Monday, August 1, 2011

Dinner at Graffiato

Me at trapeze class
On Saturday night, after trapeze class (yes, I said trapeze class. It is awesome and challenging and exhilarating), Scott and I went to Graffiato, the restaurant that Mike Isabella, a Top-Chef contestant, recently opened near the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  I have met Mike once before, at Cochon 555, and had eaten at Zatinya when he was cooking there, so I was really excited to see what he was doing in his own space.

Mike Isabll and I
We had 7 p.m reservations, but got there a little early to have drink.  They have an interesting cocktail menu, and Scott was impressed with the beer selection.  They even make the "regular" beers a little different by offering them in pony bottles.  I had two cocktails: the Tony Starr (illegal mezcal, market fruit puree, solerno blood orange liquor, lime) and the Market Punch (seasonal flavors, booze).  Of the two, I preferred the Tony Starr.  The bartenders were using super-fresh ingredients, and everything was hand-made.  The Market Punch was a little dry for my taste, and kind of one-note.  Scott had the AleWerks Washington's Porter and the Staring at the Sun (basil hayden’s bourbon, apricot nectar, ginger, basil). 

After our drinks, we headed upstairs for dinner.  The whole place has the industrial vibe that is so popular right now.  I like that look, so that wasn't a problem for me.  Once upstairs, we were seated towards the front of the building, with large picture windows that let in a lot of light.  You can also see the open kitchen towards the back of the building.  Scott was a big fan of the meat cleavers hanging from above the kitchen. 

Our waiter came by, and explained the menu, and we decided to go with the chef's tasting. At $55, it seemed like a good deal, and we had more than enough food throughout the evening.  Our waiter made sure there was nothing we were allergic to, or didn't eat, because they do have some flexibility with the tasting menu.  I mentioned my disdain for olives, which was good because they are usually included. He also brought by a bowl of spice pistachios, which had an almost BBQ flavor to them.  They were an excellent hint to how the rest of the meal would go. We started off with a glass of the Montelvini prosecco on draft.  It was pretty good, especially for the price ($7 a glass).  Light and crisp, and it paired well with our first course of food. 

It was a little embarrassing watching the first course come out.  We had the bread basket, the spiced red beets, the roasted cauliflower, the ham plate, burrata with heirloom tomatoes, and tuna crudo with crushed pistachios.  Of these dishes, my favorite was the roasted cauliflower.  It was so simple, with pecorino cheese and a little mint, but the flavor was just explosive.  The ham plate and burrata were deliciously simple, and the red beets paired very well with the orange segments.  I couldn't detect the pork in the "pork fried almonds" that came with the beets, but they added a nice crunch. Of all the dishes of the night, the tuna was my least favorite.  It just seemed bland.  The tuna was fresh, but I could barely detect the balsamic vinegar, and it needed more acid, or maybe even more salt.  The bread basket had three types of bread, and a ricotta spread and an olive oil jam.  The olive oil jam was to die for, especially when spread on the polenta bread, which was like a softer corn bread.

The second course was the pizza and salad course. Our waiter suggested a great red wine.  I didn’t take note to what it was, but it was well balanced with fruit and earthiness, and went well with the rest of the meal. We had the Caesar salad and the "Choppin Broccoli" with sausage added.  The pizza was good.  I thought the crust could have been crispier, and was a little surprised since they use a real brick oven (we could see the cooks pulling coals out when we were at the bar). I did like the nice char that the crust had.  The cheese and broccoli rabe combo was very good though, and the sausage added a nice complement to the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. The highlight of this course was the "crouton" on the Caesar salad.  It was really a fried cube of cream cheese that just melted in your mouth.  The dressing on the salad was really flavorful, the lettuce crunchy and fresh.

The third course was the "main" course, and consisted of pastas and items from the brick oven.  We had the sweet corn agnolotti, the polenta with spicy pork meatballs, the octopus and the chicken thighs with Mike's famous pepperoni sauce. The polenta with the pork meatballs was very good, although it came with a soft egg, and while I love a good runny egg, this erred on the side of too runny for my taste.  The octopus was just okay.  A little bland, and a little rubbery.  The chicken thighs were moist and tender, with crispy skin, and the pepperoni sauce had a great zing to it.  Mike should bottle that and become a billionaire. The best part of the course, and really, best part of the meal was the agnolotti.  It was the part I will keep coming back to over and over in my mind.  The pasta was light, and the filling was rich. The taste of the corn was very strong and went perfectly with the chanterelle mushrooms and pine nuts.  A few weeks ago I made some homemade ravioli with a corn filling that were really good, but these blew mine out of the water.  I would go back just for the corn agnolotti.

Finally, we got to dessert.  I wasn’t sure I could eat any more at this point, but I managed to power through. We had the chocolate tart with sea salt gelato.  It was a great end to the meal: the chocolate tart was smooth and rich, and the gelato was light and airy, and the tartness was a perfect foil. 

Overall, I thought Graffiato was great.  I was a little worried it would not live up to the hype, but I was impressed.  One thing I really enjoyed was the atmosphere- I feel like I could stop in for a drink and a small bite to eat with no problem. I think that if Graffiato can weather the economic storm we are in, then it will be around for a long time.

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