Etrusco deserved a better farewell than its slow, mostly ignored fade into nothingness late last year, and Olga Boikess finally provided it yesterday with a short-but-laudatory blog post for ZagatBuzz. Boikess briefly documents the many incarnations of the Dupont Circle eatery and quotes a number of D.C. culinary dignitaries who give owner Vince MacDonald his due.
In 1980, MacDonald opened Vincenzo, an Italian off Dupont Circle, and “single-handedly reinvented what an Italian restaurant was in DC,” says Peter Pastan, who was inspired to open nearby Obelisk some years later. “It was a revelation, perfect seafood, simple, authentic Italian preparations,” explains Mark Furstenberg (creator of Bread Line and Marvelous Market).
“He had a true passion for making recipes authentically, and true to their origins, and he was equally passionate about finding great ingredients,” explains former White House chef Frank Ruta, who worked for MacDonald before opening Palena. He remembers that Vince would drive to NYC for the high-quality fish he would cook and serve whole, and for other ingredients, including brick oven–baked bread.
Pastan, no doubt, was exaggerating for effect, but let me set the record straight. As good as MacDonald was—-and I had one dinner at Etrusco, many years ago, that still resonates as one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in D.C.—-he still wasn’t the first person to introduce D.C. to authentic Italian cooking. As I noted in a previous column (quoting from an authoritative story published by the Washingtonian‘s Robert Shoffner), that honor goes to Joseph Muran de Assereto, who opened Cantina d’Italia in the late 1960s.
That’s not to take away from MacDonald, but let’s not lose our sense of history in honoring this restaurateur.