Is Graffiato D.C.’s Best Newcomer?

With Pearl Dive Oyster Palace nipping at its heels, Graffiato in Chinatown is poised to be this year’s best newcomer. It’s not sophisticated, but it’s also not stuffy. The vibe is very much New D.C. Brightly lit and buzzing, the restaurant probably wouldn’t work if the food wasn’t so good. And it’s not a traditional Italian by any measure–well, the pasta with lamb ragu was pretty standard. At Graffiato, overall, you will be surprised.

Take for example the simple Caesar salad. A delicious version of what you’d expect, but then you discover that the croutons are actually fried squares of cream cheese–solid on the outside, liquid on the inside–that bring a tang as well as a richness you didn’t know the salad was missing, but after eating, always will. The chicken thighs in pepperoni sauce is a must-order if for no other reason than it’s the signature dish–but the real reason is pepperoni sauce is addictive.

The desserts are also lots of fun. A very rich, almost bitter, chocolate tart comes with a sea salt gelato that doesn’t hit the flavor halfway. It’s not sweet with some salty, rather the salt-forward flavor forces you to find the sweet. It is a very sophisticated dish–and a conversation piece. Little zeppoles–hot, fresh donut holes served with pumpkin caramel–need less discussion and disappear quickly.

All that said, I’m just getting to the real stars of the joint–yes, aside from TV celebrity chef Mike Isabella–the pizzas. Hot, soft, chewy, yet light with interesting, seemingly kismet combinations of toppings. It’s tough competition between my two favorites: the White House with three cheeses, prosciutto, and honey, and the Vermont with leeks, cheddar, bacon, and potatoes.

If you haven’t been yet, go. And don’t be put off by the packed scene downstairs. With your reservation–and you need one–you’ll be whisked upstairs for some stand-out fare. For the District, that is.

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