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A Look Inside Mike Isabella's Graffiato, Opening Tomorrow

[R. Lopez, 6/20]

Mike Isabella's labor of love Graffiato opens to the public tomorrow after a series of soft-opening dinners — and 11 months after the chef first signed a lease on the Chinatown space. What can you expect from the former Top Chef contestant and Zaytinya chef? Industrial decor that pays homage to the building's beginnings, an Italian-and-Jersey-inspired menu full of brick oven dishes, prosecco on tap and a ham bar. Oh yes, a ham bar.

The main level of Graffiato maintains original features of its 1940s-era building with concrete floors, exposed ceilings and the brick wall on one side of the restaurant. On your other side is a pizza bar harboring a giant steel-covered wood oven that'll be churning pies out of one end and bone marrow with cured lemon out of the other. The room — with a few booths and otherwise mostly bar seating — is meant to evoke a "rock-n-roll" feel, says Isabella, where everyone can feel comfortable. There's no artwork on the walls yet, but the chef says he's in touch with the folks at Art Whino for some canvas works from street artists, evoking a graffiti-like feel for Graffiato.

The second floor of Graffiato has slightly more of a traditional dining room feel with a seating capacity of 100. Isabella and his father-in-law built the bamboo-and-oak tables themselves over the course of two weekends. The jewel of the second floor, of course, is the ham bar at the back. Its six seats face the kitchen where Isabella and his team will be preparing all kinds of hams — smoked ham, speck, culatello — as a playful "Virginia ham" riff on eating local and charcuterie trends. Cleavers hang by hooks over the ham bar, reminding diners of their traditional use for breaking down pigs. Isabella will be rotating between the ham bar and the downstairs pizza bar, all out in the open so that his Top Chef fans can chat him up while they try out the menu.

Graffiato's menu has a focus on small plates and dishes from the aforementioned wood oven. There are eight pizzas on the menu, including a rotating market pizza, a pizzaiolo's choice pizza and "Jersey Shore" pizza topped with fried calamari, tomato, provolone and cherry pepper aioli. Isabella is also offering handmade pastas and chicken thighs topped with the very same pepperoni sauce that Gail Simmons fell in love with on the Top Chef All-Stars finale. Like Isabella's forthcoming cookbook, the menu draws on his Jersey-Italian roots, but also his experiences at Zaytinya and beyond. The chef says he was inspired by a Philadelphia restaurant that sells sangria out of barrels when he came up with the idea for putting prosecco on tap — and he's now the first DC chef to do so.

Graffiato is located on 6th Street NW — otherwise known as the backside of the Verizon Center — rather than the more trendy 7th Street. But Isabella doesn't believe 6th Street is going to be just the backside for long: "You have to take risks in life. I think moving all over the country to work for different chefs were risks. I think going on Top Chef was a risk. I think leaving José Andrés' successful restaurant was a risk. And I think my location was a little bit more of a risk. I think everything I do in life I have to put some type of risk into it to take that next step. If you don't, you never know what's going to happen."

The restaurant opens tomorrow evening for dinner service. Reservations are available online or by calling 202-289-3600.
· Graffiato [Official Site]
· All Previous Graffiato Coverage [-EDC-]
· All Previous Mike Isabella Coverage [-EDC-]

Graffiato

707 6th Street Northwest, , DC 20001 (202) 289-3600 Visit Website

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