Tag Archives: mike isabella


16 Jan

I am pretty over the weather in DC right now. If I wanted grey and drizzle, I would have stayed in Seattle. If it were up to me, the seasons would go from spring to summer to fall to spring again. I am hoping it clears up in time for the three-day weekend, especially Monday because Stef and I are going to the inauguration!!!!

I contacted my Congressional representative from my district (I am still a Washington State resident) and begged asked for tickets. Luckily, Washington State has a fairly low turnout rate for inauguration (it’s sort of a hassle to fly all the way across the country), so they still had some! I am really excited because I can’t think of another time when I will be able to attend a presidential inauguration at absolutely zero cost (no hotel, no flights, no nothing!). 

Today’s post is one more recap of my anniversary weekend with Stef. After spending the day in Old Town, we made it back to DC in time for dinner at Graffiato, the Italian restaurant of Chef Mike Isabella (of Top Chef fame). I wanted to try it out because I received his cookbook, Crazy Good Italian, as a secret Santa gift at work and was really intrigued by the recipes. At Graffiato (which means ‘scratched’ in Italian), the menu is set up like an Italian tapas restaurant, with several small plates meant to be shared among the diners.

IMG_1854[1]I started out with a glass of their house-made blood orange and lemongrass soda. It was deeeeelish, though a bit on the sweet side and this is coming from a self-proclaimed major sweet tooth. They offered complimentary sparkling water, which I really appreciated. After living in Rome, I have grown to love sparkling water, but I’m not going to pay for a bottle of it when I’m out at restaurants, especially given how much water I drink when I go out to eat. I added a bit of sparkling water to the soda to dilute it a bit and that worked out nicely.

Since Stef and I were planning on splitting everything, and the waiter recommended 2-3 dishes per person, we ordered six dishes to share, starting with Chef Isabella’s famous flat bread with pepperoni sauce.

IMG_1857[1]I’ll be honest with you, both of us were extremely underwhelmed by it. While the flat bread was great, the sauce tasted like something out of a Chef Boyardi can. It surprised me that this famous sauce was as disappointing as it was. Definitely wouldn’t order it again.

The other appetizer we ordered more than made up for the pepperoni sauce, though.

IMG_1856[1]The plate consisted of broccolini (love this stuff!) with a marinade of red peppers, walnut, and feta cheese on top. This dish was packed with flavor and I was really digging the interaction of textures from the walnut, feta, and broccolini. I don’t know how they made the red pepper marinade, but it was perfect. I could have eaten this as a main dish in a much larger portion.

For our next course, we started with a pseudo-salad, which consisted of burrata cheese (my absolute favorite cheese in all the world), marinated wild mushrooms, and radish.


When I lived in Rome, my apartment was located in a very central location, right next to the famous Campo de’ Fiori. Across the campo, there was a specialty olives and cheeses shop where I would go to buy burrata, shipped fresh from Southern Italy each morning. Excuse me while I wax poetic about this cheese, but a greater marriage was never known than the one between fresh mozzarella and cream. Needless to say, my standards are quite high when it comes to my burrata. This particular dish was good, but not spectacular. The burrata wasn’t as creamy on the inside as I was expecting, but it was still burrata, so it was delicious. I am glad they marinated the mushrooms because it gave the dish a nice bright flavor, but I felt as if the pairing was a little off. I would have preferred a big piece of burrata with just a drizzle of olive oil next time.

IMG_1859[1]We did order a proper salad, which came with a little surprise. This Caesar salad was exactly the way a Caesar salad should be, complete with anchovy. They did a good job of making sure the anchovies were present, but didn’t overwhelm the whole salad, which is easy to do. The surprise came in the form of the croutons, which were actually fried cubes of cream cheese! That was definitely unexpected. While creative and delicious, I did feel as if the cream cheese overwhelmed everything once it was in my mouth. Once I took a bite of salad with a “crouton”, it was suddenly cream cheese everywhere. It sort of masked the taste of the salad while I was eating, which I wasn’t too pleased about.

IMG_1860[1]Stef and I ordered separate main courses. He wanted the lasagna, which was made with a pork shank ragu. I don’t eat pork, so we decided to split up on this part of the meal. The picture above is of my meal, which was the ricotta cavatelli, with lamb ragu, feta, mint, and pistachio. Let me start off by saying that I just love cavatelli noodles. Linguistic sidenote: The name stems from the Italian word cavato, which means ‘hollowed out’. When it’s expressed in the plural (cavati) and the diminutive (cavatelli), it comes to mean ‘little hollowed out things’, which I find to be a fairly apt description. End sidenote. 

Let’s get back to the dish itself, which was one of my favorites of the night. First of all, the noodles were cooked to perfection, in my opinion. They were just a little on the chewier side of al dente, which is right up my alley. The lamb ragu was delicious and hearty, but the mint and feta kept the dish from feeling too heavy. My only disappointment was that there wasn’t more of it.

IMG_1861[1]Stef’s lasagna, on the other hand, was a good-sized portion and came in the cute little pan where it was cooked. He had no problem finishing it off, but his tummy was definitely feeling it after he had eaten.

IMG_1862[1]Though I didn’t try this one, Stef really enjoyed it and especially liked the big pieces of pork in the ragu.


At this point, we were feeling pretty satisfied, but we weren’t about to leave without ordering dessert. It was our anniversary, it was go big or go home! Stef was pretty adamant that we order the warm chocolate cake, so we chose that and the olive oil cake with caramel, poppy seed, and persimmon.

IMG_1865[1]The warm chocolate cake came with a side of fudge sauce and salted caramel gelato. While I am not the biggest fan of chocolate (I know, I know!), the salted caramel gelato rocked my world. I could have easily finished off a pint of that stuff.

IMG_1864[1]Stefano had some trepidation about ordering a cake made out of oil, despite the fact that he once made brownies with olive oil and thought they were delicious (they weren’t). I really, really, really enjoyed this dessert. The cake was soft and moist, but not crumbly and I was super into all of the caramel sauce drizzled on the plate. The dish came with yogurt gelato, but it didn’t blow me out of the water the way the salted caramel gelato did.

By the end of the meal, we had consumed eight plates between the two of us (including dessert) and I had the feeling of being comfortably full. Overall, I felt that the restaurant was a good experience.

The Pros:

  • Excellent service. The server was really nice and came by a couple of times to see how things were going. The busboys were also really good about clearing plates and keeping our water glasses full.
  • Complimentary sparkling water. Major plus for me, as it is a special treat for me and I loved it.
  • The ricotta cavatelli, the broccolini, and the olive oil cake. That would have been the perfect three-course meal for me.

The Cons:

  • The pepperoni sauce. I was really not impressed by it and am a little disappointed by all the hype.
  • The layout of the restaurant. The tables were really close together and the people seated next to us were having a really loud conversation which made it very difficult for Stef and me to hear one another during the meal.
  • The plate sizes. This is a 1/2 pro, 1/2 con, actually. I like that there were small plates, as I am a big fan of trying many different things on the menu. However, it would have been nice to have full-size entrees available. A big plate of that cavatelli would keep me coming back to the restaurant.

I wasn’t completely blown away by the restaurant, but it was a very pleasant meal (with excellent company) and I’m glad we tried it. If someone invited me to dinner there, I would go again, but I’m not actively trying to go back.

Food For Thought: Have you ever been to a Top Chef’s restaurant? Where is your favorite place to go for a special meal?

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