Small plates are for brunch, too

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.

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The décor at Graffiato (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

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.

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Broccolini pasta (Photo credit: Selma Khenissi)

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Concentrated Indian flavors require a palate cleanser

When I go out to eat at an Indian restaurant, I end up feeling very full and slightly amnesiac. There was probably a saag paneer here, a chicken dish there and maybe, just maybe, chai. I noticed that people might disagree with my experiences since this Slate journalist loves saag paneer.

Small plates are becoming more popular in Indian cuisine, including in New York City’s Little India with Graffiti (Thanks for the pointer, Eileen!). D.C. is a part of the bandwagon, too. I was worried that the small plates would bring similar flavors to my previous experiences, but the small plates couldn’t have been more different. That’s a good thing. I would recommend drinking tea to wash it all down, though. The flavors are really strong.

Indique Heights

The small plates option is available from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., every day of the week. I went there on a recent Saturday afternoon, and I found the place devoid of clientele. Hostess Jillian Justice said that the lack of patrons was because later times and weekdays invite larger crowds.

The Executive Chef, Silvaraman Balamurugan, was my bartender that afternoon, so I asked him about the pairings I could combine with the dishes I ordered. He suggested a tamarind margarita because it’s hot and sweet and would match the tamarind flavor in the dishes I ordered. He also suggested a drink called hot passion, which features jalapeño and passion fruit flavors.

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What to look for when navigating some of D.C.’s famous spots

What experiences can people expect when eating out at small plates restaurants? Knowing what to look for when reading the menu is a start. This is not your typical listing of appetizers, entrées and desserts. Let’s look at some of the famous ones, shall we?

Jaleo

If you’ve lived in the D.C. Metro area for a while, then you have most likely heard about José Andrés showcasing tapas in his restaurant Jaleo.

This restaurant has multiple branches, including one in Las Vegas. The original is in D.C.’s Penn Quarter, so I think that’s the most relevant menu to look at here.

Most categories are listed in Spanish without any English translations, but the translated parts make it possible to understand. For example, “Verduras” emphasizes vegetables. However, the section “Conos, latas y más” can be confusing, even when the reader is pretty sure the title translates into “Cones, canned foods and more.”

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Latin-Asian Fusion at Zengo

Zengo, meaning give and take in Japanese, is the perfect name for the restaurant located next to the metro station in Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Chef-owner Richard Sandoval owns five popular restaurants in D.C., including my favorite El Centro D.F., so my expectations for Zengo were pretty high. It did not disappoint.

Thai-chicken empanadas

Thai-chicken empanadas

While there are dinner entrée options, the bulk of the menu showcases small plate options that are meant for sharing. The culinary concept of Zengo merges Latin and Asian cuisine in some unexpected way, but still includes a few staples you’d likely associate with Latin or Asian food – whatever your preference. I like them both, so I was in for a treat.

The most interesting thing about the menu at Zengo is that it changes. Every few months the culinary team gets together and chooses two different countries, one Latin and one Asian, and mixes together their flavors and customary dishes for a totally unique small plate experience. During my visit, the test kitchen had produced a profile of Japan and Mexico. Some of the dishes included Thai-chicken empanadas and teriyaki pork belly gorditas sliders with Oaxaca cheese.

At first, I was unsure if sushi and tacos would make a good combination but decided to try it anyway.

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