IT’S A GOOD THING that Monday was Martin Luther King Day and a federal holiday, because it turns out that when you mix Italian food and, oh, just a little bit of wine, with a few Little Birds . . . well, the Umbrian dinner–the Cena Umbra— sponsored by MyLittleBird this past Sunday went on into the night.
We started gathering at around 6:30. Carey from Alexandria was a little early, but that just meant she got a head start on the Umbrian wines chosen by chef Simone Proietti-Pesci. And we got to hear how she grew up on a South Dakota dairy farm and, from a chance encounter with a Swedish exchange student, began to mull possibilities far from home. That led to a student experience in Japan (talk about far from home!), which led to the U.S. Air Force and the rest of the world. Now she’s with the Federal Aviation Administration and leads a team that vets programs before they’re allowed to be part of the network guiding the world’s airliners (“When you fly, you’re flying through our network,” she says with a grin).
We got a little worried when Dominique from Bethesda hadn’t shown up by the time we were moving along from appetizers to the primo piatto, the pasta course, which was hand-cut tagliatelle with a delicious ragu. We had had to prune our lists ruthlessly (no husbands, no plus-ones, something we should have made clear at the get-go–sorry!). We had only a few seats available at this dinner for 10. It would be a pity if someone selected had instead missed out. Turns out, Dominique had spent all of Sunday doing a day of service in anticipation of MLK Day and had lain down for a “10-minute nap” when she got home. No matter: She arrived in plenty of time to meet the Little Birds and savor the supper.
She also got to savor, with the rest of us, the fabulous Georgetown home of Dr. Terence Bertele and his wife, writer Therese Droste. Was there ever a dining room so grand and yet at the same time so welcoming? Doubtful. (And was there ever so large an assemblage of 19th-century student lamps, converted from gas to electric, a passion of the good doctor’s? Also doubtful. But the lamps, and the Berteles, certainly shed a warm light on the gathering.) Bonnie from Glover Park said later she had fallen in love with our hosts–and their darling twins, a few months shy of 7. And Little Bird Anne of Bethesda, our Social Media Queen, made a few new friends on Sunday too.
Chef Simone was flown in from his restaurant in Bevagna, Le Delizie del Borgo, for appearances around the country by the Via Umbria shop in Georgetown. And he brought along, as his sous chef, Bill Menard, who owns Via Umbria with wife Suzy. Simone is a no-fuss, no-muss kind of chef–no drama, no problems, just a sweet smile and a mean hand with the tagliatelle.
The meal proceeded thus: with the aperitivo, some rosemary flatbread; for appetizers, panzanella (bread salad, made with fresh, olive-oil-soaked croutons), a sliced mushroom salad, eggplant-slice “wraps” with tomato sauce and to-die-for crostini (toasts) spread with chicken liver pâté; as I mentioned, the primo piatto was the tagliatelle; and the main course was a pork tenderloin wrapped in a phyllo dough with chard. Dessert was crescionda, explained to me by Suzy Menard as a kind of chocolate torte with an amaretto crust. Let’s just say it went down as well as the wines, which started with a sparkling Umbrian rosé made with the Sagrantino grape and ended several hours later with . . . oh, who remembers?!
Judging by the decibel level in the dining room as we moved from course to course, a good–make that a great–time was had by all. After Terence and Therese and I said good night to the last guests, we sat in the front reception room to unwind. That’s when we noticed that it was 1 in the morning: oh my, my, MyLittleBirds!