Entertain

Suzy’s Staples

It was Friday night at Via Umbria—the cafe was full of patrons enjoying dinner, guests in the wine room were engaged in our Weekly Somm tasting and a Birthday celebration was due to start upstairs shortly.  Bill and I looked around and realized that we had a great staff on hand and that if we left now we could sit outside on this perfect September night and enjoy dinner and a relaxing evening at home- so run away we did.  A few minutes later as we inched along Wisconsin Avenue, we realized that we had no groceries at home. Not just ‘nothing we wanted to eat’, but after weeks of late nights and travel – not a single thing that qualified as edible.  As we got closer to the Safeway and started discussing strategies for running in quickly and what we could make – a last minute U-turn was made and we and headed straight back to Via Umbria to pick up our staples.

While there are definitely some benefits to the enormity of a store like Safeway, the idea of being able to avoid the chaos and dash into Via Umbria to grab a few excellent products from farms we know and love seemed like the obvious choice.

We often describe Via Umbria as an “Italian Village under one roof” but in many ways it would be simpler and just as accurate to describe our store as a one-stop market in Georgetown for high-quality pantry staples and top-notch food.

With the idea of ‘who knows what tomorrow brings,’ here is my express list of groceries and pantry staples we grabbed and how I plan to use them:

  • Oven Roasted Chicken
  • Meatballs
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Lemon
  • Onion
  • Farro
  • Lentils
  • Pasta
  • Jarred Tomatoes
  • Parmigiano
  • Cheese
  • Baguette
  • Wine
  • Franciacorta – delicious sparkling wine
  • Caviar
  • Salmon

For the record—lentils and farro are my go to last-minute dinner staples.  Why?

  • They don’t need to be soaked
  • They can cook unattended
  • They cook in under 30 minutes
  • They are super versatile
  • They are delicious and nutritious

Now, faced with a bevy of incredible ingredients, dinner was simple. We cut the chicken in half and put it in the oven to warm up, set a pot of lentils, carrots, and onions to simmer on the stove, and made a bright and fresh salad of lettuce with olive oil, lemon juice and a hint of shaved parmigiano.  

In less than the time it would take to have a delicious, greasy pizza delivered we were sitting outside on a perfect fall night enjoying a glass of wine and a favorite cheese from the Pennsylvania-based Farm at Doe Run while our dinner was happily cooking.

That’s just half of my express shopping list.  What else is on my menu for this week?

  • Pasta with tomato sauce,  parmigiano and a green salad
  • Farro soup with onions, carrots and chicken
  • Baked Meatballs with lentils and roasted carrots

And for the night I really don’t want to cook at all?  I’m opening a bottle of Franciacorta, cracking open a tin of caviar and enjoying some locally cured Smoked Salmon from DC Smokehouse.  If I had really been thinking ahead I would have grabbed some yogurt, a dozen eggs and a pack of bacon—then I wouldn’t have to wake up on Saturday morning wondering what’s for breakfast!

 

It was Friday night at Via Umbria—the cafe was full of patrons enjoying dinner, guests in the wine room were engaged in ...

Inside the Galleria

The combination of a love for all that is art, those who produce art, and the concept that is Via Umbria all make for a very happy art curator of the Via Umbria Galleria! Put that all together and we have 3 years of of showcasing incredible art from both international and domestic artists in one of the most intimate and inviting galleries in Washington, D.C. I have had this fortunate opportunity to curate from the beginning when Via Umbria first opened.  It is always a wonderful surprise for the those wandering thru the shop, having a relaxing dinner, drinking fantastic Italian wine, or just hanging out with friends, when they open the door on the second floor terrace, and stumble upon the gallery!

Approximately every 6 weeks, a different artist opens a new show with an opening reception that kicks it off. These two hour receptions prove to be different every time making for a fun and educational experience. The artist is available to discuss the works being displayed with any that are interested. The artists clientele and friends, as well as many of our art loving customers all join us in making the evening or afternoon receptions a truly enjoyable time. All while viewing and enjoying the show, you are invited to have some prosecco and small bites coming directly from our kitchen across the terrace. These receptions are open to the public and free of charge. The gallery is also available for private events, and what better venue for your next party or gathering than one surrounded by original art produced by carefully selected and talented artists?

I love the process of finding the next artist and making the decision to show their work. The first meeting, getting promo work figured out together, installation and the opening reception gives me the opportunity to get to know the artist what they want out of their show.  It is a challenging and exciting process, as so much incredible art is out there! Having had everything from abstract expressionism to photo – realism, each show has its own unique feel and every artist their own unique personality. Returning guests will experience a different vibe each show! This is the excitement of art and artists that create. Every person has their own preference of art that they prefer, but opening the doors to new possibilities for them to is what I aim for and enjoy doing in the process.

Guests welcome for the duration of the show and all artist’s pieces are for sale. Don’t forget to check out this hidden gem, a very special part of Via Umbria, if you haven’t already!

The combination of a love for all that is art, those who produce art, and the concept that is Via Umbria all ...

Happy Father’s Day

Dad, Padre, Father, Papà, Babbo. Whatever you call him, he is that unique figure in your life who holds a special place in your heart: a father. Father’s Day, means something different to each and every one of us, and we’ve asked our staff to share some of their favorite memories with you!

Reflections from our Team:

Lindsey: “Best (and worst) thing my father ever thought me: if something isn’t funny the first time it definitely will be by the tenth.”

Rae: “My Dad is my Best friend!”

Antonio: “Mi Papá ha sido un gran maestra de la vida.”

Justin: “Mio padre è il mio idolo e voglio ancora diventare come lui.”

J’han: “He always had a story to make you laugh.”

Tammy: My Dad can make me laugh as much now as when I was little.”

Ron: “My Dad was the kindest person that I’ve ever met and I still want to grow up to be like him!”

Patrick: “My Dad eats like a horse, sings like a bird and drinks like a fish.”

Deyon: “ I am so happy to be both a Father and a Grandfather!”

Chris: “My Dad never turned down a chance to go outside to play”

Zach: “Without my Dad, I wouldn’t be as ready to take on the world”

Meg: “My Dad will do anything he can for his family”

Max: “My Dad would beat Chuck Norris up”

Julia: “My Dad is the life of any party”

Federico: “Mio padre sarà sempre il mio punto di rifermento”

Liam: “As a father myself..I hope to one day be as kind, strong and courageous as my father..I know no one is perfect, but in my eyes he sure was pretty damn close”

Rene: ”Es un buen tipo mi viejo”

Larry: “This is my first Father’s Day as a father and I am really looking forward to it!”

Scott: “My Dad taught me how to smoke [pork butt!]”

Lauren: “My Dad has always taught me the value in working hard and eating well.”

Suzy: “Growing up in Iowa, I thought the Presidential candidates went to everyone’s house for dinner.  Lorne’s passion for politics was addictive and is what brought me to DC. He was a great dad – I miss him every day.”

Bill:  “Everyone who ever encountered my dad, no matter how briefly, couldn’t help but know that he was an exceptional person.  Kind, friendly, caring and always engaging, he quietly set a very high bar for his four sons. One day, stopping by his summer mountain vacation home I found myself chatting for the first time with the couple who had cleaned his house for the past decade and at the end of our conversation the husband remarked to me, “you are exactly like your dad.”

No one has ever paid me higher compliment.

If you’re looking for a place to find that special gift for your Dad, visit us in Georgetown or shop our  online emporio.  We have lots of ways to celebrate together – join us for a special Father’s Day edition of our Brunch, cook together at one of our cooking classes, taste wine with us,  treat Dad to a night out at our Chef’s Table! And when you are heating up the barbecue – don’t forget to stop by our butcher counter to pick out the perfect cut of meat..

Dad, Padre, Father, Papà, Babbo. Whatever you call him, he is that unique figure in your life who holds a special place ...

An Umbrian Easter in DC

When our dear friends Marco Palermi and Chiara Cigogna come to Washington from Umbria, it might be an understatement to say that they bring the whole spirit of Umbria with them. With wit, warmth and wisdom, Marco and Chiara are the ideal ambassadors for this truly special region.

Marco and Chiara are well known to anyone who has visited our Umbrian farmhouse but for those who are unaware, they are Umbrians through and through and have built quite a following among the guests whom have they taken care of during their visits to Umbria.

But the true treasure of the green heart of Italy is its people and no one better represents Umbria than Marco and Chiara. We relish that their annual visit coincided with Easter this year as we get the opportunity to spend some time with these cultural ambassadors over a special Umbrian dinner at the chef’s table or at our traditional Umbrian Easter brunch.

But beyond their amazing personalities and hosting skills, their visit also means Umbrian delicacies are flying out of the Via Umbria kitchen at an even higher rate than usual! One of those specialties that is now available in our cafe, is the delicious Ciaramicola, pronounced Chara-mee-cola.

This special Easter cake is Umbrian to its core, and the tradition is that a woman would present this cake to her fiance on the morning of Easter Sunday,  But to be honest that traditional has been left in the dust because it is so good that everyone deserves the right to eat it!

So whether you join us around our communal table for Easter Brunch or Dinner with Marco and Chiara, or come in to the cafe to try some of their Umbrian delicacies, we guarantee you will be just as smitten as we are!

For the recipe for Ciaramicola, follow this link!

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When our dear friends Marco Palermi and Chiara Cigogna come to Washington from Umbria, it might be an understatement to say that they ...

Neal’s Yard Dairy

When most people think of cheese (and, well, food in general) they tend not to think of Britain. In fact, they tend to actively avoid the thought of food in Britain. To me, that’s a mistake. The days of mushy peas and over boiled everything are long gone and what better way to prove itl than to eat (and drink) my way through London. In addition to eating world-class meals and drinking numerous pints of beer, no ‘work’ trip to London would be complete without a stop at Neal’s Yard Dairy- a company that showcases, advances, and promotes a cheese tradition as old and varied as any on the continent.

Neal’s Yard Dairy began as named – a dairy in London purveying milk, eggs, and a small selection of fresh cheeses. After some time in the business, they realized there was a gap in the market in London and they began to seek out hard, aged cheeses to bring into the shop. In order to do this they reached out to small farms and producers throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland and as they built relationships with these farms and farmers their business grew.  Nowadays, this is the main focus of their business. The very lucky people at Neal’s Yard spend their days traveling the country and tasting cheeses right at the source so that they can select the best of the best to bring back to London and add their unique touch to their selection by finishing the aging process in their maturation facility.

Their carefully selected cheeses showcase and represent an age old tradition of cheeses including the big names and heavy hitters like cheddar (the OG cheddars from Somerset, England) and stilton, as well as some lesser known (but equally tasty) cheeses from throughout England. Many of these are named after the places they are made, much like a fine wine from France or Italy, and are called “territorials.” Others are more innovative, and create true competition and inspiration for the exploding artisanal cheese scene here in the States.

Visiting their facility was an incredible experience. They’ve just moved into a new space in South London (across the street from a pub, of course) and have rows on rows of wheels of cheese undergoing the last stages before heading out to their retail stores, London shops and restaurants, and (luckily for us) some across the pond. Upon entering the facility we were greeted by the amazing and ever charming Clara Melluish, offered tea and coffee, and then whisked away to visit the cheese. After donning jackets, hair nets, and shoe covers we were led into the storage facility- which was basically just a giant library with floor to ceiling shelves full of cheese. Though the sight is amazing, the smell is the first thing to hit you. A little bit earthy, a little bit funky, and incredibly tantalizing, the scents that come from having that many delicious cheesy morsels in one room was overwhelming in the best possible way. Fortunately we were not just there to look but to taste and taste we did. Row after row, cheese after cheese, Clara guided us through the process of selecting cheeses, bringing them back to age, and how to decide when they’re ready to go off into the world. We learned the differences between aging hard cheeses and aging soft cheeses, we did side by side tastings of two identical cheeses where one was washed in beer and the other was not, and we got to taste a cheese next to its twin sibling made in different size formats. It’s sometimes hard to remember that cheese is a living entity, that it takes in flavors from its surrounding as it’s changing textures from maturing but while you’re standing at the source the incredible magic and art of cheese is undeniable.

Don’t let us have all the fun! Due to all our hard (fun), taxing (exciting), and very serious (very delicious) work, we’re binging over some phenomenal cheeses for you next month. Trust me- you’ll thank us when the delivery arrives because we were able to pinpoint some amazing cheeses that will be close to their peak in flavor, texture, and general deliciousness when they arrive next month. Keep an eye out for our Neal’s Yard Dairy Cheese Board Special coming in April or join us for our April Cheese of the Month Club where we will be tasting and talking about some of our favorites from this trip.

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When most people think of cheese (and, well, food in general) they tend not to think of Britain. In fact, they tend ...

St. Patrick was Italian?

As you could probably guess from the title of this blog post, we are going to suggest an unpopular and rarely heard theory about St. Patrick or San Patrizio: His heritage means he is Italian!

Of course this theory is in jest and is more of an excuse for us to celebrate the holiday that holds his name and celebrates his importance to the island nation of Ireland. Just to give our theory some relevance, St. Patrick was born in modern day Britain, but was during his time, in fact, part of the Roman Empire. By our records, this means that he would be the descendant, like many modern Italians, of the Roman population.

But poor St. Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at a young age and taken to the neighboring island where he would go on to famously banish all snakes and use the three leaf clover as a way to teach about the Catholic Church.

Putting the boring history aside, we will be honoring this “Italian” historical figure with St. Patrick’s weekend specials in our cafe! Come in to enjoy:

Traditional Irish Scones with Currants

Roasted Pear and Cashel Blue Crostini

Prosciutto Cotto(Ham) with Braised Cabbage, Potatoes and  Parsley Sauce

Irish Cheese Board

Pitchers of Beer

 

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As you could probably guess from the title of this blog post, we are going to suggest an unpopular and rarely heard ...

MELT!

Our annual MELT Fondue Fest is a good excuse for us at Via Umbria to throw a party and celebrate one of our favorite foods: Cheese! This was our 3rd year of hosting and we changed the cheese to keep the event fresh and fun. This years cheese extravaganza focused on 4 signature melted cheese dishes:

1)Italian Fonduta–  Melted Fontina Val D’Aosta with Grappa
2) Queso Blanco– Melted Queso Blanco with Jack Cheese, Cumin, Green Chiles and Cayenne
3) Alpine Fondue– Classic Melted Gruyere
4) Carnaroli Risotto-Carnaroli Risotto Made in a wheel of Grana Padano

Each cheese was also specially paired with a beer or wine to perfectly compliment it’s flavors.  Below you will find some of our favorite shots of this year’s event, and if you weren’t able to attend then we look forward to seeing you next year!

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Our annual MELT Fondue Fest is a good excuse for us at Via Umbria to throw a party and celebrate one of ...

Meatballs!

Since I have been cooking regional Italian food  professionally for quite some time, the dreaded request from guests…“why don’t you have spaghetti and meatballs on your menu”   inevitably rears its ugly head. It has become a topic of “conversation” at almost every Italian restaurant that either I have had the pleasure of being the Executive Chef or I have owned.  Don’t get me wrong..I love Spaghetti and Meatballs, my Irish mother makes fantastic Spaghetti and Meatballs, and it is something I remember requesting for my birthday when my mom would take requests for Birthday dinners.  However, I never put it on the menu at any restaurant…and this is why: There’s no such thing as Spaghetti and Meatballs in Italy. Never has, never will. When I think of the many outstanding regional specialties of Italy I wonder “why do people feel that it should be on the menu at an Italian restaurant?”

Maybe, sometimes….”Spaghetti just likes to be alone” a line from my favorite movie Big Night so poignantly states.

Then I remember…that going to a restaurant can bring back many memories for people. When we gather around a table, inevitably, the center of attention is the food, and somehow if it all comes together the food can bring us back to a simpler time when we all enjoyed each others company instead of checking how many “likes” you received on your latest Facebook post.  And of course Spaghetti and Meatballs can bring back those memories for many of us. It does for me. I come from a large Italian/Irish family and I vividly remember the smell of the meatballs cooking in olive oil, the hint of garlic simmering and that unique smell of the “macaroni” as my father called it boiling in the salted water.   And really that is what it is all about. It may not be truly Italian…but it is Italian American and for that reason I now put it on some menus.

I however will not serve my meatballs with Spaghetti, I prefer Orecchiette. When portioning the meatballs, make them the size of a ping pong ball, not too big so they don’t dry out.  The recipe I have posted are for meatballs made in the Pugliese style, a lot of fresh herbs, Pecorino cheese and red wine take these meaty orbs to another level.  Enjoy with a bold glass of Negroamaro from Puglia and finish off with some Amaro and then you can create new memories.

To see the full recipe for Pugliese Meatballs, click here!

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Since I have been cooking regional Italian food  professionally for quite some time, the dreaded request from guests...“why don’t you have spaghetti ...

An Umbrian Valentine

Banner-San-ValentinoValentine’s Day is taken very seriously here at Via Umbria, not only because of what it represents, but also because of the history behind the holiday. Not many people know that the true San Valentino hails from our beautiful Umbria. While not a lot is known about the historical figure in relation to his life, we know that he was born in Terni, Umbria which is about an hour away from our Fattoria Del Geso in Cannara. He was a pioneer of the Christian community in Terni and is considered the first Bishop of the area but was persecuted for his religious beleifs and was eventually executed by the Emperor in Rome. The relic of his skull rests in Rome at the church of Santa Maria (pictured below) while the rest of his body was taken back to be buried in Terni.
 

As the official ambassadors of Umbria here in Washington D.C., we have taken it upon ourselves to carry on San Valentino’s name and traditions.  We have been celebrating all month long and if you are still searching for something to pick up for that special someone in your life, come by the store and we will get you squared away. If it is the traditional chocolate gift that interests you, we have you covered with many creative and delicious chocolates. If you want to give a gift that is outside the (heart shaped) box, consider coming in for some of our cured meats, specialty cheeses, imported wines or even some of our amazing coffee.
 

If you can’t make it in to the store, check out our online shop for all your Via Umbria needs!
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Via Umbria!
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Valentine's Day is taken very seriously here at Via Umbria, not only because of what it represents, but also because of the ...

Erin’s Thoughts: Right is Wrong?

A question in the restaurant industry that has been up for debate for years: which is the correct way to serve and clear each guest’s place settings? Is it better to serve and clear the guest’s dishes from the left or from the right?

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Some go by “service on the left, clearing on the right”, which originated from when butlers would present food to their guests on the left side. The guest would then either take food from what the butler had showcased or the butler would serve them but both would be served on the right side. This is also thought to be less intrusive to guests as more people are right handed than left handed; therefore, you won’t be reaching over your guest to deliver their meal.

Others seem to believe that “service and clearing from the right” is the correct way to serve. This is because wine is always served on the right as the wine glasses are set on the right side above the plate. The only food that should be presented on the left is bread because each guest’s bread plate is on the left.

I personally have seen servers do a little bit of both but I think it all comes down to whatever the guest is comfortable with. Every server’s goal is to make the diner happy and to make the overall experience pleasant.

And although there are many ways to serve, we here at Via Umbria think that it is most important to enjoy your meal, your company, and your dining experience. If you haven’t already been to an event or dinner at Via Umbria, I highly recommend that you do so you can see what we’re all about! We have so many different options to offer; whether it be a delectable meal at one of our Chef’s Table dinners, eating a quick lunch or dinner in our Cafe, or attending one of our many cooking or cocktail classes. Come hungry and we’ll do the rest from there!

A question in the restaurant industry that has been up for debate for years: which is the correct way to serve and ...

Don’t Stub Your Toe!

Banner-San-ValentinoValentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because I love chocolate (although, if we’re being real, that doesn’t hurt) but because of the idea of doing something special for the special people in your life. Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always a bigger occasion in our house than in many. My parents would get up early to cook an enormous breakfast: eggs, bacon, waffles, strawberries, english muffins, regular muffins, donuts, and did I mention bacon? We would wake up just a little earlier than we did on a regular school day and all sit down together to enjoy our meal- at the end of which my father would reach behind his back and ‘spontaneously’ present us each with gifts. Always a card, a thoughtfully picked out card with a personalized message of love, appreciation, and advice (don’t stub your toe!), always a small box of chocolates, and always a little something extra he had picked out just for us.

 

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People often complain that Valentine’s Day is a “commercial holiday” or a “Hallmark holiday” which I’m not here to deny. The idea that children are required to bring tiny scraps of paper with more candy than any of their peers should eat attached to it to school on February 14th every year is a little silly. The fact that it’s impossible to get a decent reservation at any restaurant during the entire week of Valentines day- whether it’s because they’re overbooked with couples or because they’re forcing an overpriced ‘Valentine’s’ themed menu on you is frustrating. And for sure the idea that Valentine’s Day is the one day you need to profess your love to someone is simply Hollywood nonsense.

But if you take it a step back, strip it down to its basic parts, why should we not revel in the chance to tell the special people in our lives that they matter? The key is to find the right way to do it. The tradition of a greeting card and a box of heart shaped chocolates is tired but that doesn’t mean the holiday has to be. For my family, Valentine’s Day was never about hearts, cards, and horseshoes but about taking the time to celebrate each other with one another on what would otherwise be a regular day of the week. For yours it might be about finally treating yourselves to those gorgeous place settings you’ve been eyeing for months and creating an exceptional dinner to plate on them. Or taking time out of your busy schedules to roll up your sleeves and take a cooking class together.  Or even just sharing a relaxing evening at home with the perfect bottle of wine. Whatever you choose to do, take advantage of the opportunity to treat the important people in your life to something special.  

If you’re looking for ideas for what to do, for something off the beaten path stop in and ask us- we’re happy to help you brainstorm ways to make this holiday as fun and memorable for you as it has always been for us.

Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not because I love chocolate (although, if we’re being real, that doesn’t ...