what does not happen in iowa

As much as I wax poetic about Iowa City, there are some cheap thrills that simply don’t come with the territory — that come, in fact, only in “Hollywood for Ugly People,” aka Washington, DC. This is one of those stories.

Acqua al 2 is a new (“ehh, about two months?” said the Florentine graphic designer sitting next to us) Italian restaurant near Capitol Hill, one literally lifted up from Florence and plopped into the middle of Eastern Market. Italians abound, from the chef and sous to the couple behind us and aforementioned designer one seat down. Already a place you can trust, no?

My friend Ali (she of Bibiana good taste) suggested it for dinner a couple weeks ago, having already swooned over the first one in Italy. Never one to turn down such a suggestion, I agreed and we reserved for 7:30 on Monday night. When we got there, this happened:

Manager: Ladies, how are you this evening, I hate to tell you this, since we really respect people who reserve, but we’re behind tonight.

N + A: Er . . .

Manager: We’re not going to be able to seat you. The Speaker of the House just called, and she’s on her way over, so . . .

N + A: Ah!

Manager: So would you mind eating at the bar, and having some drinks on the house?

N + A: NOPE! TOTALLY FINE!

(Ali was much cooler than this.)

So we settled into the window corner of the bar, ordered two glasses of Prosecco, and chatted away (with occasional glance thrown over our shoulders). Before any political celebrities arrived, through, this appetizer did: a spaghetti-like tangle of raw fennel with shaved parmesan, pine nuts, and radicchio. Lightly bound together with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It was beautiful and bright, and the PLAY aspect (pasta restaurant! fennel like spaghetti!) just delighted me. I know, I’m an easy sell.

And THEN: Nancy Pelosi showed up! With some senators! It was very exciting. The two black SUV’s pulled up, out came the bodyguards, the advance guard (in that photo up above, see him?) opened the door, and in she swooped! To Ali’s and my formerly -reserved table! At least we know they were going to take care of us.

Not quite as exciting, but very delicious: dinner showed up a few moments later. Mine’s up there, long fusilli in a spicy tomato sauce touched with garlic, pictured above. It was great, but I think I liked Ali’s rigatoni alle melanzane (rigatoni with roasted eggplant – tomato sauce) even better. Mine was a nest of spicy tomato sauce — juust hot enough — but hers had a marvelous, full-bodied savor to it.

We finished everything.

And then Nancy left, stopping by a bench outdoors to chat up an elderly couple and — I am not making this up — fist bumping a guy going in for it. That was pretty sweet. About as amazing as our incredibly light, espresso-cream whirl of tiramisu about which even the Italians around us proclaimed è come fa la mamma. I guess Nancy didn’t have any, she was in-and-out so fast: but next time, Madam Speaker, I highly recommend it.

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