Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Food Nirvana...

Those of you who know me are aware that I'm obsessed with a few things—movies (and the Oscars as an offshoot), reading, pop culture and, of course, food. And as much as I love cooking it, I love eating it even more.

Although I really haven't had the opportunity to travel outside the US, I have been able to enjoy some pretty fantastic meals in my life. For me, the perfect meal is a combination of excellent food and service, and ambiance doesn't hurt either! And excellent meals don't have to be budget-busters—sometimes all it takes is a great piece of steak or fish, beautifully cooked, sided, and plated, and presto!

Stupidly, I've never thought of using the blog to highlight some of my more memorable meals (perhaps I've been too bloated to think clearly) but I'm turning over a new leaf!

After much anticipation, yesterday I had the great fortune to finally visit Graffiato, the Washington, DC restaurant owned by Mike Isabella of Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars. While the final episodes of the latter truly highlighted Isabella's skill in the kitchen, I wasn't prepared for how fantastic his food would be.

Graffiato is based on the small-plates concept, so you can try a few different things on the menu, especially if you go with folks who are willing to share!

Our first dish was the absolutely sublime Chicken Thighs with Pepperoni Sauce. (Isabella created the pepperoni sauce during the finale of Top Chef All-Stars, and judge Gail Simmons waxed nearly poetic about it. Actually, all she kept saying was, "Pepperoni sauce!") Imagine perfectly cooked boneless chicken thighs, seared to crisp the skin, with a zesty yet complimentary tomato-based sauce that had tiny chunks of pepperoni, served with a vegetable relish of sorts. Every bite was unbelievable. If he wanted to bottle the sauce, I'd buy a case right now.

Next came Sweet Corn Agnolotti, a pasta filled with outrageous sweet corn in a light sauce accented by pine nuts and tiny chanterelle mushrooms. I literally gasped when I bit into the agnolotti—the sweet corn was so perfect as a foil for the pasta and the sauce. If Graffiato served bread, I would have sopped up every drop of that sauce, if there was any left after the pepperoni sauce.

Grilled pork ribs, fall-off-the-bone tender and liberally seasoned with Sicilian oregano, came next. The ribs were served with a side of coriander-spiced yogurt (similar to a tzatziki sauce) which was the perfect foil for the ribs, as was the sweet and sour garnish of chopped fruits and vegetables, which I couldn't decipher because I ate it too quickly!

Our last entrée was the "Jersey Shore" pizza. OMFG. This pizza had provolone cheese, tomato sauce, FRIED CALAMARI and a cherry pepper aioli drizzle. The crust was thin and came out perfectly hot from the pizza oven. Needless to say, much of the pizza came home in a box, but I nearly picked all of the calamari off first!

Of course, we had to save room for dessert. How about Nutella sandwich cookies—chocolate hazelnut cookies with Nutella in the middle, all with just a little pinch of sea salt, and the gelato of the day was (what else) sea salt, a vanilla gelato with an amazingly sweet and salty flavor? An incredible cap to an incredible meal.

As I've learned, not all hyped restaurants (particularly those owned by celebrity chefs) live up to expectations. But Graffiato most certainly did, and I know we'll be back there again soon, because there are a ton of other things on the menu to try! (And we'll need more pepperoni sauce!!)

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