Competitive cooking shows such as “Top Chef” can get a little silly: “Take these fresh eel hearts, swiss chard, pork belly, and chocolate sauce, and make us an award-winning main dish in one hour!” However, they often serve as a great launching pad for up-and-coming young chefs. Mike Isabella, formerly of Jose Andres’ Mediterranean small-plates restaurant Zaytinya, is one of those rising stars; and his new Italian-American restaurant Graffiato in Chinatown is worth a try.
Like a good number of the new restaurants that have opened in DC in the last several years, Graffiato focuses on small plates, with several larger pizza and pasta dishes available. While I think it’s high time for an exclusively “big plate” restaurant to open in this town, Graffiato does a good job executing on dishes that Isabella says were inspired by growing up in New Jersey and cooking with his grandmother. The menu rotates based on season and the availability of ingredients: a current look at the menu reveals crispy brussel sprouts with pancetta, maple syrup, and a bit of egg—a delicious combination. Graffiato has a wood oven, which produces some very tasty roasted octopus, along with chicken, hanger steak, and glazed pork cheek, which will be on my ordering list on a future visit.