2011 was paired with the composition. Selected for its notes of honey, flowers, and pear, the wine’s fruity and elegant palate seamlessly complemented the richness of the tart.
The evening concluded with Bailli Judy Mazza thanking the staff for their fantastic hospitality and exemplary service that the bailliage was privy to enjoy that evening. She then presented Chef Roberto and his wife, Nancy Sabbagh, each with a gift from the bailliage — special Chaîne silver wine bottle coasters – to mark not only the evening’s memorable dining experience but also the return of Chef Roberto and his esteemed Italian cookery to the fine dining scene in the Washington area.