TIMOTHY NOAH OCTOBER 12, 2011
The Washington Post's "Reliable Source" gossip column today makes an educated guess that the restaurant where Iranian plotters planned to blow up the Saudi ambassador was Cafe Milano in Georgetown. The press release says the plotters had identified a restaurant that the ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, is known to frequent, and according to "Reliable Source"'s Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger, Al-Jubeir is known to frequent Cafe Milano.
There is much that is troubling about this plot, which the Saudi embassy properly denounced as "a despicable violation of international norms, standards and conventions ... not in accord with the principles of humanity." What I am about to discuss is the least troubling aspect of the case, but it is the only one to which I can bring fresh insight.
I mention this because the Saudi ambassador's purported fondness for the place is merely the latest instance confirming that Cafe Milano has become the most fashionable restaurant in Washington, DC., without ever entering the usual intermediate stage of becoming one of the best. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it or anything. Zagat says a bit snottily that it's got "chow that's 'better than you'd expect,'" but shouldn't the chow be fabulous at such a place? (Zagat also says that "unless 'your name regularly appears on the Washington Post's front page,' prepare for 'long waits' and 'smug' treatment.") I can name half a dozen Italian restaurants in DC that offer better food, usually at lower prices. And I don't get out all that much. Yet celebrities, especially Hollywood celebrities, adore the place. I'm no reverse snob. I'll readily grant that celebrities are usually pretty good at sniffing out the best restaurants in any given city (I think they have assistants specially tasked with the assignment). As a foodie middlebrow I usually don't question their authority in such matters. But their fixation on Cafe Milano is a pretty clear instance of market failure. As best I can tell, Cafe Milano was a celebrity favorite long before the locals were paying the place much notice. If anyone can shed light, in the comment section below, on how this happened, I'd love to know the restaurant's secret.