10/15/2007 AT 07:00 AM EDT
star Ellen Pompeo is a big hit here and abroad, but what she and her fiancé adore most about their travels to Italy is the food.
"I go several times a year. Christopher [Ivery], my fiancé, has family there and we go spend time with them whenever we get a chance," she tells PEOPLE, adding they're planning another visit "very soon."
So what's her favorite thing about Italy? "The food. I love the area of Bologna for food. I think it's really special," she said.
Her top-rated ABC series Grey's Anatomy
is also a big hit and Italian fans are taken aback when they see Pompeo in real life.
"They're quite surprised to see me there," Pompeo, who turns 38 next month, said at the National Italian American Foundation's 32nd Annual Gala in Washington, D.C. "They just can't believe I'm in Italy. It's sort of out of context for them. They say 'Meredith! Meredith! It's you, Meredith! Oh my God, could it be Meredith?' "
Less surprising is that she's no slouch when it comes to cooking Italian. Her fiancé loves her Bolognese sauce, she says of the dish that pays tribute to her favorite region.
Pompeo doesn't seem to be in a rush to get married despite having been engaged
nearly a year. She still hasn't started on the plans, but has thought about the kind of wedding she wants – "a quiet, simple, private one."
Other honorees at Saturday's NIAF gala, where Pompeo received group's Special Award in Entertainment, were director Martin Scorsese, actress Connie Stevens, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rudy Giuliani, and AARP chief William Novelli.