By Albert Eisele - 10/01/09 10:59 PM EDT
But that’s pretty much what happened when I invited congressional staffer Arthur Wu to join me for dinner last week at Il Mulino, the D.C. sibling of the upscale Italian restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village where President Obama and former President Clinton met for lunch recently.
But first, the baseball connection. We were barely seated when I saw former Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, heading into a private dining room. Now, I know Lasorda, sort of, since Tommy John, who was my teammate on the Cleveland Indians farm team in Charleston, W.Va., in 1962, once pitched for Lasorda’s Dodgers, which I mentioned to Lasorda when I met him several years ago.
The Hall of Fame manager was celebrating his 82nd birthday with some 40 people before having his portrait hung in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery the next day. He was sitting with Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a Hall of Fame pitcher, and current Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, whose team was in town to play the hapless Nationals. At the same table were Dodgers owner Jamie McCourt and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
But this is a restaurant review, after all, so let’s do our job. Il Mulino’s origins are in the Abruzzo region of southern Italy, famous for its rustic gastronomy, robust flavors and warm hospitality, which were immediately evident as our tuxedoed waiter carved off a baseball-sized chunk of a block of Parmesan cheese for each of us to eat with a basket of warm garlic toast and complimentary antipasti like tomato-topped bruschetta. This spread whet our appetite as we perused the menu.
Art ordered a Bombay Sapphire martini and I had a Maker’s Mark bourbon (both $13) before he settled on the tuna carpaccio appetizer, a generous helping of thinly shaved raw tuna served over arugula with olive oil and lemon juice ($16). I chose the Caesar salad ($11), which was one of the best I’ve ever had, while Art was equally impressed with his selection, as was I when he let me sample it.
Our waiter recited a long list of the evening’s specialties, but we both chose from the menu, which includes some 80 items. Art settled on the costoletto alla Parmigiana, a veal chop the size of a catcher’s mitt that was breaded and cooked to pink perfection ($38), while I went with the frutti di mare, a huge serving of seafood risotto — all the servings here are huge — that was chock-full of shrimp, scallops and calamari ($32), after I bravely resisted the temptation to order the $65 rack of lamb.
Art gave me permission to choose a wine equal to the occasion, and I splurged by ordering the Inferi Abruzzo, a luscious red wine made from the Montepulciano grape. (Inferi is the place where souls are confined in Dante’s Divine Comedy, a pause-worthy plot point for people like us indulging in this $75 wine.)
We passed up dessert and finished with a couple of espressos and a complimentary glass of made-on-the-premises flavored grappa, served from an iced vase. A nice touch.
We ended our memorable evening by paying our respects to Lasorda and Bunning, both of whom agreed with me that Tommy John, who won 288 games in his career while having the arm-saving surgery named after him, deserves to join them in the Hall of Fame when his final year of eligibility comes up next year. We also chatted with Michele Mazza, the executive chef at the New York Il Mulino, who told us he came to D.C. to oversee the Lasorda dinner.
Based on my experience, I’m willing to vote D.C.’s Il Mulino into the Italian restaurant Hall of Fame.