I just found my new favorite restaurant in DC, Mike Isabella's Graffiato. Not only did I get to sit about five feet away from him while he was sitting at the bar and then plating food, but I got to eat his grandmother's gnocchi. Blissful, light, moist, heavenly potato gnocchi!
The service was fantastic. We weren't rushed. Plates and glasses were whisked away almost as soon as we pushed them aside. Glasses were refilled and drinks refreshed in a seemingly automated fashion.
The dishes are small plates ideal for sharing, with a suggestion of about three to four dishes per person. The food comes out as it's ready and the waiter advised against trying to devise any particular strategy for ordering. We ordered a few items at a time as we pleased and just relished the food. Our server was knowledgeable about the food and offered terrific suggestions, which opened our eyes to things we probably wouldn't have otherwise considered. Also, when my husband ordered a DC Brau on tap, but they brought Peroni by mistake, the server corrected it before John even noticed.
And did I mention that they offered Prosecco on tap?! ON TAP!!!
The restaurant had a modern and casual feel that also didn't try too hard. It was dark and intimate, and my favorite part (well, other than the food) was being able to watch the chefs cook and plate the food. And the music selection of upbeat rock and alternative brought me back to my childhood.
Here's our meal in review... (A few of the photos are blurry... Sorry, I was hungry.)
First of all, goat cheese is one of our favorite things... So much so that we ordered this dish solely because we wanted to eat the goat cheese. The peas had a wonderful flavor of lemon and olive oil. It was almost buttery, but lighter. The tomato pesto was something special... and the peas were perfectly crispy but tender. This was a great start to the meal.
The almonds were so good. They reminded me of the nuts I roasted last Christmas, but with a lot less sugar. The beets were sweet, but not overly so. I'm pretty sure I could make those almonds. Mmm... pork fat.
The blue crab salad was one of the specials of the night. And when they say crab salad, I'm pretty sure they actually mean CRAB. And a *wee* bit of salad. The cantaloupe added a perfect amount of sweetness, so that the salad didn't need a lot of mayo. Nor anything else really. The lump crab was perfectly moist, lightly sweet and full of flavor. It was so satisfying on it's own.
And afterwards they brought us new plates, so the rest of our food didn't get all "beet-y." :)
The countryman pizza at Graffiato is by far the most decadent pizza I've ever had. Black truffles, fontina cheese and a duck egg. The yolk was cracked with a spoon and spread over the pizza as they served it to us. Talk about food porn... The pizza crust was the perfect thickness and not charred. We could actually watch the guy tossing dough from where we sat. At about 6 slices per pizza, it's *almost* too much for small plates shared between two people, but the pizza here is definitely something special and not to be missed.
Roasted potato gnocchi with braised pork shank and burrata cheese was our "pasta" dish, and probably my favorite dish of the night. The gnocchi, apparently made from Chef Isabella's grandmother's recipe, was truly a delight. The gnocchi was soft, moist and not even remotely heavy nor rich. The braised pork was juicy and flavorful without overwhelming the tender gnocchi. It had a bit of a subtly sweet but savory tomato flavor that I want to imagine as the Italian version of barbecue. The totality of the dish was a flavor combination and texture that I don't know how to fully articulate, but it's definitely a food memory that I will not soon forget.
This hearty wood oven dish of three pork ribs and a coriander yogurt was our next to last dish. The meat fell off of the rib bones. The greek style yogurt, flavored with just the right amount of coriander was a lovely complement to the dry rub, oregano seasoned ribs.
For our final dish of the night we wavered between a classic Caesar salad and dessert... The dessert won out, but I'd love to try the salad someday. The "croutons" are made from natural and fresh cream cheese (think nothing like the Philadelphia cream cheese you buy in stores), which is rolled in polenta and deep fried. Umm... I think I need to make those...
Last but not least... dessert. We ordered the Panna Cotta. Coconut, pineapple, cashews, basil... The panna cotta had a subtle hint of coconut, though I really couldn't taste any cashew. The pineapple seemed to be cooked and cooled with a sort of simple syrup that topped the panna cotta. Small, perfectly diced squares of watermelon mixed with basil topped the dish. Basil and watermelon?! How did I not know about this amazingly fantastic combination? The dessert was the perfect end to a fairly rich and indulgent meal. Light, refreshing and not overly sweet, we were definitely pleased. And even more so when the waiter complimented our selection by saying how refreshing it was to have a table that didn't order the chocolate tart. As much as I love chocolate, I'd have to choose this any day...
After our meal, Chef Isabella was standing near our table and I couldn't resist thanking him for an amazing meal. He was gracious and polite and asked if we had a good time. We did indeed.
We ordered a total of seven dishes and left full and content, but not stuffed and in pain. Best of all, the prices were fairly reasonable given the level of service and the quality of food.
There are so many other things I'd love to try, like the ham plates, the lobster, and the polenta with spicy pork meatballs and a soft egg. But next time, I think I'll try the chef's tasting menu... Who's with me?