A Joint Military Maneuver

Patrolling in Iraq a couple of months ago, Army Spec. Carlos Arellano, a reservist and rapper from California, happened upon what he called "this beauty waving in the wind" -- a marijuana plant just starting to blossom. He resisted the temptation to "confiscate" and smoke the weed, he says, but was pleased to pose for a photo that's just hit the cover of High Times's spinoff magazine Grow America with the headline, "Buds Over Baghdad." This week the pro-pot publication is sending the image to all members of Congress, saying it's proud to finally provide lawmakers with an uplifting picture from Iraq.

"It's a life-affirming shot as opposed to a death-affirming shot," says Rick Cusick, ad director of Grow America. "He's happy to be there with that bud. It's also in counterpoint to those photos of our soldiers holding Iraqis by dog leashes. This is a psychic relief in a lot of ways."

A combat infantryman who goes by the nickname "Singe," the 27-year-old Arellano comes across in the mag's profile as a patriotic pothead. He doesn't cop to smoking dope in Iraq and offers a sobering view of the conflict in postings on his band's Web site, dankmobb.com. "I'm glad I'm here," he writes, but also warns: "It's a madhouse out here. I don't think this place will ever return to a stable condition." In April, "one of our bases was overrun the other night by over 1,000 of the enemy."

Isn't Singe worried about being burned by the publicity? "It's been a dream of mine to be on a cover," he told the magazine. "You gotta love this place at times -- High Times, that is!"

For the Great Chefs, Just Deserts

* "I just sent out the last dish and I ran out. I jumped in a taxi," Roberto Donna, owner of Galileo downtown and other local restaurants, exclaimed as he wedged himself, sweaty and still wearing a seersucker chef's coat, into a table at Sunday night's 22nd annual Restaurant Awards Gala. Nearly 1,400 hardworking local restaurant and hotel industry folks turned out to celebrate in formal finery (and drink copiously from 14 open bars) at the Hilton Washington. Amid them all, Donna was the one who actually looked and smelled like a chef.

"Any excuse not to wear a tuxedo," the burly 43-year-old Italian said with a laugh. A winner of Chef of the Year 14 years ago, Donna confessed that he's always late to the awards gala. "Always a catastrophe happens."

After serving a corporate party of 250 at Galileo, Donna arrived just in time to eat dessert -- lychee panna cotta designed by Fabio Trabocchi, chef at Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. Then Donna set about handicapping finalists in the remaining categories. He accurately predicted the winners for Neighborhood Gathering Place (Lebanese Taverna), Power Spot (the Palm) and Wine and Beverage Program (Kinkead's) but faltered when it came to Fine Dining Restaurant of the year.

"It should be Vidalia or us," he predicted.

Marcel's won. "It was an underdog!" Donna said, pouring himself more red wine.

Then came Chef of the Year, a category in which he was one of five finalists. Eager to wager, Donna put $5 down on his up-and-coming younger countryman, Trabocchi, to win. We put our money on the big sweaty guy. Donna won the trophy.

"Viva D.C.!" he shouted from the stage.

Honors also went to Jaleo for casual dining, Zola for hottest bar scene and Matchbox for new restaurant. Finn & Porter sushi chef Rod Wolfe won Restaurant Employee of the Year; Jonathan Krinn, chef at 2941 Restaurant, was anointed Rising Culinary Star; David Guas of D.C. Coast, TenPenh and Ceiba won Pastry Chef of the Year; and Abe Pollin, whose MCI Center has been an engine for growth in the hospitality scene, was bestowed the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award by Mayor Tony Williams.

Couric, Doing Some Rival Networking

* Rivalry? What morning rivalry? If ABC's "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today" are in competition, Katie Couric doesn't know it. Or perhaps show it.

On Sunday, NBC's perky morning multimillionaire noticed "GMA" weatherman Tony Perkins on the front lawn at Union Station, doing weather stand-ups for the show. As her sedan dropped her off to catch a train, she rolled down her window and yelled: "I love 'Good Morning America!' "

Couric told us through spokeswoman Lauren Kapp yesterday: "I thought I'd impersonate an adoring fan -- I think Tony got a kick out of it." He did. "We all laughed and I yelled back, 'We love you, too,' " Perkins said through his rep. Said one GMA'er: "If only we had been rolling [tape] on it!"

With Anne Schroeder