Todd Kliman is on vacation, so we got a really fun—and pretty famous!—guest chatter for you: Mike Isabella, runner-up on Top Chef All-Stars and chef/owner of the forthcoming Graffiato in DC's Penn Quarter. And there's more: Isabella announced earlier this month that he's writing a cookbook, Flavors From a Jersey Italian, which is set to come out in fall 2012. Mike, how do you have time to do it all?
Here's your chance to pick his brain about former boss José Andrés (Isabella used to at Zaytinya), what it's like to have Tom Colicchio stare you down, battling Richard Blais in the Top Chef finals, Padma in tight dresses, and of course, pepperoni sauce.
Todd, thanks for going on vacation. It was fun talking with all of the readers of the Washingtonian today. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed what I had to say. Next time you have questions, stop by Graffiato and chat with me at the pizza bar. I'll be there when we open in a few weeks.
Pepperoni sauce…the recipe, please.
Pepperoni sauce recipe is on my website: http://graffiatodc.com/2011/04/graffiatos-pepperoni-sauce/
I read in one of Anthony Bourdain's books that restaurants just barely break even on food — and make their profit on alcohol. Is this true? Do you have a good mixologist/bartender lined up to work for you at Graffiato?
James Horn is my general manager and beverage director. He's someone very strong in the position. All of our wines, more than 50 selections, will be by the glass. We'll have an awesome craft cocktail list. And you can't forget the beer. We'll have an awesome canned and bottle selection — and almost everything is from the East Coast (beers, some of the spirits and some of the wines).
Congratulations on your book deal! Will the book be about what you're doing at Graffiato, or is it more broad than that? Looking forward to buying it, especially if some of your dishes from Top Chef are in it.
The book is a cookbook, "Flavors from a Jersey Italian." It has a lot of stories behind me growing up and cooking with my family. It goes through to what I am doing now. So you'll see all kinds of dishes — classic to modern.
Can you tell us a little bit about Graffiato? What does it look like? What's on the menu? Thanks, Mike!
We'll have octopus with chickpeas and artichokes. Everyone's been asking me to put that on the menu since I left Zaytinya.
You'll also find oven-roasted chicken thighs with the infamous pepperoni sauce, and king crab legs with sea urchin and guanciale.
We'll have my grandmother's gnocchi with pork ragau and burrata. We'll also have seasonal pizzas and fresh-stretched mozzarella.
Mike, will Graffiato have any private event space? I host several events per month for work and I'm always looking for a great new restaurant to take my clients. Good luck with the new venture!
The second floor will be available for buyouts. Seated dinners for up to 100 people, and more room for standing receptions.
What's the most memorable meal you've had in Washington? The most memorable meal you've had anywhere?
In Washington: The Inn at Little Washington. I was with friends. The food was great. We got to sit at the chef's table in the kitchen. Patrick O'Connell sat with us for a little while. The whole experience was an unforgettable night.
In the Country: I've had a couple. One of them at Incanto in San Francisco. Chris Cosentino put up an amazing meal for me and my wife.
And also Spiaggia in Chicago when I was there recently. The gnocchi with ricotta cheese and black truffles were to die for. The food just got better every course.
What are your top three favorite restaurants in DC (besides Zaytinya/Graffiato)?
Top restaurant is the Source. You've gotta get the dumplings. Central for the fried chicken. And Toki Underground. I love ramen noodle soup.
What's your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Lemon, olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. It's very healthy, it's flavorful and it's very Mediterranean.
who was your favorite judge and why?
Tom and Gail were my favorite judges. They really enjoyed my food. That got me to the end. Tom is from Jersey. He saw the change in me as I evolved in my career. And Gail is in love with the pepperoni sauce.
Falls Church, VA
How'd was your Preakness demo? Did you bet on Shackleford?
The Preakness demo was fun and easy. But the best part of being there was seeing the horse races. It was a beautiful day. I blew a lot of money, but I had a lot of fun watching the races.
Falls Church, VA
What do you think is the best farmers market in the area?
There's a bunch of good ones. But Dupont is the biggest — so it has the best selection in my eyes. At Graffiato I am working with a ton of farmers. Almost all of my product is coming from local farms.
Falls Church, VA
Redskins fan? or one of the dreaded NY teams? Favorite tailgating food?
I was born a Yankees fan, but I am throwing out the first pitch at the Nationals game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday, July 2. Love the Nats. I'll be at the game tonight! I am a big fan of the Caps.
Did Blais end up investing in Graffiato like he promised in the Top Chef finale?
He didn't invest. But we are good friends. Hopefully down the road we can do a product together.
I'm hoping Graffiato will be open before I move away from DC in August!
Yes, we'll be open by then!
Howdy Mike! So do you keep in touch with fellow Top Chef alum, Bryan Voltaggio? Have you been to Volt? You should come up, it's nice up here in the semi-country…
Yes I keep in contact with Bryan a lot. I will see him today at Graffiato. He's also a partner in this project and I've been to Volt many times for many great dinners.