It was a rainy, grey Sunday, which in my book usually means a day spent in bed, catching up on emails while watching some god-awful reality show that makes me question humanity as we know it. But the saving grace this Sunday was Anthony Lombardo, Executive Chef at 1789 Restaurant. He greeted me with a smile and a cup of coffee presented in a large plastic cup, “You gotta drink it like the chefs do” and I happily obliged. And thus, my day as a poser began.
1789 needs little introduction- it is a Washington DC staple, a Georgetown establishment that has fed Presidents, international Diplomats, celebrities and the like. It is also smack in the middle of one of the youngest areas in town, forming part of the Georgetown University campus. As a Georgetown student I never dined at 1789, rather, our friends would gather down at The Tombs, where beer ran cheap and burgers were substance enough. There’s a beautiful juxtaposition between the two; 1789 and The Tombs. The Tombs is packed with students; the culture hungry, the intellectuals, the dreamers, the young and somewhat restless. 1789, above, is where that Tombs student wants to be one day. Established, powerful, settled, taken care of by world class staff and in a world class setting. The harmonizing link between the two is Chef Lombardo, whose responsibility it is to run 1789 and the Tombs flawlessly.
A year ago, Chef Lombardo was given the position as Executive Chef at 1789 after a grueling interview process. In just two hours the man cooked six dishes- all of which he recounted in exact detail, for a panel of judges. The panel undoubtedly made the right choice, bringing in a chef who is focused on quality ingredients, flawless execution, and flavorful perfection, not to mention with the right leadership and right attitude to lead one of the most important kitchens in the city. In the year Lombardo has been at 1789, the restaurant has had its most successful summer yet, and that’s saying a lot seeing as it has been around for 50 years now. He was given full control, changed the entire menu, introduced new techniques and spruced it all up with a fresh, new attitude.
A young Italian-American kid from Detroit, Lombardo grew up around two things- food and diversity. These two fueled a great culinary journey- for one lends itself well to the other. Lombardo was influenced heavily by his Italian family roots, and by his Middle Eastern migrant surroundings, which taught him understanding and acceptance, and a whole lot of humor. His cooking is undoubtedly American with an Italian undertone, a combination which is equally reflected in his persona. Within minutes of meeting Lombardo you are instantly at ease. He is a far cry from what I expected a chef of his caliber to be like- young and unafraid, welcoming and warm, all at the same time. And the dude knows how to crack a joke probably as well as he knows how to cook.