Think back to that first episode of Top Chef Las Vegas in August of 2009.  What was your first impression of “Mike I?”

Photo Credit: Greg Powers

Chances are, the Zaytinya chef registered as loud, brash and maybe even a bit obnoxious.

Now picture him in the final episode of Top Chef All-Stars this spring.  The Graffiato chef/owner was composed and thoughtful, but still easy-going and clearly enjoying himself.  Within a year and a half he had evolved from a subject of criticism to one of pride among supporters of the DC dining scene.

When the first patrons taste his food at Graffiato’s opening tonight, that evolution will be on full display.  The concept is his.  The menu is his.  The kitchen is his.  It’s been a team effort to get here, for sure, but this is his show.

Buzz surrounding Graffiato’s opening has reached a fever pitch over the past few weeks (we fueled the fire a month ago when we saw Chef Isabella and he teased “Could be two weeks!”).  This is absolutely one of the most anticipated restaurants of the year, and details about the pizza oven, the local partners and the prosecco on tap have only made us more eager to actually taste the food.

We had a chance to stop by for a First Look as the Graffiato team was working through some of the finishing touches in advance of tonight’s opening.  Photos and some more details on what to expect after the jump.

Graffiato’s exterior is simple and clean, with a series of overhead lamps above block type announcing the restaurant.  It’s an extension of Isabella’s “less is more” philosophy, which he said guided everything from menu items to decor.  As soon as you step inside, you see what he means.

Poured cement and bare walls are the backdrop.  A huge wood-burning oven dominates your view.  Tables and the hostess stand are decorated with simple pots of fresh herbs.  And the menu is a collection of unfussy dishes that focus on key ingredients and flavors: roasted vegetables, handmade pasta, various artisanal hams.

We’re not the only ones bringing the news of Graffiato to you, so we’re not going to belabor some of the points that everyone else has been hitting on.  Suffice it to say, the pizza oven is going to be keeping people happy in a series of tempting combinations up to and including the “Trust Your Pizzaiolo” pie and sparkling wine from a tap is never a bad thing.  But the newly-available beverage list is worth some additional attention.

The first thing you should notice: two prices for every wine on the list.  That’s right – EVERY wine Graffiato carries is available by the glass, even the highest end sparkling wine (though it runs $125 a glass with a two-glass minimum).  Generally speaking, you’ll be able to find a wine that fits your taste and your meal in the $7 to $12 range.

Local wines are well represented with labels like Barboursville, Breaux and Boxwood from Virginia. EvenMaryland’s harder-to-find Boordy makes an appearance with their Riesling.  A house-special Nebbiolo called “Graffiato Red 1.0″ is identified as hailing from Purcellville, VA (it’s bottled by Breaux for the restaurant).

But if you think this is an area where Graffiato has drifted into the fancified, think again.  The beer list should put pizza lovers at ease, with special emphasis on East Coast breweries and even a trio of standbys available in 7-ounce “ponies” that come one for $3 or six for $15.  Isabella was all smiles as he pointed to the numerous cans on offer, including Brooklyn Lager and Porkslap.  We shared a Jersey boy moment remembering good times spent with lots of pizza and lots of beer.

Charcuterie gets its due upstairs, with an open prep area that highlights the “local partners” who provide the meats and cheeses.  They’re solid lists, with a blend of the favorite and the obscure.  I can’t wait to try to the PorcSalt Holiday Ham, one of five hams available for order at three for $18 or all five for $24.  The seven cheeses on the menu include local favorites from Cherry Glen and Meadow Creek.

Graffiato is already taking reservations…the phone didn’t stop ringing while we were visiting.  They’re only open for dinner and late-night dining now, though they’ll expand to include lunch service within a few weeks.

707 6th Street, NW
Washington, DC
Graffiato on Urbanspoon