Monday, June 27, 2011

Graffiato in Review

Graffiato, with Mike Isabella working in the back

Maybe the most anticipated restaurant-opening of the year has finally happened, and from the looks of things, we weren't the only ones excited to try Mike Isabella's Graffiato.

You walk into Graffiato and you see a long bar (full of people) that turns into a pizza bar--the only distinction is the pizza oven behind the bar.  Late at night, when only the pizza oven, and not the actual kitchen, operates we imagine the downstairs becomes on lively bar/pizza scene.

Mike Isabella works at his restaurant
But when you arrive, the hostess is likely to quickly whisk you upstairs where there is a larger space with tables packed into the room.  There, on the upper level, is the open kitchen, and it is there you will see Mike Isabella himself, pen behind ear, working feverishly to the side of the kitchen.   You can see his eyes darting back and forth, making sure every dish that comes out is to his satisfaction and making sure everything operates smoothly.  Every so often he takes a short break to work the room, going table to table to shake everyone's hands.  Often, he sits down with patrons and talks to them.

The decor is minimal.  Exposed brick, wood benches at the booths (no cushions) and plain, wood tables.   The tables in the middle are plain as well, and have cold, metal chairs surrounding them.  As one person at our table said, "I guess they're really focused on the food."

Prosecco didn't
stay full long enough
to snap a pic

But before we get to food, the most important thing is the prosecco.   It's on tap.   Prosecco on tap is an amazing concept, but the obvious question is will it be good?  And, it turns out, the answer is yes.  This is not prosecco that you sip on, this is prosecco made for gulping.  And something about it being on tap makes you feel like ordering more and more - and so we did.

The most disappointing aspect of the restaurant is the portions.  They are small - really, really small.   Realize when you look at the menu that the prices aren't as good as they seem.   A plate of spaghetti is what a side of spaghetti would be at most restaurants.  It would take about four or five of these portions to fill you up.  The spaghetti is mostly noodles with a cherry tomato cut in half on the plate.  There is no real sauce.

The famous chicken thighs with pepperoni sauce  come with three pre-cut bites of chicken - and we mean "bites" literally.  They are not doused in Isabella's famous sauce, but there is a little sauce underneath them that you will spend most of your time trying to sop up as much as possible onto the chicken.

The pizzas are larger

The pizzas, however, are bigger.  Much bigger.  One pizza could easily be enough for a person, and we imagine in the future prosecco and pizza will be our meal.  The pizzas come with creative ingredients, but most of them do not feature pizza sauce.  So they are more of a flatbread.   The crust is light and fluffy, and the ingredients are fresh.

 While the food was somewhat of a disappointment, especially from a celebrity chef (to be fair, we did have high expectations), the service is really great at Graffiato, especially for opening week.  The wait staff is always there when you need something, but otherwise doesn't hover over your table.  There is a huge support wait staff too, constantly filling your glass with complimentary still or sparkling water - a nice touch.  They even come around and clean up the mess you made with the pepperoni sauce before you stick your arm in it trying to eat your next dish.

Graffiato is fun.  The scene is vibrant and loud.   Being open late adds a lot to the neighborhood, and a late night pizza and prosecco after a Verizon Center event will be fun.   The food could use a little work, and we hope it will be perfected.   It's not bad, but nothing you will crave going back for.  And expect to leave a little hungry.

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