A Scorching Response to a Food Critic

Chef Roberto Donna
Chef Roberto Donna, taking umbrage and hitting the blogosphere. (Susan Biddle - The Washington Post)
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, March 23, 2007

Bad reviews are an occupational hazard of the restaurant business, and most chefs just bellyache or cry in their soup. Not award-winning Roberto Donna, who's started a high-profile food fight with Washingtonian magazine dining editor Todd Kliman. Donna is so upset about the review in this month's issue that he's starting a blog to critique local restaurant critics. "If you want to write a bad review, that's fine," he told us. "But write it with the truth."

Donna's Bebo Trattoria in Arlington was roasted by Kliman, who compared it to the Italian chef's famed Galileo restaurant: "The same self-satisfaction. The same arrogance. The same carelessness." The decor? "All the drama and warmth of Dulles Airport." The service? "Gray and joyless."

But what infuriates Donna are what he's said are glaring factual mistakes about his finances and the food: "It's full of lies." It was his corporation, not himself, that declared bankruptcy and the majority of the $2.5 million debt has already been paid -- all a matter of public record, he said. He also claims Kliman got food preparation wrong (branzino was grilled, not roasted; pancetta isn't smoky).

Now Donna is rounding up his fellow chefs for a blog on inaccuracies in local food reviews -- much like New York's Kobe Club owner Jeffrey Chodorow, who has vowed to start blogging about New York Times food critic Frank Bruni's reviews. Donna's unnamed blog is slated to begin next month, and he's printing up thousands of bumper stickers for his customers and fellow chefs: "Don't Believe the Washingtonian."

Kliman had no comment yesterday, citing a letter from Donna's lawyer to the magazine asking for a correction.


  • A team of VIPs is meeting today in a secret downtown location to select the winner of the Opus Prize, a $1 million award to an unsung humanitarian. Sadly, you can't throw your own hat in the ring. Contenders for the prize, now in its fourth year, were suggested by anonymous "spotters," a la the mysterious MacArthur "genius" grants, before going to the judges tapped by Catholic University, which is overseeing the 2007 award: Tim Russert, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Tony Williams, Diane Rehm, Tim Shriver, Wolf Blitzer, George Stephanopoulos, James Billington, Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan and former White House faith-based initiatives honcho James Towey. How did they ever manage to get so many bigwigs in the same place? Well, some are teleconferencing in.
  • Pulitzer-winning historian Taylor Branch will publish a book of his chats with pal Bill Clinton, taped during the White House years. The ex-prez has "full knowledge" of the project but no input, said Simon & Schuster. The Baltimore-based writer told the Associated Press he and Clinton spoke the night the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke but that there's more about Yeltsin, China and Osama in there.

    Last fall, we nepotistically told you about our movie-critic colleague Stephen Hunter filming his movie debut-- a speaking role as a shadowy D.C. power-player type in "Shooter," based on his 1993 novel "Point of Impact."

    But as the flick opens today, it appears the author has landed on the cutting-room floor. So we don't have to worry about him getting lured into the parade of pretty faces chewed up by the Hollywood meat processor after all.

    Hunter doesn't stand to earn another penny: "I was paid off long ago." Star Mark Wahlberg was not his first choice, "but all my choices got old and creaky. . . . He's the only movie star who ever called me 'Mister,' so I cannot say anything bad about him."

    HEY, ISN'T THAT . . .

    Art Monk and his wife, Desiree, renewing their wedding vows in the back room of Morton's steakhouse at Tysons Corner. About two dozen guests attended the Tuesday night ceremony celebrating the couple's 25th anniversary, including Monk's fellow former Redskins Darrell Green, Charles Mann and Ken Harvey and team chaplain Brett Fuller. No booze served at this party, but plenty of shrimp cocktail, crabcakes and rib-eye steak. Monk's present to his bride? A new Mercedes.

    © 2007 The Washington Post Company