RIGHT-HAND . . . WOMAN: In nearly 21 years, Galileo (1110 21st St. NW; 202-293- 7191) and executive chef Roberto Donna have seen eight chefs de cuisine come and go. Until recently, that important kitchen position has been filled by a man, usually an Italian.

No more. With the departure of Daniele Catalani, Donna put Amy Brandwein -- a graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine and a native Washingtonian -- in the plum job.

"She's the first woman to survive the grinder," the characteristically playful Donna joked when asked about Brandwein's promotion. He then praised her passion for the craft and her commitment to the restaurant, where Brandwein started in the pastry kitchen nearly five years ago.

As chef de cuisine, Brandwein, 34, serves as Donna's eyes and ears, overseeing the menu of the formal dining room as well as Galileo's less expensive osteria and bar up front. A taste of her handiwork can be sampled from the restaurant's summer menu, which includes a warm rabbit salad arranged with marinated white asparagus, foie gras and a tarragon-Riesling moistener, and butter-poached lobster dressed up with an herb emulsion, fresh peas and more.

What's it like to work in such a male-dominated kitchen? Brandwein first takes the diplomatic route ("It's passionate . . .") and eventually fesses up: "There's a lot of machismo," she concludes with a laugh.