Sometimes, you can read all you want, but it doesn’t substitute experiences in the real world. Thanks to a Twitter response from @Ariel_Yong, I decided to go to Graffiato. I wrote about this celebrity chef’s Italian (mostly) small plates restaurant in an earlier post, but it was time for me to eat my words.
Entering on a Saturday at 1:00 p.m., I expected there to be a lunch menu, but it was only brunch, to my surprise. However, my server, Becca, told me that the menu still has small plates for brunch. I tried the broccolini, but the hanger steak wasn’t on the brunch menu. So I ordered the pumpkin bread pudding instead.
While I was waiting, I was sitting at the bar and watching the people in the kitchen do their work. I noticed a woman doing prep work. I know from previous experience that this task is something patrons don’t usually notice, so it was nice to see it again after many years. She was dicing a lot of fresh mozzarella, which I’m guessing is mostly for the multiple pizzas this restaurant offers.
The décor has sophisticated colors, mainly black and white. The napkins and the menus are the color of caramel cardboard. But the flat screen TV adds a more casual touch.
A similar atmosphere pervades the food. The broccolini looked very festive, but crowded the serving plate. Even though a smaller square plate offered me the possibility to solve that problem, it would have felt odd to do so.
I found this dish surprising because it was a riff on pasta. Yes, the colors resemble the Italian flag, so that should have tipped me off, but the broccolini was the pasta. The red pepper relish had the role of the marinara sauce and the really fresh goat cheese was, well, the cheese element.
However, this wasn’t a warm dish. The broccolini was boiled and then blanched. None of the elements came in piping hot, but I didn’t have a problem with that. The flavors blended nicely together, although a few more walnuts would have been nice to have for a more harmonious effect.
I waited a little for the flavors to neutralize so that I could eat something sweeter. That didn’t take too long because I opened myself to the idea that brunch allows for more flavor combinations.
With new utensils in hand that still felt warm to the touch, I tried the pumpkin bread pudding. It is important for the oven cooking time has to be just right, especially when it comes to the custard. The experience was like eating a square flan, but with spices thrown in. Cinnamon and sugar were definitely present, and a third spice that rounded out everything else. I could taste the pumpkin, too.
The caramel sauce reminded me of butterscotch, which I would normally expect with ice cream. This two-part story on NPR reveals interesting facts about this sauce (Parts one and two). It brought a simpler flavor profile to a cerebral dish. The pepitas were nicely roasted and brought something crunchy to the dish.
Looking at the people around me, I can say that this is the kind of place where you want to bring friends but also dine with a little style.
Talking to Becca about cocktails, she recommended the signature drink Tony Starr 4.0 and two other popular drinks, Hey Jealousy and “I did it my way.” For brunch, mimosas come in multiple flavors.
One thing that bothered me was the idea that the menu changes seasonally. I find it hard to understand how my eating experiences were supposed to match the rainy day I experienced. I may have chosen the menu items, but those dishes taught me to expand my definition of rainy day food. Those dishes were comforting, which offered enough solace from the weather. For small plates, however, those two dishes made me feel full for sure. Brunch mission accomplished?
For that kind of weather, you might want to go with Suavemente, which has earl grey in it. Another suggestion is to look at hot cocktails, including Sweater Weather.
Where: 707 6th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
Cost: Inexpensive (Broccolini $7 and bread pudding $6)
Drinks to try: Tony Starr 4.0, Suavemente and Sweater Weather.