President Obama escorted First Lady Michelle Obama to Georgetown's Cafe Milano on Thursday evening for a dinner party to celebrate her 49th birthday. They arrived by motorcade at the upscale eatery at 6:58 PM, and were joined for the fete by friends, according to the White House. As something of a pre-party for the inaugural festivities, the birthday feast of Northern and Southern Italian cuisine lasted three hours at what's considered a watering hole for DC's smart set. (Above: An official White House photo of Mrs. Obama, taken today; pool did not spot the First Couple this evening)
The First Couple and their party lingered in an upstairs dining room until they departed at 10:05 PM.
In a change for Mrs. Obama, America's most high-profile champion for seasonal, locally grown food, Cafe Milano imports many of its items from Italy, such as pastas and Mediterranean fish, for an "authentic" menu that's been critically praised. The restaurant was perhaps a nostalgic selection: The Obamas have a fondness for Italian, with a favorite date night in their hometown of Chicago--where Mrs. Obama was born in 1964--being at Spiaggia restaurant. They've previously dined Italian in DC, too, visiting Ristorante Tosca in 2011.
The visit to the Cafe, which features Italian subway maps and frescoes on the walls, was the Obamas' first as a couple, and the First Lady's fifth birthday dinner since her husband was first elected to the presidency. As she marked her 49th today, the First Lady unveiled both a chic new hairstyle, a fringey bob, and a new Twitter account, @FLOTUS.
In a contemporary move, the new 'do was revealed when the photo at the top of this post was released on Twitter. Mrs. Obama was at a White House meet & greet with David Hall, an activist for LGBT military rights who was selected as one of eight "Inaugural Citizen Co-Chairs."
Mrs. Obama offered her first personal message on @FLOTUS at 10:28 PM, shortly after returning to the White House from her birthday dinner.
"Thanks for the warm welcome & birthday wishes! Join me & Barack for #MLKDay of Service this Saturday. Sign up: http://www.2013pic.org/service –mo," she wrote.
As is standard policy, the First Lady's party was not listed on the President's daily schedule, and aides offered the least possible details about the evening:
"The President and the First Lady are having dinner with friends at Cafe Milano to celebrate Mrs. Obama's birthday," a White House official said.
Owner Franco Nuschese's menu features antipasti, artisan pizza, house-made and imported pastas and risottos, and roasted meats and fish, with appetizers ranging from $13-$23 and entrees from $16-$46. A spokesman declined to comment on the presidential party. The full menu is here.
While the First Couple celebrated, the press pool was held far away from the action, "in a restaurant around the corner for the duration," noted the scribe on duty. Pool did not see the Obamas either enter or leave Cafe Milano, nor was there a view of the President and Mrs. Obama as the motorcade departed or arrived back at the White House at 10:14 PM: "once again no sight of the first couple," pool noted.
Since 2009, the Obamas have never made a repeat visit to any of the eateries they've patronized together. Mrs. Obama's previous birthday dinners were also at fine restaurants within the borders of the District, as opposed to nearby Virginia where both she and the President have ventured for culinary escapades. Three birthdays were at establishments that spotlight American cuisine, and one features Asian fusion.
In 2009, three days ahead of his first inauguration, the President escorted his wife to Equinox, which stars local and seasonal American fare. In 2010, he gave a "surprise party" for the First Lady at Restaurant Nora, the first organic certified restaurant in the US. The party in 2011 was at Wolfgang Puck's Asian fusion The Source, and last year's dinner was at BLT Steak, just a across Lafayette Square from the White House. Links to all the birthday posts, including menus and chefs, are here.
Despite Thursday being his wife's birthday, the Inauguration was still on President Obama's mind. Shortly before he took his wife out to dinner, the President traveled to the headquarters for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, located near Federal Center. His twenty-minute visit was "to thank staff for all of their hard work," said the White House.
On Friday, the last weekday of his first term, President Obama has no public events on his schedule. Both the President and First Lady will kickoff the inaugural weekend on Saturday when they participate in a community service project for the National Day of Service.
Info: Cafe Milano is at 3251 Prospect St. NW, Washington, DC 20007. Phone: 202-333-6183.
*Photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House