Restaurant Review: Graffiato in Washington, D.C.
Sep 21, 2011 12:19AM ● Published by Anonymous
My husband and I are huge Top Chef fans, so as soon as Graffiato opened this summer, I made reservations (that was three months ago). There was a lot of lead-up to this visit, a lot of time spent poring over the menu and the reviews, both professional and amateur.
Graffiato is a small plates, Italian-inspired restaurant that serves pizza, pasta, and small entrees. It's a two-story building on 6th Street in Northwest D.C. with an industrial feel and minimal decor. The bottom floor houses an open kitchen, including a wood-fired oven, a long bar, and a handful of booths. The lighting is dim and the noise level, while loud, isn't overwhelming.
We arrived about 15 minutes before our 7 p.m. reservation and were given a pager to wait. We sidled up to the bar, but chose to remain standing, giving the only two open seats to two ladies that looked like they were going to eat dinner at the bar (which you can). There's a couple little quirks to the bar menu, such as Prosecco on tap (which I indulged in for $7). My husband, David, asked for a pumpkin beer that was recently added to the menu (we're on a pumpkin beer kick right now), but the bartender must have heard "Brooklyn" instead of pumpkin, and handed him a can of Brooklyn Lager ($6). No big deal.
Nearly as soon as we started sipping our drinks, Isabella himself came in through a back door and sat down with some customers at a booth near us. Apparently, I get overly excited by encountering celebrity chefs, and my husband made fun of me. He later went back to the kitchen and seemed to be helping out back there.
A few minutes after seven, our pager started beeping and we were led upstairs to the second floor of the restaurant, which has another open kitchen. But that's about where the similarities end between the two levels -- the upstairs had bright lighting, an elevated noise level, and tables squeezed together that felt a bit like we were in a cafeteria. The tables are so tight that neither of us could push our chairs back from the table without hitting the person behind us. When we were leaving, in an effort to maneuver through the tables, I turned and my purse hit a glass on the table, causing it to fall and shatter on the ground. As my husband says, you can't take me anywhere.
When we sat, we ordered another round of beverages. I chose a glass of Chardonnay, while my husband, lacking the pumpkin beer downstairs, ordered a Smashing Pumpkin cocktail.
Because I had browsed the menu prior, I knew exactly what we wanted (though a duck special made me pause for just a minute). Our waiter told us that the chef recommends 3-4 dishes per person. We ordered 5 dishes based on our budget for the night, but probably should have done another one or two for a really filling meal.
The dishes came out really quickly – in fact, the whole dinner was very quick. We had a 7 p.m. reservation, and we were around the corner meeting a friend at a bar at 8:15.
We started with a Caesar Salad ($8), which was pretty standard as far as Caesar salads go – with one unexpected twist, cream cheese croutons. These croutons are little bursts of creaminess and very addicting. The salad was also dotted with slices of anchovies, as a traditional Caesar should be.
We next tried the Polenta with spicy pork meatballs ($10), which for as much as I love pork meatballs, wasn’t very exciting. The polenta was creamy and rich, and the meatballs were good – it just wasn’t anything overwhelming.
Our third dish was the Chestnut Agnolotti, a filled pasta, dotted with green brussel leaves. This was the first highlight of the meal, which is why the photo is missing. I was so obsessed with the brown butter butternut squash sauce on this pasta that I completely forgot to take a photo. At the end of the dish, I was actually scooping up the remainder of the sauce with my fork.
I knew that we had to try the Chicken Thighs with Cabbage and Pepperoni Sauce ($10). When Isabella made this on Top Chef, judge Gail Simmons raved over it. It tasted exactly like what it sounds like – crispy chicken thighs, which I love, on top of a sauce that tasted basically like pizza. It was good, but I’m surprised that Simmons was so crazy over it. (In case you really like it, too, Isabella shared the recipe with the Washington Post, and you can find it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/all-we-can-eat/post/crazy-business-pepperoni-sauce-revealed/2011/03/31/AF2r7MHD_blog.html)
For our fifth and final dish, we tried the Vermont Pizza ($15), which had a soft, doughy crust and was topped with cheddar cheese, melted leeks, thick bacon, and slices of baby potatoes (including a purple one!) This was actually really delicious and would have been enough food for a small dinner for one person.
While photographing the pizza, I was caught by our waiter. He told us that the tables around us had been watching what we ordered and basing their selections on it, which made me feel pretty awesome.
As we left the restaurant after paying our bill, I reflected on how much hype can really make or break your dining experience. Graffiato has received some really great reviews from local restaurant critics and I was immensely looking forward to the evening. I left feeling like we had a good dinner, but not as good as I would have expected from one of the best contestants on Top Chef. Perhaps Isabella and Graffiato were the victims of Overhype?