Earlier this year it was Toki Underground and Shake Shack that were pretty much the buzz everywhere before they opened their doors. When that died down, Graffiato became the restaurant everyone was talking about. The 130-seat dining spot in Chinatown comes to us courtesy Top Chef Mike Isabella, and it has been consistently crowded since it opened in June.
As most foodies can tell you, Isabella is no stranger to DC. He spent three years in a kitchen a few blocks northwest of Graffiato, as the executive chef of Jose Andres’ Zaytinya. If that doesn’t ring a bell, he also appeared on Season Six of Top Chef and he was the runner up on Top Chef All-Stars.
The food at Graffiato is inspired by the food Isabella grew up eating in New Jersey prepared by his Italian-American grandmother. I’ve avoided reviewing the place until now because I didn’t want to be the 1,000th person talking about it…though I guess now I’m number 1,001. I was prepared to say it was overrated. What place wouldn’t be after all the hype? Well, I was wrong. Plainly put, Graffiato does it right – food, service, ambience…the whole package.
The Italian-inspired restaurant is on 6th street, literally behind the Verizon Center, in what sometimes seems like a forgotten zone. Walk inside and everything screams industrial, from the exposed bricks, to the open ceiling, to the dark lighting.
Now, on to the food:
The Roasted Cauliflower was a very good dish. The vegetable was a perfect golden brown on top, and the onion slices had the right hint of vinegar. I was amazed that the dish came to me so quickly, because it seemed like it should have taken longer just due to how beautiful it looked. Impressive.
The funny thing is that I’m really not a big vegetable person. I’d take steak anyday, but all the veggie dishes looked so appealing. Next up was the Sweet and Sour Eggplant, with a nice mix of deep colors: yellow, purple and green. It tasted fresh and the added pine nuts and raisins were a wonderful touch.
Under the pasta side of the menu, you cannot leave Graffiato without first trying the Sweet Corn Agnolotti. I actually didn’t try this the first time I was there, but had to after seeing in on Dining in DC’s Top 10 Memorable Bites. Author Lisa Shapiro called the dish “to die for,” writing “The filling, a sweet mixture of cheese and corn puree, was almost decadent and oh so smooth.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
What didn’t I like? The crab salad, which was one of the specials for the day. It was mediocre at best. However, the cucumber/honeydew salad next to it was good.
If you’re looking for some more meat in your meal, I’ve also had the pork ribs and the polenta (spicy pork meatballs, soft egg) and give them the thumbs up.
Isabella says he will change the paper menu regularly. In fact, the culinary team is sitting down next week to go over the fall list. Now just try to get a reservation.
Graffiato is located at 707 6th Street NW. The closest metro stop is Gallery Place-Chinatown (Red/Green/Yellow Lines). For more information, call (202) 289-3600.