Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top Chef Mike Isabella Brings D.C. Touch to RVA

Style restaurant critics digest Graffiato.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Red hot dining news in Richmond today shows how quickly heads can turn. Top Chef competitor Mike Isabella is ready to pounce in a crowded market here, with co-owner Travis Croxton of Rappahannock helping bring a second version of Isabella’s DC restaurant Graffiato to downtown Richmond in the Popkin Tavern space.

Style Weekly food writers who’ve dined there tell what to expect:

From writer Karen Newton’s blog post in December:

Today began with another meal, this one at Graffiato, TV chef Mike Isabella's Italian and Jersey-inspired joint.

Going at lunch was inspired so we didn't have to deal with crowds, instead taking bar seats right in front of the wood-burning oven and ordering Prosecco on tap to start the meal.

An appetizer of broccolini with red peppers, feta and walnuts was a beautiful marriage of flavors served at room temperature, a surefire way to start the day feeling somewhat virtuous.

While we listened to a soundtrack of Passion Pit, Two Door Cinema Club and Phoenix (and agreed that the kitchen staff looked like mechanics in their grey shirts), we watched our two pizzas being exactingly placed in the carefully-tended oven.

Porky's Revenge (soppressata, pepperoni, sausage) spoke to my morning-after need for pig while the White House (Tallegio, prosciutto, ricotta and black pepper honey) had a delicate sweetness that was habit-forming after one bite.

Newton continues: Rappahannock is already doing prosecco on tap, so that's not a big deal. The pizzas were more creatively topped than anything I can think of here with a worthy crust. Assuming the Italian-meets-Jersey vibe in D.C. transfers well to the Popkin space, and it should even though it's a much larger room, it's going to be a new kind of dining experience for Richmond. Nothing southern or genteel about it, but killer food and a knowledgeable, casual vibe.

Matthew Freeman agrees:

The vibe is more casual than I think Richmond is used to for a restaurant turning out the quality of food that Graffiato is. Everything coming from the wood-fired oven was amazing. Charred octopus that struck the elusive perfect balance between tender and chewy, pizza with a nice, lightly charred and smoky crust.

The pizza toppings are inventive -- I had the countryman which is fontina, black truffle, and a soft egg that was broken table-side by the server and spread over the pizza. The combination of ever-so-slightly funky cheese, earthy truffle, and rich and creamy egg yolk creates over-the top richness with a subtle complexity. Even a throwaway dish like a plate of olives was done well, with a selection that had me calling the server back over to tell me again the names of each type.

From Robey Martin:

I have been several times. The space is beautiful -- obscenely cool bar scene. Pizzas are playful and texturally exceptional.

Graffiato is slated to open this spring at 123 W. Broad St. Popkin Tavern is closing Feb. 15.

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