Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Graffiato - 02/27/2012

707 6th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 289-3600

In keeping with my previous visit, I've been trying to find more low key places to try this time around. One restaurant that popped up was Mike Isabella's Graffiato. Despite the chef's extensive experience with Greek cuisine, for his first eatery, Isabella chose to draw on the foods of his youth.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Chef Isabella attended The Restaurant School in New York while staging at some of the city's top restaurants. From there Isabella worked his way south to Philly where he joined Stephen Starr's restaurant empire first at Alma de Cuba then El Vez and finally at the now defunct Washington Square. From there he moved on to Atlanta and the Greek restaurant, Kyma where he would develop the skills that would lead to his job at Zaytinya Already an accomplished chef, Isabella catapulted to national prominence through two stints on Top Chef placing 7th during Season 6 and 2nd in Season 8 and from there it was only a matter of time till he opened his own restaurant.

Tony Starr - thai chili infused mezcal, milagro tequila, market fruit puree, patron citronage, lime
This cocktail was actually fairly tame for a mezcal based drink, alloying a fresh bitter citrus over a core of smoky mezcal. The Thai chili was evident in a light tingling on the lips but I would have liked a bit more kick from the spice.

Charred Brussel Sprouts - pancetta, maple, egg
I'm not a fan of Brussels Sprouts but the combination of pancetta and maple was too intriguing to pass up. The dish lived up to my expectations with the sweetness of the maple tempering the bitter char of the sprouts. I wonder if the kitchen forgot to add the pancetta as I couldn't even taste a hint of the expected saltiness. I enjoyed the bittersweet interplay but it left me wondering just how good the dish could be with that third pillar of flavor.

Crispy Pig Head - mustard, apples
As intimidating as the dish might sound, it was actually quite tame. A thick layer of crisp batter enrobes the tender wickedly porcine pigs head. While the head could be a bit dense on its own, the racy tang of the mustard cut right through the richness.

Squid Ink Spaghetti - octopus, tomato, chickpeas
My server highly recommended the spaghetti, and he was dead on. The pasta had a pleasing firmness and the accompanying octopus was equally toothsome and dense. The flavor was even more impressive, a melange of brine and tomato with subtle accents of herbs and spice.

Risotto - lobster, marscarpone
I've never turned down a risotto and I certainly wasn't gonna start with this one. A satisfying if textbook lobster risotto, the texture on the rice was superb, the sauce was a bit more robust than most, with a richness reminiscent of lobster bisque.

Jersey Shore - fried calamari, tomato, provelone, cherry pepper aioli
Graffiato is known for its pizzas and though I was tempted to play it safe with the Countryman (truffle, fontina, egg) I decided to be a bit more daring and go for the Jersey Shore. My biggest complaint with Neopolitan-style pizzas is that the center can feel a bit underdone. That wasn't the case here as the pizza was cooked to perfection. The dough has a tinge of bitterness to help temper the funk of the Provelone and heat of the aioli while the calamari added an intriguing if clumsy to eat crunch. Ultimately the pizza lives up to its namesake: lusty and slightly foul yet quixotically appealing.

Flying Dog Raging Bitch IPA, MD
Moving on to beers I went with a Belgian-style IPA from Flying Dog Breweries in nearby Frederick. The pine and hop kick typical of an IPA battles with a ripe fruit and malt sweetness characteristic of a Belgian, a nice balance between very different two styles of beer.

Hanger Steak - crispy poleta, arugula, salsa verde
This was probably the weakest course of the night. The symphony of flavor between the beef, arugula, and salsa verde was actually quite spectacular, but the steak was a touch overdone making an already firm cut even tougher. The polenta was particularly impressive, the crunch hiding a complex mix of grainy sweetness and salt simultaneously akin to both french fries and waffles.

Zeppole - coffee, marscarpone
Zeppole or St. Joseph's Day cake is a donut typically consumed on March 19 (St. Joseph's Day) and are popular in peninsular Italy as well as Sicily and Malta. The Zeppole were nicely crisp and despite having a dough-y looking interior quite airy. The sweetness of the dessert is complimented by a light bitterness from the coffee while the marscarpone gives the dish a pleasing creamy lusciousness.

Though I missed out on Chef Isabella's stint at Zaytinya, I was exceedingly pleased by the food at Graffiato. The chef leveraged his Italian heritage to produce a contemporary menu that is dynamic, robust, and approachable.


sygyzy said...

This meal looks delicious! The only thing that turned me off was the egg in the Brussels sprouts dish. I love Brussels sprouts and I love egg but that looks unappealing to me.

Epicuryan said...

Yeah the egg didn't really add much to the dish but it didn't detract from it either.