Last night MG and I had dinner at Graffiato, Mike Isabella's new small plates restaurant. We enjoyed watching Isabella on Top Chef and we are big fans of Zaytinya, the Jose Andres mezze restaurant where Isabella used to be executive chef. So, thinking quickly, MG made a reservation for us as soon as they announced the opening.
The space itself is pretty cool and when we first walked in, I spotted the owner himself chatting it up with patrons at the bar. We were seated upstairs, which meant no schmoozing with Mike, but it was much quieter up there, so it made for a better dining experience (or that's what I'm telling myself as a consolation prize for not getting to hang out with a celebrity chef).
We started off with drinks - I had a "Saged and Confused" which was a delicious blend of vodka, cucumber juice, lime and sage. It was refreshing and not too heavy on the vodka (but not too light either :) ). MG went with "Staring at the Sun" - bourbon, apricot nectar, ginger and basil. He gave me a sip and it was great! I'm not a fan of bourbon, but I would absolutely order this drink the next time we come (and there will be a next time). While we were deciding they brought us pistachios to snack on, which were, I believe, dusted with a chili-lime coating.
We had a total of seven dishes, starting with a dish of marinated mixed olives (I love olives!). The olives were great, because we had something to snack on as they brought out each plate.
We selected four veggie plates. The first was a sweet and sour eggplant with pine nuts. We enjoyed it, but it wasn't our favorite (although the pine nuts were a nice touch).
Next, we had a baby carrot salad with farro, dates, lardo and radicchio. This was by far my favorite vegetable dish and a contender for best dish of the evening. I had never had farro before, but we both agreed to pick some up the next time we're at the grocery store. It was wonderful and rich and nutty. The whole dish had an earthy taste with a touch of sweetness from the dates. Yum!
Our third vegetable plate was roasted cauliflower with pecorino romano. This was MG's favorite in the veg category. There was something familiar and nostalgic about the dish - I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about the nutty flavor of the cheese or the toasty brown-ness (is that a word?) of the cauliflower reminded me of some happy moment locked away in my food memory vault.
The last vegetable dish was a risotto with asparagus and pesto. It was perfectly prepared; the creaminess of the risotto worked beautifully with the pesto. Plus, I'm a sucker for asparagus in pretty much any form.
Next came our two meat courses. First, the famous chicken thighs with pepperoni sauce! All I can say about that is that I am now a believer. Pepperoni sauce may sound like something you'd expect to find in a can labeled Chef Boyardee, but let me assure you - this was simply outstanding. It wasn't oily at all, which was something I'd wondered about. Just creamy and tomato-y with a distinct bite of pepperoni. The chicken thighs were moist and tender as well. This wasn't my favorite all-around dish, but it was a strong runner-up.
Our final dinner course was the potato gnocchi with braised pork shank, burrata and arugula. This was both MG's and my favorite dish. The gnocchi were very well done (some day I'll have to try making these - is it hard?) and the pork shank was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The burrata melted down over the braising liquid. All the components combined into one rich, decadent bite with a nice bite of peppery arugula to finish it off.
Finally, we treated ourselves to Nutella cookie sandwiches and espressos. The cookies were so cute and little, but man did they pack a big punch! I mean, 1) it's Nutella, so no complaints there, but 2) the cookies had a dusting of sea salt. Sea salt + chocolate = love. Seriously. I had been considering a couple of other desserts, but after I took one bite, I knew I made the right choice.
Overall, we agreed that it was an excellent meal. It's not cheap, but you will walk away more than satisfied. One nice thing about Graffiato is that it uses a lot of locally-sourced ingredients. The menu last night featured plenty of summertime produce like corn, tomatoes and arugula. We decided we'd have to come back in the winter to see what a change of climate and vegetable options will bring to Isabella's offerings.
But I'll probably be having the pepperoni sauce again. ;)