Come spring, Cafe Milano features outdoor seating.
Joe Sternlieb and John Asadoorian.
The esteemed Cafe Milano has become an institution known for its refined fare.
The Georgetown spot boasts a bustling atmosphere.
At Cafe Milano, expect an array of Italian wines.
Pasta with calamari, mussels, and broccoli rabe.
by LESLIE QUANDER WOOLDRIDGE | April 30, 2013 | People
Joe Sternlieb and John Asadoorian chat easily over white wine, seafood, and perfectly prepared pasta at Georgetown’s venerable Cafe Milano. Meanwhile, inside the dining room, waitstaff and managers make speedy arrangements for a special guest, Vice President Joe Biden. But in typical DC fashion, the men remain unfazed by the hubbub and calmly hold court over their own corner of the restaurant.
As the new CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, Sternlieb is charged with protecting and promoting the accessibility, attractiveness, and appeal of the historic neighborhood—a destination for locals and tourists alike that has taken on many identities over the years, most recently becoming a hub for hot chefs and trendy new dining options. And as principal broker of his eponymous retail real estate firm and vice president of the BID’s board of directors, Asadoorian makes it a point to be familiar with the neighborhood’s 500-plus stores, restaurants, hotels, art galleries, salons, spas, and other service establishments. Capitol File sat down with the duo to discuss Georgetown’s burgeoning reputation, their favorite drinks (which may surprise you), and their most-visited eateries.
How did you two meet?
JOE STERNLIEB: He grew up downtown, and when he was growing up I was working down there because he’s a lot younger than I am. [Smiles]
JOHN ASADOORIAN: A lot younger? [Laughs] I just turned 50.
JS: Oh, you’re a little younger than I am. I’m 52. I think we met when I was working at the Council on downtown retail stuff. So this was close to 20 years ago. I moved here for a job; I was working in New York City, but in the mid ’80s I got a job down here for six months—and I just haven’t left.
What kept you in DC?
JS: It’s a great city. And it was a great city back then for somebody [who] was young and making very little money in the nonprofit world…. New York was an assault in every way on the senses. But DC was just an easy place to be.
JA: I was born and raised in the city, in DC. We both were in the city during a period of time when Washington was growing and evolving. What’s interesting is that we were sort of on two different sides of the table. [ Joe] saw the potential from a public sector side, and I saw it from the [possibility] of making money in real estate. But the common denominator is that we both saw great potential in the city. I was a young guy [just] out of school; if I could make money making my city better, [why not]?
This neighborhood has taken on so many personalities over the years. What do you think Georgetown is known for today?
JA: Retail is so strong in Georgetown that the demand and desire for retail space sometimes pushes against the demand and desire for restaurants…. I think Georgetown will always be known as “that place” where there’s a certain personality, a certain character. For some people it might be shopping; for some it might be going out. For [others] it might be dining. Frankly, for me, I like to come out to eat.
JS: My daughter rows crew, so I’m here on the weekends on the river, which I find spectacular. I walk the streets every week, checking to see how they look. I do a little bit of shopping. And I also like the dining. There are so many different places to go.
Where are your favorite places to eat in the neighborhood?
JS: I spend a lot of time at [Kafe] Leopold. I’ve never had a bad experience there; the food is consistently good. But I also like a lot of the new places, [including] Farmers Fishers Bakers. My wife and I went to [Mike Isabella’s] Bandolero and had a great time. Where I grew up [which was in Andover, Massachusetts], the choices were fast food, Italian food—which was not anything like [Cafe] Milano—and Chinese food.
JA: The standbys are Clyde’s and J. Paul’s. Peacock Cafe is a great place for lunch, especially when the weather’s nice. You can see ladies who lunch; you can see businessmen talking over a deal. We have variety. And I love Bourbon Steak. The Brussels sprouts and those truffle rolls will change your life. They will set you free.
Speaking of food, can we talk about your favorite drinks?
JS: Left to my own devices it’s like, Tecate with lime in a can. [Laughs] I’m being who I am, but I probably drink more wine than Tecate.
JA: To me, wine is sort of like golf. I like to play golf, but I don’t play it enough to be good. I know what I like, but I like so many different things that I don’t have time to study wine and really be good at it. I like a good white. It’s easy to drink and it’s crisp. [I also like] craft cocktails with a bourbon base, a good Sazerac. But left to my own devices, if I want something to sip, it’s going to be a single malt, like a Macallan.
What do spring and future months promise those who love dining in Georgetown?
JA: Down on the waterfront, Fabio [Trabocchi] is going to be coming [with his new restaurant] Fiola Mare.
JS: I say, the more the better. You can’t have enough because Georgetown is such a fabulous place. There’s nothing else like it.
photography by greg powers
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