Manhattan-trained Mike Isabella brought a rock-star cool to his stint on "Top Chef," and his venture down I–95 gave the same instant pizzazz to Washington's often-staid culinary scene. Everyone does wood-fired pizzas, but Graffiato (the Italian word for "scratched," an excellent description of its artful-grunge ambience) does a Jersey Shore pie inspired by Isabella's home state that piles pink cherry-pepper aioli onto fried calamari. Everyone does a beet salad, but here the typical goat cheese is tossed aside for funky hazelnut and chocolate flavors. This TV name lives up to the hype—just don't expect to hear much over the Bon Jovi that keeps the party going during prime dinner hours.
Sep 18, 2013
My spouse and I dined at Graffiato for brunch in late May 2013. We visited on a Sunday, and from their website, we thought that we would be ordering off the lunch menu rather than the brunch menu. (We are not big eggs and pancake eaters, preferring lunchtime food instead; however, there were plenty of non-breakfast items on the menu.) Currently, the restaurant participates in the City Eats reservation system; however, we made a reservation via email.
Originally, we had inquired via email about their GEM tasting menu that is available on weeknights, but we were told that the restaurant did not plan to offer that special menu any time in the future. They still offer a regular $60 tasting menu nightly. The restaurant is located in Chinatown near the Verizon Center, and the restaurant space covers two levels. On the first/ground floor is a large bar along with a few tables, as well as a food-preparation bar fronting a pizza oven, where you can sit to watch the chefs work (we think this is where we would have sat for the GEM tasting menu). We were led to a table upstairs, where there is both booth and table seating as well as a 4-seat bar area that fronted the open work kitchen/prep area (their website calls it a “ham bar”; however, it did not appear to be used regularly). Because we are particularly interested in cooking and plating food, next time we visit, we will request to sit at the downstairs food-prep bar. We loved our food at Graffiato! On the brunch menu, they offer a $25 per person “Booze and Bites” option, where each guest can choose three dishes, excluding pizza (or you can choose two dishes and one drink, such as a mimosa or a bloody mary). We decided to sample six food options instead of including drinks; we chose burrata with kumquat, spring peas with bread crumbs, sweetbreads, meatballs served on polenta, and two pasta dishes (one was gnocchi with an amazing pork ragu and ricotta, and the other was agnolotti with curds, whey, and egg yolk). Sadly, the dessert options on the brunch menu were weak - there were only three choices, and they doubled as the sweet brunch entrees (including waffles, French toast, and cinnamon rolls). We passed on ordering dessert, something we never do! We would definitely dine here again, but next time, we will sit downstairs at the chef’s bar. We are also interested to try one of Chef Mike Isabella’s other restaurants, Kapnos or Bandolero, after our satisfying experience at Graffiato.