Address: 707 6th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Top Chef All-Stars (Season 8) was probably one of my favorites of the series, since it managed to bring together a wide variety of personalities and competitors from all seven seasons prior. Although I hadn’t watched Chef Mike Isabella while he was on Top Chef Las Vegas (Season 6), I got to watch his entire run to the finale during All-Stars, facing off against Richard Blais, who I had been rooting for during his run on Top Chef Chicago (Season 4).
Fast forward now a few years. It was during a conversation with my friend Mark that he tells me about this restaurant he had really enjoyed called Graffiato. He then mentioned that I would probably recognize the name of the owner: Mike Isabella. I had forgotten that he had opened some restaurants in D.C., and Graffiato subsequently bumped up quite a few notches on my list for restaurants to check out.
This past weekend, I was coming up to the D.C. area to get my car serviced, and I thought that it’d be nice to meet up with my friends Andy and Emily while in the area for dinner. Since it was Labor Day weekend, we thought the D.C. restaurant scene might be a little busier than usual and would be safer to put in the reservation, so we pulled up the list of D.C. restaurants on OpenTable and booked a table at Graffiato. It was a good call; the place was pretty crowded by the time that we arrived to eat.
Located in Chinatown, Graffiato is very easily accessible from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop. The outside is rather unassuming, with a black paint job to distinguish itself from the cream-colored building. The restaurant’s windows were also tinted and reflective to give the diners inside a little privacy. The interior has a semi-industrial theme to it, with furniture and decorations drawing mostly from wood, metal, and brick elements. The open kitchen is also probably a treat for the diners sitting right at its countertop or at the tables beside it, getting a mini-show and smelling the food as it’s cooked. We were seated on the second floor dining area, which had just as busy of an atmosphere as the first floor.
Graffiato’s dishes are served in small plate portions, similar to what you would expect from tapas-style cuisine. The dishes are categorized in four areas on the menu: vegetable, salads, meats, and pasta. A number of wood-fired pizzas also compliment the dishes on the menu. We wanted to get a good sampling of the plates across the board, even though the number of options made it hard to choose. In the end, we went with four plates and a pizza, which ended up being a good amount of food for the three of us. I think out of the dishes that we ordered, my two favorites were definitely the Buffalo Mozzarella insalate and Charred Octopus.
The Buffalo Mozzarella blends together three things very well: sweet, savory, and texture. The mozzarella, coming from buffalo milk, had a bit more of a rich and creamy flavor than its cow milk counterpart. That paired nicely with the sweetness of the figs and tartness of the kalamata olives, and the crushed almonds gave each bite a crunch to provide contrast with all of the other soft ingredients.
The Charred Octopus dish was actually the first time I’ve tried octopus (I’ve eaten squid numerous times before in calamari), but nonetheless I was impressed at how well the tentacle was cooked. The charring left the outside just a little crispy, but the inside was flavorful and moist (not tough or rubbery which I had been concerned about). The blackberry condiment plated with the octopus paired nicely with each bite to give the salty flavor of the octopus a nice sweet contrast.
To be fair, I still thought that the other two dishes and the pizza we got tasted good, but just not as memorable as the Buffalo Mozzarella or Charred Octopus. The White House pizza was interesting, seeing as one of the toppings was honey, and the sweet flavor is something I wasn’t accustomed to on pizzas, but still fun to try. The Potato Gnocchi were nice and soft, and the subtle flavors of the pork ragu complimented things well. The risotto was okay for me, with my best bite being when it had all the toppings loaded onto the spoon. Unfortunately, the flavor of the risotto itself didn’t stand out as much on its own, and I thought it could have used just a little more salt.
It was an overall good experience dining at Graffiato for the first time. The restaurant’s menu incorporates a lot of variety, with both flavors and ingredients. The dining ambiance was nice, albeit busy probably because of the holiday weekend. Maybe one of these days when I go back I can get lucky and catch Chef Isabella in the open kitchen, doing what he does best.
Let’s now take a look at the Graffiato Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Buffalo Mozzarella **
Buffalo milk mozzarella cheese paired with figs, kalamata olives, and marcona almonds.
** Potato Gnocchi **
Gnocchi served in a pork ragù with a dollop of whipped ricotta cheese.
** Charred Octopus **
Charred octopus tentacle served with blackberry mostarda, chicory, and meyer lemon juice.
Arugula base risotto topped with cherry tomatoes, crispy mozzarella balls, and crushed hazelnuts.
** White House Pizza **
Mozzarella, taleggio, and ricotta cheeses topped with prosciutto and black pepper honey.
And finally, here are my rankings for Graffiato:
Food: 4.5 / 5
Some of the dishes stood out more than others, but ultimately everything tasted good and the ingredients were very fresh. The menu offers a wide flavor selection for what you might be in the mood for.
Atmosphere: 4.25 / 5
When they say that retail floorspace is a valuable commodity in the city, I’d believe it. The upstairs dining room was packed with tables to the brim, leaving semi-narrow pathways between to navigate. It was enough to make you feel a little bit cramped sometimes, since I couldn’t back up my chair without being afraid to hit the person behind me. The dining area emitted that busy vibe, which I think accentuates the restaurant’s character.
Service: 4.5 / 5
Our waitress promptly came over once we were seated to take our drink orders and followed up for food orders not too long after. I was also impressed at how quickly all the food made it to the table after ordering. The waitstaff continued to cycle around to refill waters very often as well as remove any plates that we were finished with.
Price: 4.25 / 5
This one is kind of a mixed bag. There were some dishes that I thought were worth the price, and other prices I thought could have been dialed down slightly. For the $25 I paid to split those five items, and given how full I was walking out, I was satisfied.