Graffiato has gotten plenty of hype since opening in 2011 and, for the most part, lives up to it. Located in Washington, DC’s Chinatown — across the street from the Verizon Center — it is chef Mike Isabella’s first restaurant since departing as executive chef at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya. Isabella, of course, is known from his participation on BravoTV’s Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars.

Based on what I’ve read in newspapers and online, he makes it clear that Graffiato is not an Italian restaurant, but rather an Italian-inspired one that is influenced by his New Jersey roots. So, don’t go there expecting traditional Italian fare. Instead, you’ll find Isabella’s modern take on familiar dishes along with some new ones in a “small plates” format.

My visit, during a brief stay in DC, was with three friends. On a Thursday, night we waited about half an hour past our reservation time. When we were seated they brought out some complimentary flatbread and pepperoni sauce. Gail Simmons got all worked up about the sauce on Top Chef and now I know why. It’s just like a liquid version of pepperoni that will have you fighting your friends for the last drop.

The rest of our meal consisted of:

Roasted cauliflower ($7) – pecorino, mint. Delicious but very oily.

Roasted chicken breast ($10) – rapine, dates, pine nuts. Remember, this place is all about small plates. And, on this small plate was an even smaller piece of chicken. Maybe three or four slices. The sauce was the best thing about the dish.

Marinated octopus ($13) – romesco, olives, almonds. A little tough but still had some good flavor.

Skirt steak ($13) – heirloom tomatoes, focaccia, aged balsamic. Nicely cooked to medium rare, it was tender and tasty. Another small portion that would be good for two. If you have a larger party, order more.

Risotto ($9) – basil, asparagus, parmesan. Loved it. Rich and creamy.

Fettuccini ($13) – blue crab, summer squash, arugula pesto. Too bitter for my tastes and too little crab. Probably the worst dish we tried.

Sweet corn agnolotti ($11) – chanterelles, pine nuts. By far, my favorite dish. Sweet, velvety smooth pasta. I’ll have to get an order for myself next time around. It’s the kind of dish that’s just too good to share.

Roasted potato gnocchi ($16) – summer truffles, wild mushrooms. A solid gnocchi dish. Not the greatest, but I loved the truffles.

It won’t be challenging places like Komi and Minibar for the best food in town, but does provide some good eats at reasonable prices in a very casual setting. I think we ended up spending $35 each for our party of four. We weren’t stuffed, but were pleasantly satisfied with the wide range of food and look forward to trying more in the future.

4 Stars

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

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