News & Politics

Cafe Milano’s Owner Looks Back at 30 Years

He’s served everyone from Brangelina to the pope.

Cafe Milano. Photograph by ©Conor Harrigan.

Power comes and goes in DC, but Cafe Milano owner/VIP-whisperer Franco Nuschese is a constant. His office, in a Georgetown townhouse near the restaurant, teems with photos of himself with various popes, presidents, and prominent pals (Dr. Fauci! Lionel Richie!). With Cafe Milano celebrating its 30th anniversary, we asked Nuschese to reminisce a bit.

How he knew it had made it: “When I wasn’t just going to work, I was going in to have fun. I’d opened a little restaurant—52 seats. Now the restaurant is like a theater: We have 300.”

Cafe Milano owner Franco Nuschese. Photograph by Tony Powell.

His biggest goof with a customer: “We were hosting a back-room dinner for Catherine Zeta-Jones and her husband [Michael Douglas] and I get a call: Angelina and Brad are coming, but we have no tables. We put them up front. Nobody recognized them—Brad was wearing a cap—until Catherine and Michael invited them to the back room and they had to walk through the restaurant. My philosophy is I try to give clients as much privacy as I can. But for many years I’ve said, ‘If you have something to hide, don’t come here.’ ”

An elaborate birthday for Pope Benedict XVI, hosted by Nuschese at the Apostolic Nunciature near Glover Park: “We ordered hand-painted plates from my hometown in Italy with the Vatican logo. We also arranged a giant cake that was a replica of St. Peter’s Square.”

But that was nothing compared with: “The queen of Thailand planned a party for 100. We closed for two days. They ordered new pillows for all the chairs and had us redo the linens. She traveled with her own silverware.”


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The longest-running dish on the menu: “Capellini ‘Ann Hand’ [named for the local jewelry designer], with tomato-­basil sauce. We have a family in Italy who produces all the tomatoes for us—just the right acidity and sweetness. We receive 40-foot containers once a year.”

Three people, living or dead, he would invite to dinner: “Nelson Mandel­a, Winston Churchill, and—well, we already had Margaret Thatcher. Jackie Kennedy.”

This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.