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Posted at 3:52 PM ET, 12/26/2008

Donna To Resurrect Galileo

By Tom Sietsema

Chef Roberto Donna has signed a letter of intent for a location downtown in hopes of reopening Galileo, the formal Italian restaurant he ran in Washington for more than two decades. He expects to sign a lease soon for the space vacated earlier this year by Butterfield 9 at 600 14th St. NW.

Roberto Donna in the Galileo kitchen in 1999. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

When Galileo closed its 21st Street NW doors in 2006, it was because the office building the restaurant occupied was scheduled for a top-to-bottom renovation. At the time, Donna said he planned to return to the site after the work was complete. To keep himself busy in the meantime, the chef-restaurateur opened Bebo Trattoria, a casual establishment in Crystal City. He was eventually offered two different spaces in the reconfigured office building, neither of which suited him.

The future restaurant ("Galileo will be somewhere" in the name, says Donna) should be open in April or May, a target that sounds feasible given that there's already a kitchen in place; only the dining room will get a makeover. As at the last Galileo, the new one will have an intimate restaurant-within-a-restaurant featuring a tasting menu, Laboratorio del Galileo.

Despite the economic downturn, Donna, who turns 48 next month, thinks it's a good time for him to return to Washington: "There aren't too many Italian restaurants in town." He's also counting on a new White House administration to bring in an audience. Plus, he says he misses making more refined Italian food.

Donna will serve as executive chef at the new restaurant, and he's currently in talks with unnamed chefs in New York and Italy to assist him. Over at Bebo, chef Claudio Sandri gets to add on to his title there; Donna is making him a partner.

-- Tom Sietsema

By Tom Sietsema  | December 26, 2008; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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Good news. Galileo was on our list of Anniversary dinners (Inn at Little Washington: *****; Citronelle: great meal, but overpriced for what we got; Olives, sentimental favorite, though you can run up a tab). Sadly, raising twins terminated the run, though we're hoping for Vidali, Galileo, and Palladio (restaurant at Barboursville winery). Glad to see we can pencil in Galileo for #10!


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 26, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Any chance Mr Donna hires someone competent to manage the front of the house? Doubtful since Bebbo and Galileo have never had an effective front of the house manager to deal with the rude and grossly incompetent wait staff and host/hostesses. Mr Donna should consider subcontracting out the management of the front of the house to Great American restaurants. His skills as a restaurant owner and manager are the worst in Dc area for a top chef and greatly damage his rep as a top chef.

Mr Donna should concentrate on cooking and not running a restaurant he just cant compete with other top chefs like Batali or even Emeril. I know raodhouse and bbq joints that have better front of the house ops. Heck Donna could hire the staff of Paynes in Centerville and it would be an upgrade. Even the most impersonal Korean wait staff would be an upgrade

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | December 26, 2008 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Roberto is one of the most talented chefs on either side of the Atlantic. His four star (Washington Post) Laboratorio was one of the best restaurants in America. The announcement of it and Galileo's return is a wonderful plus for the city of Washington and the overall excellence of our best restaurants. I first ate at Galileo soon after it opened on P street-before the move to 21st. I also grew up in the D. C. area and remember Garfinckel's well, the site of the new Galileo. I look forward to recapturing both memories when it reopens.

Posted by: wwthrills | December 27, 2008 1:20 AM | Report abuse

As an Italian Chef Donna probably bulks at employing a competent FOH staff because it requires a bit more than they want to spend on salaried employees, so naturally a Chef owner will more than likely take a frugal tact towards his FOH employees. Being a star in the kitchen doesn't necessarily translate to stardom on the floor.

Posted by: keithlb28 | December 27, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

There are two italian restaurants outside the beltway in NOVA one in Manassas and one near Warrenton that are as good as anything Donna has ever opened and the cooking at these two places rival the best Italian restaurants on the East Coast.

Spent a year in Italy in college and studied cooking with some of Italy's best chefs back in college. Donna cant compete with these two chefs and neither can any other so called italian restaurant in DC.

Maybe Donna could take lessons from the OG on how to run the FOH. It cant get any worse. Having your waiters follow female customers outside to assault them is never good.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | December 27, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Why bring back an over rated farce?

Galileo was one of the biggest disappointments we've ever had dining in DC. Staff as noted above were rude and incompetent. Plates came late and staggered between diners. And the food was mediocre at best.

Why people keep calling this chef a star I will never know. I usually give any restaurant a second chance, but this was so sub par, that I can't believe that it would ever impress.

Great, if way over priced, wine list, but why you would want to waste exquisite bottles of chianti on food like this, I can't tell you.

Maybe it will be better, third times the charm?

Yo Donna, listen to these posters and hire quality staff and watch them closely!

Posted by: calboxer | December 27, 2008 6:39 PM | Report abuse

This will be interesting to keep track of - whether or not Donna has completely lost his juice around here. The restaurant scene has changed a lot since he was king in DC. And Bebo was an utter catastrophe.

Posted by: Kev29 | December 29, 2008 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Who in his right mind would extend this man credit terms or otherwise loan him money?

Posted by: chambers14 | December 29, 2008 9:26 PM | Report abuse

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