Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, Penn Quarter, The Features

Capital Chefs: Mike Isabella of Graffiato (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of bonappetitfoodie
Mike Isabella’s Pork and Beans
courtesy of bonappetitfoodie

Pork belly, the stuff of Gods. And if you’ve had the delectable version at Graffiato, you know exactly what I’m talking about–melt in your mouth pork with that nice seared, caramelized outer edge, complimented by a roughly pureed bed of cannelini beans. Chef Mike Isabella shared the recipe with me in the most recent Capital Chefs which you can find after the jump. On a cold winter’s day, this dish is perfect.
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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, Penn Quarter, The Features

Capital Chefs: Mike Isabella of Graffiato (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of bonappetitfoodie
Mike Isabella of Graffiato
courtesy of bonappetitfoodie

Chef Mike Isabella describes himself as intense, focused and driven. And at first you might be intimidated by the tattoos or the serious face when he asks a line cook about a certain dish, not to mention his culinary prowess that landed him on Top Chef and as a runner-up on Top Chef All Stars. But then you mention you’re both from New Jersey or make an astute comment about a dish, and right away the ice is broken, the conversation is off to a start and you wonder how anyone could describe the chef as anything but affable and welcoming.

Like many of the chefs I talk to, Isabella started cooking at a young age just by keeping busy in the kitchen with this grandmother. “I loved the smell of her cooking. Helping her kept me occupied,” he said. From there, becoming a chef was a no-brainer. “This was the only thing I wanted to do. So I knew I couldn’t fail and I worked my ass off.”

The northern Jersey native started out at The Restaurant School in New York, followed by a stint in Philadelphia working with the likes of Stephen Starr, Jose Garces and Marcus Samuelsson. After Philadelphia, Isabella moved to Atlanta to work at a greek restaurant, Kyma, before coming to DC to be the executive chef at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya for three years. Today, you probably know Isabella best from Top Chef and from Graffiato, his Italian restaurant he opened in Chinatown this past summer. “I had grown up in New Jersey, went to New York and then Philly and Atlanta, but I couldn’t find the right fit for me,” Isabella says. In a goldilocks-esque moment, it turned out that DC was just right for the chef. “DC is the perfect size,” he says, adding that the farms in the area are a huge asset. “This city sticks together. We all [in the culinary scene] support one another and make each other better. Chefs here always welcome new people with open arms.” Continue reading

Food and Drink, Foodie Roundup, Penn Quarter, The Daily Feed, We Love Food

We Love Food: Quick Update on Restaurant Happenings

Photo courtesy of
‘America Eats Tavern- Washington, DC’
courtesy of ‘Plantains & Kimchi’

For those of you who avidly follow the food scene, this all might be old news. But to those of you who don’t eat, sleep and drink DC food coverage, here’s a little roundup on some of the latest restaurant happenings around DC.

Have no fear about not getting to José Andrés’ America Eats Tavern in time before it closes. The restaurant announced that it will be staying open through July 4, 2012–closing exactly a year after it first opened this past summer. Don’t forget that the “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?” exhibit, which served as inspiration for the restaurant concept and of which Andrés is the chief culinary advisor to, will close on January 3rd.

In “ancient” news by classic journalistic standards, Mike Isabella is opening a restaurant in the former Hook space in Georgetown. Hook and its sister restaurant, Tackle Box, had been closed since a fire in late June. Eater DC has a full recap of the drama behind how the story of Isabella’s new restaurant broke. All of that aside, Bandolero will be a “modern Mexican small-plates concept,” with dishes such as salsas, ceviches, tacos, and Isabella’s version of fajitas, according to a news release. Bandolero is set to open in early 2012.

Staying in the Georgetown area, PAUL Bakery has launched a second location in DC, which officially opened its doors on November 21st. The french bakery has enough seating for 30 to 40 patrons in Georgetown, or you can just grab a baguette to go seven days a week. PAUL had opened its first DC location in May 2011.

And lastly, unlike the other news about restaurant openings, The Washington Post reported that Ba Bay in Eastern Market closed its doors. As Tim Carman reported, Ba Bay closed “due to circumstances beyond our [the owner's] control.” No word on whether owners and cousins Denise Nguyen and Khoa Nguyen will open another Vietnamese-style restaurant or another Ba Bay elsewhere.

Food and Drink

First Look: Graffiato

graffiato

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.

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The Daily Feed

This Week in Food

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Open!

Two new places opened up on H Street this week, and they’re sure to be favorites for residents and other Washingtonians. For less than $9 you can get a full plate of stir-fry at Khan’s Bar and Grill. It’s not fancy, but it works, and well at that. Just on the next block is the ramen and dumpling house, Toki Underground.  Of course, expect late hours for both.

Medium Rare also opened up this week with its minimalist menu. Pay $19.50 and you’ll get a prix-fixe menu of rustic bread, a mixed greens salad and a Sirloin Steak with fries. The Cleveland Park restaurant comes to us from Mark Bucher of BGR The Burger Joint.

Coming!

Best Bites has some great news for meat lovers out there. To be exact, “a large, USDA-certified commissary for processing locally raised meat that will be sold on-location, to venues in the parent Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and eventually to a string of Red Apron butcheries in Maryland, Virginia, and the District.” What that mouthful means is that you will soon be able to get pastrami short ribs, summer sausage, smoked jowl rillettes, wild-boar salami, and more at a brick and mortar.

Winner

Mike Isabella of the coming up Graffiato took second place in Top Chef, edged out by Richard Blais.  So yet again, a Washingtonian makes it so far and doesn’t grab the title. That’s okay. Congraulations!

This weekend

It’s time for ARTINI 2011. You can read our drinks roundup here, here, and here. This Saturday mixologists from 12 of the city’s top venues will serve up artistic martinis inspired by works from the Corcoran Collection. If you wanted to go, but don’t have a ticket, you’re out of luck because the event is sold out. But I still can’t wait to find out who wins!

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

This Week in Food

Photo courtesy of
‘Hank’s Oyster Bar’
courtesy of ‘jichen2′
Running Indefinitely: Kushi Izakaya & Sushi will donate 100% of the sales of its popular Buta Bara Kushiyaki (Pork Belly Kushiyaki) to the Japanese Red Cross to support earthquake and tsunami disaster relief in Japan. The Pork Belly Kushiyaki, made with North Carolina pigs and cooked sous vide for several hours, is Kushi’s best-selling menu item averaging monthly sales of approximately $7,500.00. 

Getting Bigger…Come May Hank’s Oyster Bar will double in size, adding a bar & lounge as well as a private dining room. So what does this mean? Late night hours! Two am on weeknights and 3 am weekends. Our devoted readers might also remember that restaurant partners Jamie Leeds and Sandy Lewis from Hank’s sold CommonWealth Gastro Pub in Columbia Heights last month.

Opening: Because I live for press releases with a lot of adjectives and love the movie Burlesque…”From the restaurateurs behind distinctive dining concepts OYA and SEI comes SAX, an exclusive lounge and restaurant with provocative live entertainment designed to amuse, please and divert the senses with opulent grandeur.” Look for it in May.

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Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Greek Easter Lambwiches at Zaytinya

Photo courtesy of
‘Zaytinya’
courtesy of ‘needlessspaces’

Oh man, it’s that time again – the Greek Easter Festival at Zaytinya. Last year, during the festival Top Chef contestant Mike Isabella served up lamb pita sandwiches with tzatziki out of a street cart on the corner of 9th and G street during lunchtime and it was crazy popular.

This year he does it again, but they’re adding picnic tables so you can enjoy your lambwich on-site. The festival runs from April 5-16th, so take a long lunch break, call in sick, do whatever you need to do to get yourself a pita. Plus, you’ll be able to rub elbows with cutie Chef Isabella, who promises to help his sous chefs man the cart.

Zaytinya is located on the corner of 9th and G streets NW, right across from the 9th street exit of the Chinatown Metro Station.

Food and Drink, Fun & Games, Life in the Capital, The Daily Feed

Bringing Bravo’s Top Chef to DC

Photo courtesy of
‘Paul BOCUSE, French Cook’
courtesy of ‘alainelorza’

The foodies over at DC blog Capital Spice have been intently watching and covering this season of Bravo’s Top Chef, and last week they offered up a fantastic interview with Frederick, Maryland’s own final contest Bryan Voltaggio.

Leading up to this Wednesday’s finale, the site is running a contest that not only gives the winner a Top Chef prize package, but also pitches Washington, DC as the fantastic location for the next season of Top Chef.

So here’s your assignment: Concept a Top Chef elimination challenge that highlights something uniquely Washington. Think: locations, ingredients, events, guest judges who best represent DC, etc.

DC would be an amazing venue for Top Chef. We’ve got a solid culinary community with DC denizens, like Spike Mendelsohn, Carla Hall, and Mike Isabella already showing DC skills on Top Chef, and currently Mr. Voltaggio making a very strong play the Season 6 title.  Additionally, DC offers a fantastic array of high-quality restaurants (with celebrity chefs,) historic eateries, local breweries, gourmet shops, great farmers’ markets, superb area produce, and a solid wine scene.

Capital Spice will take submissions until the beginning of the Top Chef finale this Wednesday night and will announce the winning entry on Thursday. Put your creative hats on! Get to brainstorming! And let’s bring Top Chef to DC!