News & Politics

Italy Knows How to Throw a Dinner Party

The new Italian ambassador and his wife hosted a dinner sponsored by “Elle” magazine to honor Washington’s women in power.

The honored women with their hosts. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

The social side of diplomatic Washington has always had certain top dogs, typically an ambassador who likes the city and its people enough to extend the entertaining scope beyond solely what’s good for his or her home country. The most fun (and popular) ambassadors also care about what’s good for Washington. Its a competitive field, in which France has often reigned (courtesy of the Vanity Fair party after the White House Correspondents’ dinner) and Britain is an elegant gamer (the Lutyens mansion, the columned terrace, that lawn). Now there’s fresh competition from the new Italian ambassador, Claudio Bisogniero, and his wife, Laura Denise.

They showed off their gracious Roman style Wednesday evening at a dinner sponsored by Elle magazine and Giorgio Armani and catered by an ambassadorial favorite, Cafe Milano restaurant. The purpose of the evening was to honor ten women Elle‘s editors feel exemplify Washington power. The handsome Villa Firenze mansion is enough of a statement, but on this evening it was graced with a warm spring sunset that streamed golden light into the cocktail party that preceded dinner. Dinner itself was at three long tables–a vision of white on white on white–that were lit from above by tall candlesticks. Only a cynic wouldn’t be impressed.

The guests were greeted with charming remarks by Bisogniero, who gave special thanks to Roberta Armani for flying over from Milan to participate. She is Giorgio Armani’s niece and works on the business side of the design house. Earlier in the day she and the executives from Elle, including editor in chief Robbie Myers, visited the White House, toured the Oval Office, and met with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Both Armani and Myers said their favorite part of the visit was seeing the President’s office. Armani bounded up to Bisogniero and Myers to give them embraces and kisses.

Myers is becoming a familiar face in Washington. Only a month ago she sponsored another swank affair, a book party for actress, comedian, and author Ali Wentworth at the Four Seasons Hotel. When asked if she is making an assault on the city, she only smiled. There’s no question she’s impressed with the city’s women, as she lauded the honorees for their talent, determination, and, of course, style.

The menu from Cafe Milano chef Fabio Salvatore was a welcomed departure from the usual meat-and-potatoes standard of Washington events. The first course was imported burrata cheese with heirloom tomatoes and a lightly spiced avocado sauce, followed by roasted Chilean sea bass with spring vegetables, toasted pine nuts, and a pomegranate reduction. The wines were a Pinot Grigio and a rosé. Dessert was served on the expansive terrace, which allowed us to appreciate the balmy evening and the view: a starry sky and acres of green lawn. The mansion, lit from inside, glowed. The desserts, bite-size and passed on silver trays, included tiramisu, Sicilian cannoli, Nutella cheesecake, wild berry tarts, chocolate and coconut truffles, and candied orange zest dipped in chocolate. There was espresso, of course, and limoncello.

The women honored by Elle were four public-sector stars– Hilda Solis, who is secretary of labor; Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who is also chair of the Democratic National Committee; and Jennifer Hing, who is communications director of the House Appropriations Committee. Also on the list were sports and fitness entrepreneur Sheila Johnson; news correspondents Christiane Amanpour of ABC News and Norah O’Donnell of CBS News; lobbyists Heather Podesta and Juleanna Glover; and Julianna Smoot, who is a fundraiser for President Obama and a former White House social secretary.

After dinner, Ambassador Bisogniero was the consummate host, milling among his guests, talking politics, diplomacy, weather, and food. Sheila Johnson mentioned that her long-aborning spa in Middleburg, Virginia, which was put on hold after the economic crash, is now back on track and will open. She says she’s also producing a film, The Butler, the story of a White House butler who served eight presidents, that will star Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda (playing Nancy Reagan), and Mila Kunis (playing Jackie Kennedy), among others, and for which her husband, Judge William T. Newman, hopes to audition for a part. “Acting is how I started out,” said Newman, the presiding chief judge of the Arlington Circuit Court. His wife patted him on the arm and smiled. It always helps to know the producer.