Famed D.C. chef ventures into Vienna with upcoming Italian restaurant

The face behind Vienna’s newest Italian restaurant is a familiar one for D.C.-area foodies.

Currently taking shape at 144 Church Street NW, Roberto’s Italiano Ristorante comes from Nancy Sabbagh and her husband, chef Roberto Donna, who has earned both renown and infamy over his decades-long culinary career.

Sabbagh, who owns the restaurant and will run its business operations, says the concept for Roberto’s is something that she and her husband have been contemplating for a while based on their past travels in Italy.

“We knew we wanted to work together where I would be the front of the house and Roberto the creative culinary vision,” she said by email. “We both love the Italian hospitality and truly wanted to create a small place where our guests felt the love both in their service and food.”

Sabbagh told Tysons Reporter that all permits have been approved, and she tentatively hopes to be able to open in early February.

Fairfax County records show that a final occupancy permit for Roberto’s was processed and pre-issued on Jan. 20. Applications for alcohol licenses are pending, as of Dec. 13, according to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.

Drawn to Vienna for “the charm and feeling of community it exudes,” Sabbagh says she and Donna considered taking the space at 144 Church Street prior to the pandemic, but Covid’s arrival led them to pivot instead to providing weekly family meals and hosting virtual wine dinners.

Roberto’s took on new life late last year, when the Asian restaurant Red Galanga closed on Dec. 1 after five years at 144 Church Street, citing staffing shortages.

While Covid has presented obstacles to opening a new restaurant, Sabbagh says the Town of Vienna has been “so helpful” in providing assistance during the permitting process.

Though she didn’t provide details about specific dishes, she says Roberto’s will offer an aperitivo hour, tastings, wine dinners, private events, and catering as well as a la carte and to-go menus. Donna will also provide some tableside service.

“Roberto’s will provide diners with truly authentic Italian cuisine and a menu that will reflect the season and highlight local and truly excellent vendors,” Sabbagh said. “We are honored to be neighbors with such good restaurants like Bazin’s, Blend [111], Clarity, Bonaroti and Pazzo Pomodoro.”

A native of Italy’s Piedmont region, Donna launched his career in the U.S. with the popular Galileo, which opened in D.C. in 1984. He won a James Beard Award in 1996 and mentored many chefs who went on to open their own restaurants.

However, legal troubles started to overshadow his food in the late 2000s. He faced  a slew of lawsuits over unpaid rent and wages and pled guilty to felony embezzlement in 2010 for pocketing meals taxes from the shuttered Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City.

Donna made a comeback, though, in 2013 with a well-received chef’s counter at Al Dente D.C., and Roberto’s sounds like a more low-key, personal affair.

According to Sabbagh, the restaurant’s art and decor will pay tribute to her and her husband’s experiences in Italy over their 20 years of marriage.

“We look forward to truly having fun working together,” she wrote. “That is what life is all about and providing our guests with great food, service, wine and hospitality!”

Recent Stories

Students at West Potomac High School walked out in September to protest Virginia’s proposed policies on the treatment of transgender students (photo courtesy of Mara Surovell) The Virginia Department of…

A woman holds up a piece of handmade decor at the 2021 McLean Holiday Art and Crafts Festival (courtesy MCC) The McLean Holiday Art and Crafts Festival will hit the…

Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in Vienna. You can follow Laura on Instagram at @LauraSchwartzRealtor or her Facebook page. Laura can be reached at 703-283-6120 or [email protected] Since…

The office building at 11091 Sunset Hills Road in Reston (via Google Maps) A solar and roofing company is moving its location in McLean to Reston — a $350,000 relocation…

Chris Green is one of the DMV’s finest fitness instructors. A Lululemon and South Block ambassador, he is a coach and mentor to so many. He embodies grace, positivity and motivation in ways that no one else can. If we could all learn a thing or two from him, the world would be a much better place. He does so much for others, and does so with a smile on his face 99% of the time.

He recently ruptured his Achilles and has an incredibly long and tough journey ahead. As if COVID hadn’t impacted fitness professionals enough, throw this in the mix and it’s a double, even triple whammy. CG is no longer able to work and do what he loves for the time being because of this and we’d love your support.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here for just $99.

The Rhea Baker State Farm Agency is proud to support Shelter House in providing safe places to be during quarantine. Shelter House’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness and domestic violence. Right now they are providing over 200 hotel rooms to those in need in our community. In the past year, across all programs, Shelter House served nearly 500 households comprised of over 1,500 individuals, 60% of which were children.

Of the households that exited shelter, over 70% moved to permanent housing. The Baker Agency has served Vienna and Tysons residents and business owners since 2007 and proudly offers insurance solutions for you home, condo, auto insurance, life insurance and more. We offer complimentary reviews and coach teen drivers to safer, better drivers, and to help keep your auto insurance rates down! We are always happy to talk or text at 703-847-6880.

Submit your own Community Post here for just $99.


Subscribe to our mailing list