707 6th Street
Washington, DC  20001
Graffiato on Urbanspoon

Like I've said, I remember China Town/Penn Quarter as a collection of Chinese restaurants (go figure) that served Dim Sum but was a bit of a barren space in DC.  When Verizon Center opened in 1997, the area slowly started to become re-developed and by the time it became what it is today, I had already been gone for a few years.  The good part about that is that all this is still new to me.  It can be argued that Graffiato is one of the center piece restaurants around the gentrification of Penn Quarter and I've read and heard a ton  of buzz the Top Chef association of Chef/Owner Mike Isabella doesn't hurt in that department) about it for awhile now so I couldn't wait to get there.

I went there for a late lunch, kind of in-between shifts, so that I could avoid what I thought was sure to be a busy restaurant.  While it still had a few diners, I was right in thinking it wasn't going to be very busy.  The one drawback of that was I'm not sure if I had a dedicated server throughout my whole meal.  At one point it was the guy who sat me then the bartender then it was another waiter who looked like he had just come on his shift.  This seemed to make service a bit slow and while I remember wishing that my food would come out a bit quicker, that was probably because I was hungry and the food was pretty damn good.

What I think the concept behind Graffiato is Italian-esque food but served on small plates so you could sample more throughout a meal.  I ordered and ate quite a bit but I wouldn't say I got full but I wouldn't say I was disappointed in that fact.  It seemed to be the perfect bit of food for a meal.  The day was pretty unbearably hot (100 degrees!) so I leaned toward things on the menu that seemed to be refreshing and cool. I started with an order of the Burrata with Heirloom Tomatoes, Melon and Saba.  Next was the Crispy Lamb with Yogurt and Cucumber then some Sweet Corn Agnolotti with Chanterelles and Pine Nuts.  I finished with a Warm Chocolate Cake with Fudge and a Salted Caramel Gelato.

But first, I ordered a 5 spice ginger beer, a homemade soda.  It hit the right spot for the hot day with cool, refreshing carbonation mixed in with bites of ginger.  I finished it pretty quickly and I had seen they had Sixpoint Sehr Crisp on the menu which I couldn't resist.  Again, this is turning out to be one of my favorite beers and I'm dying to find out if I could buy it locally.  It's just a nice, refreshing summer (or anytime) beer that I could enjoy with every meal.

Pairing heirloom tomatoes with burrata and putting it on a menu in front of me is like putting crack in front of a coke addict.  Those two items are definitely two of my favorite things when it comes to food.   The dish had the burrata (fresh mozzarella mixed with cream) buried under a slew of chunks of heirloom tomatoes and strips of melon.  This was finished with a drizzle of saba which is sweet grape syrup akin to balsamic vinegar.  While I loved the main ingredients, I thought the saba really made the dish since it provided a tangy/salty contrast to the sweet melon, creamy burrata and just plain refreshingly good heirlooms.  I found myself alternating between bites of savory with the saba & heirlooms and then sweetness with the melon and mozzarella.  This dish, while simple, is one of those things that will just stick in your memory.

Up next was the crispy lamb.  The lamb was braised perfectly and had a rich flavor (though a little more salt would have been welcome).  I wasn't sure why the dish was called crispy lamb because I couldn't detect where it was supposed to be crispy but I wasn't really hung up that.  The dish was served with fresh herbs on top (fennel and Italian parsley I think) and underneath were thin slices of cucumber, maybe a little radish (the menu says favas but they were no where in sight) and on a bed of fresh yogurt.  The dish is definitely a nod to Mediterranean/Greek flavors.  I liked the cooling effect of the yogurt & cucumber and the contrast it gave to the lamb.  I probably could have done without so much of the garnish.  While I enjoyed the dish, I'd like to think of it as just solid but not spectacular.

As I was still hungry, I ordered the sweet corn agnolotti.  Agnolotti is a type of ravioli.  This dish was stuffed with sweet corn and served in a broth with chives, chanterelles and pine nuts.  It actually doesn't matter what else was in the dish after the broth part.  The first bite I took was a chanterelle which tasted fine but lowered my expectations for the dish.  Then the next bit was a bit of the broth which immediately changed my mind.  The broth had this earthy, rich, sort of creamy flavor that I could have just had on its own.  Mixing it with bites of the mushrooms and pine nuts only further enhanced the multitude of flavor.  The pasta was fresh and a bite into the middle gave an explosion of sweetness that tempered the richness of the broth but was a welcome change of pace.  Simply said, the depth of flavor in this dish was not only surprising but pretty amazing.

For dessert, I saw they had a Panna Cotta with a chocolate, caramel pretzel which was suspiciously similar to the one I found at Sorella.  I decided to stay away from that and went with the Chocolate cake.  This was served with a salted caramel gelato with a strip of caramel and chocolate sauces on the bottom of the plate.  Yep, this dessert was as decadent as it sounds.  I liked the wrinkle of sauces placed on the dish so you could alternate with tastes of caramel and chocolate.  The gelato was a good cool companion to the sweet cake and it never hurts to pair some saltiness with the sweet.  I didn't get the crumb like ingredient around the gelato and felt more of a nuisance to eat than anything.

I always hope that when I go to places like Graffiato that it lives up to the hype and I thought that would be a tall order for this joint since it had a ton of hype.  It's located in a fast-developing, popular part of DC and it's owned by a former Top Chef contestant.  I was glad to see that the food lived up to they hype.   The space is stylish yet simple which is reflective of the food.  Each dish that came out was made with fresh, quality ingredients and provided layers of flavor.  They were carefully crafted and thoughtful yet somehow never over the top.  I don't know if I could come to Graffiato every week but I'm certain that if I had guests in town, it would be one of my go-to places that I know will give us a great experience and a wonderful meal.


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