Mike Isabella To Open Graffiato

written by Amanda on 09/27/2010

Mike Isabella has had a lot on his plate. The chef just got back in town after filming Bravo's Top Chef All-Stars in New York and in the next month, he hopes to start construction on his new Italian restaurant in Penn Quarter.

Metrocurean caught up with Isabella, who will open Graffiato at 707 Sixth St. NW (at right) sometime early next year, to get the dish on what the Top Chef alum is cooking up for DC diners.

Having cooked pretty much every other type of cuisine over the years, Isabella says he's just now turning to the food of his childhood. "During my whole career, I never wanted to cook Italian food because I grew up with it," the New Jersey native says. "As I get older, it started bringing me back to my roots."

The name Graffiato means "scratched" in Italian, and Isabella says it historically refers to a form of expression (see: graffiti) in which people would scratch messages on surfaces. The restaurant, he says, "is an expression of the food I grew up with."

The "Italian-inspired" joint, which will fit 150 seats over two floors, will serve wood-fired pizzas, pastas, charcuterie and small plates.

And for anyone rolling their eyes over the "small plates" bit, Isabella sums up the appeal nicely. "Growing up when we would eat on Sundays, there were like 10 things on the table. I wanted to recreate that. I enjoy going to places where I can try a little of everything," he says. "I don't think it's a fad or a style. It's just a way people eat."

To fill glasses at Graffiato, Isabella says the majority of the wines will come from the United States. He promises bottles from Virginia, Arizona and Long Island, as well as the expected West Coast sources.

Graffiato general manger James Horn, who worked with Isabella at Zaytinya and recently oversaw the beverage programs for New York heavyweight chefs Michael Psilakis and Scott Conant, will be creating the cocktail list.

As for the decor, Isabella wants to channel the hole-in-the-wall Italian places he grew up going to, and when he first saw the long-vacant 1940s building, once home a print shop, he thought, "This is it."

"I don't want a fancy place. I wanted that very urban look. It's beat up, which is good," he laughed. As a resident of the neighborhood, he added, "I want to make it a local place where people can go and not spend a lot of money."

Also up Isabella's chef coat sleeves: a secret chef's menu with enticing options that take the concept further, "whether it's brains or innards."

The chef is hoping for a February or March opening for Graffiato.

And no, he wouldn't tell me anything about the upcoming Top Chef All-Stars season, other than, "I wouldn't go back if I didn't think I could win."



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