Now that local produce, meats and cheeses are all the rage at upscale eateries, restaurateur Riccardo Bosio has decided to fly in an ingredient of another sort: The Chef.
At Bosio's invitation, Chef Stefano Azzi is schlepping all the way from Siena, Italy, to Baltimore to make dinner. Granted, it will be quite a meal.
It leads off with wine-braised pheasant, pears cooked in Chianti, and chicken liver pate cooked in Vin Santo. Then it's on to octopus salad and sauteed squid. Then vegetable soup. Then two different pastas - one filled with potato, cheese and shrimp, the other topped with a chicken-and-rabbit sauce. Then braised beef. And finally, semifreddo custard and cookies.
All that will lighten the wallet at least - $125 per person. (The price includes food, wine, tax, tip and valet parking.)
Bosio met Azzi on a trip to Italy last summer. The owner of Mount Vernon's Sotto Sopra was on his honeymoon, yet he found himself swooning for the Tuscan specialties served up at Azzi's Osteria del Coro. Soon Bosio was insisting that Azzi visit him in Baltimore, and Azzi was insisting he would. And unlike many a friendship struck up on vacation and soon forgotten, this one stuck.
"We hit it off," Bosio said. "We knew it was going to happen. ... I think he's one of the best chefs I've ever met. We really connected about food philosophies."
Bosio used to be chef at Sotto Sopra, but ever since he bought out his partners to become sole owner five years ago, he has left the cooking to others. He often looks to his homeland - he's from outside Milan - for chefs, who come over for 18-month stints.
But this is the first time he's asked a paesano over for a single dinner. (The gig has since expanded to two dinners, both next week. Wednesday is sold out, with about 85 "credit card-guaranteed" - read: "If you don't show, it'll cost you anyway" - reservations. Tables are still available for Tuesday.) Even Bosio's PR woman couldn't quite grasp the concept.
"It took me a couple months to understand what he's doing," said spokeswoman Dara Bunjon. "I think he's bringing in a chef for his kitchen. I don't think he's bringing in a chef for a dinner. I was so confused."
Just a few people over for drinks
Josh Rales, the Montgomery County real estate magnate who blew more than $5 million of his own cash on an unsuccessful Senate bid last year, has found a cheaper way to stay active in politics: Invite Barack Obama over to the house.
Rales and his wife, Debby, will host a fundraiser for the presidential candidate May 16 at their Potomac home.
"The idea is to try and bring in not just wealthy donors but also community leaders and opinion leaders," said Rales, who declined to identify any of them. He referred questions about the size of the event and cost of admission to the Obama campaign, which did not return calls seeking comment.
A Republican-turned-Democrat who is "not particularly" inclined to seek office again, Rales said he can "have an impact" by providing a place for cocktails and (he hopes) inspiration.
The place, Rales wants you to know, is "just a nice home," not an estate, as previous news accounts have had it. It's assessed at $2.86 million, which in Rales' part of the state is work-force housing.
Portrait of a (first) lady
Sitting this week in Government House for their official portrait: Kendel, Drew and Josh Ehrlich.
Like every first lady since Helen Tawes, Ehrlich will have her picture painted and hung in the entrance of the governor's mansion. But unlike any of her predecessors, Ehrlich will have her children included in the portrait.
"It's a really nice way to honor the role she played as a mother and a first lady," said Elaine Rice Bachmann, curator of artistic property for the Maryland State Archives.
Only one other official state portrait includes a family member: In the background of Gov. Millard Tawes' portrait, there's a black-and-white photo of his wife, who got the legislature to fund her portrait and those of her five predecessors, in 1961. (These days, private foundations foot the bill.)
The identity of the artist is under wraps. Bachmann would say only that it's a "local artist." Two very politically connected portraitists fit that description. But Bachmann said it's not Bob Ehrlich's mom or Katie O'Malley's.
Connect the dots
On the guest list: about 30 Baltimore chefs. On the plate: nothing. At a gathering yesterday to plan for Baltimore Restaurant Week, organizers toyed with offering something to eat but chickened out, said Downtown Partnership spokesman Mike Evitts. "Who do you get to cater? You'll offend somebody because you didn't ask them." ... Mayor Sheila Dixon had an interview last week with the Canadian Broadcasting Company for a documentary. On big-city mayors? Trailblazing female politicians? No, nephew and NBA player Juan Dixon. ... Oren Shur, spokesman for candidate, and then senator, Ben Cardin, missed the campaign trail. He has gone to work for Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat running for governor.