Washington, DC 20001
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.
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.
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.
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.