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?
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!
I was fortunate to be born to two amazing people. My parents raised all of us to be confident that we could do anything and to always feel comfortable speaking up. We enjoyed dinner together every night with lively discussions around the table. As children we were meant to be seen and heard.
My parents were leaders in all they did and they passed on a strong sense of family and community to all of us. My mother came from a large family – I have 41 first cousins on her side. Whether it meant babysitting for my younger cousins for free or having family live with us in hard times – we took care of each other. We always had room for everyone My mother would throw huge elaborate parties for business and for us kids. We loved hearing a knock on the door signalling that someone was driving by and wanted to drop in. We never ran out of food at the table or space for someone who needed to crash. Sometimes as an adult it is tough staying friends with my relatives on Facebook – but the memories of playing football and cards together balances out their crazy political positions.
My father was the youngest state senator ever elected to office in Iowa and went on to hold many political positions and ran for Governor in the ‘70’s. We knew from a young age that our behavior would reflect on our parents. It was not an option for us to misbehave or get into trouble. So minor infractions like being 5 minutes late on curfew or neglecting to unload the dishwasher were the biggest trouble we got into (boy were my folks lucky). As Iowans we were used to seeing all of the presidential candidates around town – as Worthington’s we were used to seeing all the Democratic candidates around our kitchen table. Dad was pretty influential and it was important to get his early support. So while other kids would be playing video games (like Pong) I was knocking on doors collecting peanuts for Carter.
My passion for politics lead me to DC. I loved Iowa, but after visiting Georgetown as a teen-ager – I knew that DC had my heart. No longer collecting peanuts for Carter – I was part of a new, inspired Fundraising team with the audacious goal of raising $12 million for Walter Mondale. The money was raised (really does seem like peanuts today) but unfortunately was not enough and we suffered the biggest political landslide in history. It wasn’t enough to discourage me – and the upside was that I made a best friend who became my husband. The family back in Iowa had heard me talk throughout the election about my buddy Menard – they hadn’t met him but clearly liked him. Toward the end of the campaign when I started talking about my new boyfriend Bill – there was some slight hesitation and disappointment. Cleared up easily when I started referring to my new beau as Bill Menard. At least something good came out of that election
We continued to work in politics and made many friends over our wins and losses. Today it is strange to see friends we knew in their 20’s & 30’s become Top Level Advisors and Party Leaders.
After much thought we decided to start a family in Washington – we were both hooked on the city. Austin was born the summer after our big Dukakis loss (again – at least something good came out of that election!) We decided to take a break from politics – Bill started at Georgetown Law and I decided to stay home with Austin. I have always felt fortunate that I had the choice of working outside of the home or staying home. I was one happy housewife. Lindsey was born just shy of Austin’s second birthday. We had two great kids, Bill was working at a big firm downtown, we were making new friends in our neighborhood. Life was Good. Why not make it better – we had always talked about having a big family with the number of kids ever changing – but we definitely wanted to have more. We were surprised, frightened and excited when we discovered that we were expecting twins. Identical boys – Teddy and Davis.
Bringing the twins home to a house with a three year old and not quite five year old was probably the most daunting task of my life. But as always we settled into a routine that worked. With so many children running around there was no chance of just one of us raising the children – it was all hands on deck. If someone offered to help out I never said no. Bill has always been a great dad and involved in the kids lives. Its truly been a partnership raising our kids.
We have had several adventures in Italy over the years. After Bill’s first year at law school he signed up for summer school in Florence. We had a little apartment on the other side of the Arno. Bill would take the bus to Fiesole to study American Constitutional Law in the mornings and Austin and I would explore Florence. Visiting the parks and public pool, shopping and eating a lot of Gelato. Bill would finish class and we would leave Austin home with my cousing who was traveling with us and Bill and I would go out discovering Florence. Over the three months there we met several Italian friends who we are still in touch with today. Bill proudly graduated Law school with Lindsey on his shoulder a proud father and JD.
When the twins were turning 5 we took all four children to Italy. We were in the Cinque Terre and took cooking classes with a local Chef who was fabulous. It was the early stages of the internet and he was a big early believer. He promoted his courses with great success online and wanted to set up a small company where he could provide extra virgin olive oil, traditional balsamic vinegar and coffee to his clients in the states. Always looking for a challenge – we immediately agreed to work with him and went through the process of figuring out how to import food products from Italy.
When this hobby turned into more of a full time responsibility we had the option to shut down or go all in with a bricks and mortar store. Never one to walk away from a challenge we set our sights high and joined forces with good friends to open up Bella Italia in Bethesda. Now we were really learning how to import products from Italy.
Our trips to Italy became more focused and we travelled throughout Italy finding new products and meeting new families who were passionate about their craft. Eating, drinking, and shopping became my full time job. The more we travelled the more people we met and the more we became rooted in Umbria. Several of the artists we were doing business with had become part of our family. All trips to Italy had a stop in Umbria. When we decided to buy a home in Italy – there was no doubt that we would buy in Umbria. And as a result our Italian family has expanded. Zia Augusta joined us for Teddy’s graduation, our oldest son Simone calls me Mommy, and of course we practically kidnapped Jennifer and her two children last spring when we were short in the kitchen. When we visit in Italy we have friends and neighbors (our family) who will drop by with a piece of cheese they saw at the market and wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to try or stop by for a drink and stay for dinner.
Our summer dinner parties in Italy are a blast – often introducing our Italian neighbors to each other. Their talents, their commitment to their art, their promise to continuing tradition is inspiring and makes us return to DC wanting to shout from the rooftops – come and see what these amazing people have done.
I am fortunate to have met my partner in life at a young age. Hard to believe it will be 32 years in December. Raising four kids together was a challenge – running a business 24/7 is an even bigger challenge! Only possible remembering at the end of the day we love each other and we love what we do.
Anyone who knows me knows that I use a lot of inappropriate words. The only word to me that is truly inappropriate is NO. When we began the buildout of Via Umbria our vision was confusing to others. Contractors and Architects are used to cookie cutter projects – is it a Restaurant? Is it a Market? Is it a Cafe? Can you sell wine? By design we are a bit of everything – an Italian Village under one roof. It truly is the reflection of all of our many amazing experiences in Italy and a tribute to the incredible artisans, chefs, winemakers, and people we have met there. It took a lot of patience and a lot of guidance to create the feel that we wanted. And then came the permitting – DC is definitely used to cookie cutter projects and there is no permit for “Italian Village under one roof”. But we knew what we wanted to create and weren’t willing to give up until we found the permits that we needed.
Now the task of building a team to work with us who shared our vision. Finding a team who believe in what we are doing is no easy task. But over time and with a lot of on the spot learning we have created our Italian home in Georgetown. Going from Bethesda with a staff of 4-5 to Georgetown with a staff of 40 was a challenge.
Walking into the store today puts a smile on my face – I am greeted with a Buongiorno and I see people taking care of people. I love the people I work with.
Via Umbria is a family business. Our kids are all involved in some way. The boys clock in when they are in town visiting and they spent two weeks this summer travelling around Italy with Bill meeting old friends and discovering new producers. Our daughter Lindsey works with us full time. Who better to look out for the store than family? Lindsey grew up visiting Italy, she knows the families and she definitely knows the products. She is my daughter and my best friend. She is the perfect sounding board. She is my fashion consultant and my voice of reason. She is a talented young woman and I feel blessed to have her running the business alongside us.
Suzy’s Words of Wisdom:
Think outside the box
Treat people with respect
Everyone is family
Set Expectations High
Speak your mind
Always take the risk
Love with your whole heart
Never say No
At Via Umbria there are no secrets when it comes to sharing our love of cocktails. Our Mixologist Matt Demma is the “professional”, but our cafe staff has lots of experience and can seriously whip up a mean drink. While I like to think of myself as a pseudo-professional, I’m more of a self-proclaimed alcohol aficionado.
In our nation’s capital, the first week of June is dedicated to the Negroni. Another great reason to live in DC. To celebrate Negroni Week we are throwing a storewide event where Campari meets Party: Camparti.
Who/What is Campari?
Gruppo Campari is a company based in Milan that makes awesome spirits. Most notably
Campari and Aperol. Campari is a beautiful red, bitter liqueur and probably the world’s best known apéritivo (side note: an apéritivo is a liqueur meant to be drunk before the meal to aid in digestion). Since 1860, for over 150 years the Campari recipe has been untouched, unchanged. Aperol is Campari’s younger, flirtier sister. With a rich orange color, less bitter it is changing the Apéritivo scene across Italy and here in the States.
What is a Negroni?
A little background for those who do not know: the Negroni is a classic Italian Cocktail made with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari or Aperol garnished with an orange peel. As an avid gin drinker and Italophile, the Negroni is everything I ask for in a drink: strong and bitter.
Dating as far back as the beginning of the 20th century, the Negroni has been a staple cocktail across Italy. Many variations of this drink have been crafted, however the truest Negroni you’ll ever get is made with gin, sweet vermouth, and most importantly Campari (without Campari the Negroni would never have been conceived).
What is this deliciousness called a Spritz?
Around the same time the Negroni surfaced in Italy, another lesser-known (equally-as-good-if-not-better) apéritivo was concocted: Aperol. In 1919, the Italians swooned over this orange liqueur and by the 1950s Aperol had made its mark with the “3,2,1 Spritz” recipe. As any bottle of Aperol could tell you. Magic, this drink is pure magic I tell you: very refreshing, good for any occasion…Brunch, Lunch, Happy Hour, Dinner, beyond. Love for Aperol and the Spritz spread like wildfire across Italy. Yet for 150 years Campari has owned the apéritivo market, so much so that Gruppo Campari acquired the rights and recipe to Aperol in 2003. Now, this unstoppable duo inspires a variety cocktails essential to the core of Italian lifestyle.
Negroni Week – Who Knew?
As the unofficial ambassadors of Umbria to Georgetown, Negroni Week is the perfect opportunity for us to share our love of cocktails combined with our appreciation and understanding of the Italian lifestyle. Although we do celebrate these apéritivos on a regular basis with our Spritz O’Clock menu in the cafe, Camparti is our way of celebrating all of our favorite Negroni and Spritz secrets. When I realized our latest catch phrase became “It’s Always Spritz O’Clock!” I just knew we were the right venue to host Camparti. From the Negroni to Aperol Cotton Candy, this Campari Party will have it all! We’ll have different stations featuring variations on the Negroni and a full Negroni/Spritz bar with drinks made to order.
Rolling out the red carpet, last Thursday we joined forces with three other local businesses, here in Georgetown, to create an experience like no other. With gorgeous gowns from Signature Dresses and Lili the First, breathtaking hair and makeup done by Illusions Salon of Georgetown, this fashion show was not really about the looks. Rather, to us Strong Women in Fashion was more than just a fashion show, it was a way for us and our collaborators to reach out and give back to the community. All proceeds from the event, including ticket sales, were donated to Suited for Change. For those who do not know, Suited for Change is the leading nonprofit organization that provides professional attire, mentoring, and job-readiness skills to women seeking financial independence in the DC area. Overall we want our message to be clear: Female Empowerment. Uniquely yet unsurprisingly, the four businesses that collaborated to create this event are owned by women. As the idea for this event sprouted, the owners began to ask themselves, what does it mean to be a strong woman? Every person you ask will give you a different answer, but we agreed across the board that a strong woman is someone who believes in herself and believes that nothing can hold her back. In fashion, the runway is the epitome of strength, all eyes are on the model, what she is wearing, and how she wears it. And in life, clothing has the innate ability to empower women; when she looks fierce she feels fierce, and when she feels fierce she is fierce. For this fashion show we did not go out and hire runway models, instead we found women that everyone can relate to: DC Fashion and Lifestyle bloggers. These bloggers are the women we take the final word from regarding what to do, what to wear, and where to eat. Truthfully, any woman could have strutted her stuff down our red carpet runway, and that was the point. Strong Women in Fashion was never about us, it was and still is about the people we can inspire.
There isn’t a single event at Via Umbria that I don’t look forward to but the Ivy City Smoked Salmon tasting particularly piqued my interest. I know I’m not alone that for me and my family, smoked salmon is a kind of simple luxury. We enjoy smoked salmon by itself as a snack or for breakfast in our bagels or for dinner in a salad or a pasta. Our affinity for smoked salmon can let us tell you that not all brands are created equal which made Ivy City’s appearance much more intriguing.
It was an intimate event which fostered intimate connections. I was seated next to some Via Umbria regulars, and by regulars I mean almost daily customers, whom I had been acquainted with before. As always, conversation flowed freely while we noshed samples of five of Ivy City’s smoked fish paired with a variety of spreads, my favorite of which was a creamy goat’s milk butter. An Ivy City rep explained to us the kinds of salmon we would be tasting which was an educational experience in and of itself. I did not even know there was such a thing as hot and cold smoking!
The salmon itself was divine which makes it no surprise that Via Umbria has started carrying it. Three in particular stood out to me; the traditional smoked salmon was superb and as someone who appreciates the classics, I wondered as soon as it hit my lips if there was any way I could send this to my mother who lives 2,000 miles away. This is the kind of salmon that you want on a Sunday morning when you want to feel decadent without leaving the comfort of your home. The other two surprised me, one that had hints of dill and the Ivy City signature “Salmon Candy” which carried notes of honey without being overly sweet. The savoriness of the salmon and the honey played so well together that I only wish I could have more.
If you missed the tasting and are in the neighborhood please stop by to take a look at the Ivy City products Via Umbria has started carrying. You will never regret an opportunity to let what Via Umbria has to offer meet your taste buds.
It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy. A complex of food businesses (described by Anthony Bourdain as “an empire”), Roscioli is a family affair built over 4 generations that started with a renowned bakery, and now includes a wildly popular salumeria, ristorante, caffe/pasticceria and more recently the Rimessa and wine club. Roscioli built its reputation on unrivaled quality and the breadth of their offerings. They have been recognized through features in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller and even garnered a visit by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations.
For the past several years they have sought to meet the customer where he is through a program of curated tastings they call Rimessa Roscioli. Sommelier Alessandro Pepe and a team of top rated food and wine experts lead small groups on food and wine tastings in a relaxed, casual setting that they describe as “an educational and convivial lab.” We think it describes perfectly Via Umbria.
When we first met the acquaintance of Alessandro and his partner, American born ex-pat Lindsay Gabbard, we were immediately struck by just how similar our passions were. They, like us, love food and wine because they can create connections between strangers. And they strongly believe that food and particularly wine, can and should be “democratic.” Although an expert sommelier, Alessandro scoffs at wine tastings where the conversation focuses on arcane trivia such as malolactic fermentation. Enjoying wine and getting in touch with your own tastes and sharing that with others is the what sommelier should strive to teach and it is precisely what Alessandro and Lindsay have been doing for the past decade.
Rimessa Roscioli is taking their show on the road and coming to Washington, DC and for one night Via Umbria is honored to be hosting them, preparing a special evening of food and wine tasting in the company of these fascinating and engaging people. Limited seating is available on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be unforgettable – a small group tasting around a communal table featuring eight hand selected wines paired with a dozen small tastes, including a pasta dish and a dessert and lots of conversation and enjoyment. This is a rare one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience and savor true, authentic flavors imported directly from Italy by one of Rome’s most respected sommeliers. Tickets, which are non-refundable must be purchased in advance and can be bought online or at Via Umbria.
Ready to pack your masks and fly to Venice? No worries if you can’t make it to the other end of the world for a weekend, because we are here to give you the real Carnevale experience (without the long flight)!
To give a little bit of background, Carnevale is the final celebration before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. During the 40 days of Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penance – hence, people have to get rid of all of their rich food and drink (and partying of course!) out of the way before then. In fact, it is often rumored that the word Carnevale itself may have derived from the Latin words “carne” and “vale”, meaning “farewell to meat”!
Although there have been some interruptions and political bans throughout years, Italians started celebrating Carnevale in the 13th century. Traditionally, the fanciest and most glamorous celebrations take place in Ivrea, Viareggio, Putignano, Acireale and -of course- in Venezia! Today, Carnevale di Venezia is celebrated for two weeks by about 3 million tourists from all over the world, and is best known for its elegant masks. Even though many events- especially the most glamorous masquerade balls- are invite only and have expensive ticket prices, many others such as the concerts and street performances are free and open to public.
Have you already started feeling upset that you are missing this exciting and trendy festival? There is no reason to! Luckily, Via Umbria is hosting a Carnevale Celebration, a raucous party featuring all-you-can-eat Carnevale foods and special Carnevale cocktails. Join us for food, fun and masquerade and cut loose as we count down the days toward Lent.
You guys. I have a serious relationship with British cheeses. This will come as no shock to those of you who have either read my blog posts or visited my counter – I’ve made my love known far and wide. Growing up with an English mother whose parents had a farm in the Yorkshire Dales, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the roots of this relationship formed. Couple that with Via Umbria’s partnership with famed British cheese shop/affineur/exporter, Neal’s Yard Dairy – a partnership that has given me and my lovely customers access to the best that Britain has to offer – and my love of these curds from the UK has damn near become an obsession.
A very large portion of this love is dedicated to the one cheese that opened my eyes to the wonders of blue mold – Stilton. Creamy yet crumbly, powerful yet approachable, good on its own or incorporated into recipes, this beautiful blue cheese was my gateway blue. And no time of year makes me crave it more than holiday time.
Growing up, my family and I would celebrate Christmas with my English grandparents. My sisters and I looked forward to it for months – an hours-long feast that included caviar canapes, duck à l’orange or roasted pheasant, my granny’s famous roasted potatoes, and Christmas pudding served with copious amounts of rum butter. The meal was so lengthy and full of so many delicious things, that we’d have to play games between courses in order to make room for the next culinary delight. As with many a British Christmas, however, no Christmas meal was complete without a very large hunk of Stilton served with port. It was heaven.
So what is Stilton? Named for the town of Stilton, this quintessentially British cheese can trace its roots all the way back to the 18th century, although research shows that it was a very different product then than it is now. The first descriptions of Stilton cheese describe it as more of a cream cheese with no blue veining whatsoever. Over time, however, it evolved into the classic blue beauty that we know and love today.
Now a protected food, there are restrictions on cheeses that bear the Stilton name – it must be produced in one of three counties (either Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire), be made with local pasteurized milk, have a naturally rinded cylindrical shape, not be pressed, and of course, have blue veins. Even if a wheel meets all of these requirements, however, it still may not make the cut. Every wheel must be graded and pass a quality test before being dubbed “Stilton”. If a wheel doesn’t pass muster, it must be sold simply as “blue cheese”.
Even though about a million wheels of Stilton are made every year, there are only six dairies that are licensed to make this classic blue. At Via Umbria, our Stiltons are made by Colston Bassett Dairy in Nottinghamshire, and hand selected by our friends at Neal’s Yard Dairy. Founded in 1913, Colston Bassett has been making Stilton for over 100 years, and has only had 4 different cheesemakers during that period. As Jason Hinds, Sales Director at Neal’s Yard Dairy, puts it, “With only four cheesemakers in the last one hundred years, Colston Bassett has maintained a tradition and quality of cheesemaking that is unparalleled in the Stilton world. It is the only Stilton that Neal’s Yard Dairy has carried for the last thirty three years.” And if it’s good enough for Jason Hinds, you better believe that you have a seriously good cheese on your hands.
All of this to say: Colston Bassett Stilton is Via Umbria’s December cheese of the month! Come and join us next Wednesday at 7:30pm for our December Cheese Party, and jump into the holiday season by tasting this fantastic piece of British tradition.
So you guys, it’s official – summer is finally over. And I, for one, am THRILLED. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some 4th of July fireworks, grilled meats, and summer-only cheeses paired with some gorgeous tomatoes or cucumbers. Those are all lovely things. Add in some chilled rose, and I’m a pretty darn happy camper.
All that being said, I decidedly do not love the hot, sticky, sweaty, mosquito-y weather that DC calls summertime. Holy moly. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love living here, but this little swamp-town known as our nation’s capitol is pretty darn unbearable from June until about halfway through October. Woof.
But it’s over! It’s finally over! And with the weather graciously subsiding, not only are wardrobes changing – oh hey there sweaters, scarves, and boots! – but tastebuds are starting to change as well. When the temperature starts dropping and leaves start falling, bigger, bolder flavors that are just too darn much in the oppressive heat suddenly seem incredibly appealing.
Which leads me to one of my all-time favorite cheeses: aged gouda. For me, fall means it’s time for some butterscotchy, nutty, salty/sweet aged gouda. And no one does aged gouda better than L’Amuse.
Let me back up for a moment – what is gouda? Strictly speaking, gouda is a cow’s milk cheese made with washed curds that traditionally hails from the Netherlands. Actually, the name “Gouda” comes from a town of the same name where the cheese was originally traded. This is about as specific as gouda gets, though. The name itself is not protected, so when you see the word “gouda” on a package, it can mean many different things. It can come from different places, be aged for varying degrees of time, be made from different milks – all things that lead to very different flavor profiles and/or textures.
So how do you know if the gouda you’re buying is the right one for you? How do you know you’re not going to end up with plastic wrapped, pre-sliced, rubbery cheese that tastes like fake smoke? My answer is the same one I pretty much give in any cheesy situation: talk to your cheesemonger. It’s our job to find the best cheeses around and then pair you with the right one.
Now, some of you may be asking yourselves – but how do we find these delicious cheeses? Well, in the case of the gouda that I carry, the answer is simple: I turn to Essex St. Cheese Co. For those of you who read my blog post about feta way back in July, that name will sound familiar – this team of fantastic importers provides the Via Umbria counter with their fabulous feta, as well as manchego, and gouda. To refresh you guys on what Essex St. does, I turn to my previous post: “Rather than importing many different types of cheese, Essex finds the best of the best and brings in only a handful of cheeses, with each type only having one producer. Their bar is extremely high.”
Not only is this high bar met, but I dare say that it’s exceeded by the goudas coming out of L’Amuse Fromagerie in Santpoort-Noord. L’Amuse is owned and operated by master-cheesemonger and affineur Betty Koster – I had the privilege of meeting Betty during CMI and not only is she amazing at what she does, but she can also only be described as thoroughly warm and decidedly delightful.
But back to the cheese – for their Signature Gouda, the L’Amuse team hand-selects cheeses from the Cono cheesemaking plant in the northern Netherlands, and then ages them to perfection over the course of 2 years. Instead of aging them at cooler temperatures, as is done with most traditionally aged goudas, Betty keeps them at mid-temperature in order to develop fully rounded flavors. And oh man, what flavors develop! Butterscotch, caramel, toasted hazelnuts, and cream are all ensconced in this dense yet velvety paste.
In case you hadn’t already guessed it, L’Amuse Signature Gouda will be Via Umbria’s November cheese of the month, and I couldn’t be more excited! Please join us for our monthly Cheese Party next Wednesday, November 2nd, to not only taste this unbelievable cheese, but to also learn about it from Essex St. educational director, the wonderful and talented Rachel Juhl! It’s going to be a fantastic evening that you don’t want to miss.
In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each other, their land, and their culture stand out. For me, there is no place in which this authenticity stands out more than around the dinner table. When I think back on the many (many) meals that I have enjoyed in Umbria, each one is colored with the rosy glow of being surrounded by strangers turned friends and friends turned family, all sharing stories, wine, and food and all living in the moment. The food is simple yet exquisite, the company is fascinating yet unassuming, and the conversation is energetic yet relaxed; every day brings a new experience and every night is a celebration. A visit to Umbria is truly an opportunity to experience authenticity in all aspects of what it means to be Italian.
This is the feeling that drives much of what we do at Via Umbria. We have created a space for friends and neighbors to meet, to eat, and to relax. A place to showcase the work of the amazing artisans of Italy, from ceramicists to winemakers, and to introduce their products and their stories to a new community. Above all, however, we are determined to recreate the feeling of sitting around a dinner table in Umbria- sharing food, telling stories, and creating memories- and from this the Laboratorio was born.
From the communal style seating to the open kitchen format, every aspect of the Laboratorio was designed with the Umbrian experience in mind. The space was created to be open, to be flexible, and to be interactive; in short it is our Laboratory, our space to explore and to create. For those of you who have yet to join us for dinner imagine it like this: take one part dinner party, add in one part of your favorite cooking show, one part wine tasting, and combine those together with a beautiful setting and an engaged group of friends and neighbors sharing a unique and unforgettable experience and you may start to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
But as with all things, the best way to truly understand is to see it for yourself. Join us for dinner Thursday – Saturday night, or for brunch on Sunday for an unforgettable feast in our demonstration kitchen. Enjoy a Thursday night Demo and Dinner and let Chef Johanna Hellrigl teach you her favorite recipes from all over Italy before retiring to the communal table to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Visit us on a Friday night for a CYOB Dinner and let us teach you about a selection of wines from our unique cellar during a guided tasting before choosing your favorite bottle (or bottles) to accompany your meal. For the wine lovers, I encourage you to join us on a Saturday night for a Wine and Dine dinner where each of four courses is paired with a unique wine chosen and discussed by our experienced wine staff. And for those of you who crave relaxation at the end of your week, we welcome you to our Sunday Bottomless Bellini Brunch. No matter the format, no matter the day, a meal spent around our table will be one to remember.
“Et tu Brute?” I gasp dramatically, clutching my chest and looking wistfully out as I collapse on the steps of the Roman senate, taking the fabled and famed Shakespearean line and bringing it to vivid and dramatic life. Or at least I thought so.
When I graduated from college, I took some time off to travel across Europe. One of my stops was Rome, and on a walking tour with people from my hostel, the tour guide mentioned that these were the steps where Julius Caesar was thought to have been stabbed. Now, I couldn’t very well pass up that opportunity, and so, clearly, I didn’t. Theatrical deaths had always been this English major’s personal favorite after all.
Fast forward four years and here I am, at Via Umbria, taking part in a Roman-themed murder mystery dinner party. And what a party it was! True to form, I got to play an intriguing character (I won’t name any names), who so luckily for me was that unlucky soul cruelly murdered halfway through dinner. I took my cue (the lights shutting off), and once more allowed my inner diva to take over as I fell to the floor, pausing momentarily to gasp, one hand pressed to my heart, the other reaching forward as my laurel wreath fell off my head.
My flair for the dramatic however, was more than topped by the amazing guests we had turn up to last Tuesday’s “Terror in a Toga” murder mystery dinner party. False identities, three courses of feasting and feuding, and head-to-toe Roman garb made this dinner party a night to remember. As we sat at the table, fully enthralled with the characters around us, we experienced this story come to life with each accusation, question, or declaration of love and fealty. Accompanying this plot of intrigue was a meal worthy of the Roman Senate, and the only time there was silence on this raucous evening was when the food momentarily pulled us away from the ‘whodunnit?’of it all.
Bribery (with our Roman coins), backstabbing and bardic soliloquies were strongly encouraged, and very well received. This evening thrived because the guests were toga-lly down to party ancient Roman style: with delicious food, gladiator fights and of course a healthy dose of intrigue.
So, what do you get when you mix a room full of strangers with false identities, good food and a selection of Italian wines to dazzle? Your new favorite Tuesday night activity of course! For those of you who missed it this time around, definitely keep your eye on our calendar for the next Murder Mystery Dinner Party, and sign up to get your chance to act, eat and laugh your heart out. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even get a chance to one-up my delightfully dramatic dying skills. Maybe.
Hamburgers–where do I begin? I could try to define one, but I’d probably get bogged down in some long-winded debate filled with righteous anger over whether or not a hamburger is a sandwich or not (which, for the record, it is). Instead, let’s start with the fact that because of its name we know where it comes from: Hamburg, Germany… except, not really. While it is true that in Hamburg, at least at that time, ground beef patties were common, they were not typically eaten between slices of bread, or inside of a bun. Then, with German immigration into the United States, people from Hamburg (who, incidentally would be called Hamburgers in German) brought with them this patty tradition and adapted it in their new homes, by putting on bread and topping it with cheese, vegetables, and other goodies. (As an aside, this is one of my favorite methods of “American adaptations” to foreign cuisine: taking someone else’s food and putting it between slices of bread. Next time you’re chomping down on your Philly-style Italian hoagie, or your New Orleans muffaletta, think about the lovely antipasti plate your sandwich could have been!) Of course, the burger exploded in a way the muffaletta did not. From dollar menu “burgers” at McDonalds, to the late night burgers at your local brewpub, to the myriad of trendy fast casual chains with names that must have been funny to someone, you can find a hamburger anywhere, topped with anything, and at just about any level of quality imaginable.
That begs the question, what makes a burger good? An easy trap to fall into is to assume that a burger is as good as its toppings. Sure, good toppings can cover up cheap meat, and make for a decent sandwich, but for a truly balanced burger: don’t forget the meat! When it’s all said and done, the better the quality of your meat, the less you have to do to make it taste good. Go to a butcher shop that you trust and get freshly ground beef. Now, I could go on and on about the best cuts of meat to grind for a burger–for burger week this year we are using a blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib–and you should always feel free to ask your butcher what is best, but at the end of the day all of that is pretty subjective. As long as you have good quality beef and take care when making your patties you’re set. Speaking of proper patty etiquette, I only have one rule for myself when formatting the patties: keep the meat as tight as possible. That means rolling out meatballs that hold together and have composition before “smashing” them into patties. Other than that, get creative! Whether or not you season the ground meat before forming the patties, and whatever you choose to top it with is up to you; do what you like!
Our #DCBurgerWeek special this year is something we are excited about. In keeping with our own theme for the week, Südtirol/Alto Adige, we decided to top our burger with Speck, the iconic smoked and dry cured ham of the mountain region. With that, we did the excellent pairing of taleggio cheese and some caramelized onions to round it out the flavors with some sweetness. When we were experimenting with flavors and pairings, however, there was still something missing. The solution? Smoking our ground beef. Not only does this add a unique flavor punch to our burger, but it really compliments and highlights the Speck, so that no part of our burger gets lost in the composition. It’s awesome. Don’t just take our word for it though–come in and try one for yourself!