Tuesday, December 11, 2012


My friend Sam was interviewing for dentistry residencies in DC and had some time to kill before his flight the next day. I've known him since second grade and his dad used to be my dentist, so we go way back. Ming and I met him for dinner this past Friday at Mike Isabella's Graffiato, as I've heard great things about this place. He specializes in Italian food and his restaurant style is Italian tapas. I'm a sucker for tapas anything; I know I know, I'm paying exorbitant amounts to taste tiny portions, but I like the idea trying small amounts of many dishes. 

The three of us each ordered one of their house made sodas, looked at the menu, and were immediately drawn to the chef's tasting. They asked us whether we had allergies or specific preferences and we said no, so we left the outcome of the rest of the night up to the chef. Thank god he knew what he was doing.

Here's Ming nomming when he's taking a break from being an amazing photographer. All pics in this post (except this one I sneaked in) are by him.

They started by bringing over the bread along with some apps. We were given a generous portion of their flatbread and pepperoni sauce. The bread was lovely and warm, and the texture and bubbles were reminiscent of naan. The sauce was just pizza sauce but it was great -- not too salty, not too strong.

The cheese and cure plate was placed at our table alongside the bread. It featured prosciutto, salami, two types of goat cheese, another type of cheese that I don't know, and a scoop of garlic-seasoned dulce de leche, which was very interesting and unexpected. There were also two types of bread crisps (a plain and a fig) that are not pictured. The juxtaposition of the salty meats with the creamy cheese and the sweet caramel was heavenly.

The third app was a plate of their baby beets with house ricotta and orange. This was a downer and was unanimously voted the least favorite dish of the evening. Sam said that the dish tasted "so pure...like...pure beets" but there was nothing much to the dish except that. And I hate beets, so wah.

Now, this final app from our first round of dishes was incredible. Brussels sprouts with pancetta, maple, and yogurt. After Thanksgiving, I thought I was done with brussels sprouts, but Graffiato managed to changed my mind. The sprouts were perfectly fried but went so well with the sweet creamy dressing. I couldn't get enough of this dish so my friends let me finish almost the entire thing.  

After the first round of dishes were cleared from our table, it was time for the pizza/salad course. They brought a plate of their classic Caesar salad with anchovies and cream cheese croutons. I used to think all Caesar salads were just Caesar salad but no, Graffiato showed me that it can be an extravagant dish. The anchovies gave the dish a pop, and the croutons were perfect. They were crispy on the outside while perfectly hot and creamy on the inside, and lacked a strong cream cheese taste which I was happy for.

They also brought a plate of mozzarella with candied walnuts, Asian pear, and pickled cauliflower. I have no idea what the brown swoosh of sauce was, but it tasted somewhat sweet. The mozzarella was freshly made, and the Asian pear complemented it well.

And the pizza! We got the countryman pizza with truffle, fontina, and soft egg. A plain pizza usually has pizza sauce and mozzarella. Well here, they used truffle for pizza sauce and fontina instead of mozzarella. And our topping was a soft egg, which they popped and spread over the pizza while it was still piping hot on our table.

After the pizza course, the main dishes arrived at our table. There was a potato in yogurt dish that I wasn't too fond of and was pretty insignificant (to the point that we don't even have a picture of it). Pictured here is the duck confit with onions and lentils, which was good although a tad too salty for me. What surprised me the most was how deliciously cooked the onions were.

These are the tortellini with pumpkin, brown butter, hazelnuts, or at least I think that's what this dish was. It's the only tortellini listed on their online menu, so I figured this is what they brought us. They were very good, so I can see why Mike Isabella is known for his Italian food.

Unfortunately, the ricotta cavatelli with lamb ragu, feta, mint, and pistachio was not a hit. That might be because the cavatelli look like maggots to me, and I couldn't get over that. Also, this dish was way too salty.

The last main dish was swordfish with leeks, clams, and dill. When you first taste the broth, it tastes like a veggie soup and you're like oh, ok. But then the clam hits you and then your reaction suddenly becomes oh, wow. The broth made the dish, and the fish was perfectly cooked, so I approved.

Lastly came the desserts. The warm chocolate cake with salted caramel gelato looked like it would be a lava cake when they brought it to the table, but nothing oozed out when we dug in :'( It was incredibly rich and I couldn't eat much of this.

This, on the other hand, I could eat. It's beet cheesecake with candied orange and pistachio gelato. I know that sounds like the strangest thing but TRUST. It does not taste like beets, since as I said earlier, I detest beets. This was overall delicious and unique and incredibly well balanced, especially with the gelato that had crispy pieces inside. This was my favorite dish of the evening, or maybe tied with the brussels sprouts.

The final dessert was the apple crostata with whipped mascarpone. It sucked compared to the other two, but the beet cheesecake appeased me adequately so I let it go.

The three of us took a long walk afterwards downtown to walk off all that food. It didn't help much, but every step counts when you're practically rolling down the street. We managed to find the White House :)

707 6th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 289-3600

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