I wanted to love Graffiato. After wondering about Mike Isabella the first season of Top Chef, I’d come around and actually liked him. I’d had great meals at Zaytinya. As an Italophile I completely fell for his memories of his grandmother and cooking her gravy, the momentum that gave him for his own place. As the storefront took shape in Chinatown and the website filled with photos of beautiful dishes, softly lit tables and the kind of dark bar where interesting stories start I dreamt that Graffiato would be my own DC version of dell’Anima, one of my favorite spots in NYC.
I wanted to love Graffiato…but I didn’t.
Walking towards the restaurant, you’re struck by the dramatic frontage – huge windows, lively bar scene inside. Even from across the street, it looks like a place you want to be. Walking into the restaurant, you’re struck by one thing – it’s damn loud. We had heard the bar was loud, and it was true. But it’s a bar, and it’s Italian – of course it’s loud.
What I wasn’t prepared for – and what seriously detracted from the meal for me – was how uncomfortable the dining room upstairs felt. The first floor is lively – dominated by the long counter, which runs from the front to back, covering the bar, the pizza ovens, and a prep station. It’s a great social space with attentive bartenders, some small tables in the back, a full view of the kitchen, and those huge windows to the street. Unfortunately, the upstairs where reservations are seated feels like a cafeteria. The tables are so close you can’t walk between them and bright overhead lights kill the atmosphere. It’s the noise of the first floor without any of the atmosphere.
Moving to the food, there were some hits and misses – the hits were really very good. We tried six dishes, with the clear standouts being the sweet corn agnolotti and the polenta with spicy pork meatballs/soft egg. The agnolotti were the perfect exhibition for a great, local seasonal food while the polenta and egg provided an excellent partner to some delicious meatballs. The fresh fennel salad and fresh mozzarella special, on the other hand, both felt like they were just missing something. The gnocchi dish managed to hit and miss – wonderful braised pork and creamy burrata that had the makings of a great dish, only to be sabotaged by lukewarm gnocchi.
Throughout the night – from the hostess to the bartenders to our server to a drive-by from chef Isabella himself – service was very good, especially given the crowds on a Saturday night.
So did I love Graffiato like I thought I would? No. Did I like it? Yes. I probably won’t go back for a full dinner upstairs, but I look forward to returning for a cold Peroni and a dish or two at the bar sometime this winter after the crowd dies down…
707 6th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001