On any given Sunday afternoon, Gus DiMillo prepares a simple pasta dish for himself in the small, sun-drenched kitchen of his stone-clad Victorian row house near Volta Park. “I like my pasta and it’s really the only time I have to cook at home” says DiMillo, a founder of the Passion Food Hospitality restaurant group.
In 1998, with partners David Wizenberg and Jeff Tunks, the trio opened their first restaurant, DC Coast, on K Street N.W., and over the past 15 years added Ceiba and Arcadiana (also in downtown Washington), PassionFish (Reston), District Commons and adjoining Burger, Tap & Shake (Foggy Bottom) and Fuego Cocina y Tequileria (Arlington). On most nights, he is at one property or another, maintaining the high quality of his establishments. Some evenings, he gives a new dining spot in town a go.
For this “quick and easy family recipe,” he uses the popular De Cecco brand pasta because “it’s made with the best flour from the Abruzzo region of Italy, where my family is from.” Only the asparagus tips make the cut. “They are tender and cook faster than the stalks.” DiMillo never grates Parmesan cheese on a seafood pasta dish, saying “It overwhelms the delicate flavor of the shrimp.”
Rounding out his dining-for-one meal is a small arugula salad, topped with shaved, sharp pecorino sheep’s milk cheese and seasonal fruit for dessert. “Then, as they do in Italy,” he says, “ it would be nice to take a nap.”
But times for rest are too few. DiMillo’s specialty is staff training and “reenergizing everyone,” a never ending duty in an industry, which is notoriously transient. He will tell you that “Hospitality is a dying art.” With that in mind, he encourages servers to always make customers feel welcome. “When guests feel they are being cared for they will overlook a small service mistake,” he says.
DiMillo and his partners have three projects in the works, opening over the next two years. His details are few. “It’s still too early yet.” But one he shares will be a second location for the always busy Burger, Tap & Shake. He enjoys a busy life.
Then Sunday rolls around again, and it’s time for a bit of solitude and a nice bowl of pasta.
DeMillo’s current favorite
restaurants: Marcel’s in the West End for the fried chicken special and B Too in Logan Circle for the mussels.
Pasta with asparagus and shrimp Serves: 4
1 lb. penne or rigatoni pasta
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch of pencil-thin asparagus cut one inch down from tip
1 and 1/2 lbs. medium raw shrimp
1 and ½ pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh sliced basil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, sauté the garlic for two minutes in 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the asparagus tips, saute’ 2 minutes , add cherry tomatoes and cook 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add fresh shrimp to mixture, sauté 2- 3 additional minutes .
Cook the pasta in 6 quarts boiling salted water. Drain and combine with the shrimp, asparagus and sliced basil.
What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and entertaining professionals, who call the Georgetown area home. Georgetowner dining columnist Walter Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine, a former staff writer for The Washington Post Food section.