My girlfriend, ERICA, and I had made a deal with each other here a couple months ago. Once we both got new jobs, we would go to Graffiato to celebrate. And so we both did and so we went. For those who don't know, Graffiato is restaurant conceived and run by Top Chef fiend to favorite, Mike Isabella. And we saw him expediting when we showed up for our reservation. We didn't go the picture route just because that's not really us and I like to let a man who's working keep on working.
The decor is the increasingly popular industrial chic look, which I don't really have any particular feelings about, but certainly worked for the food that was to come. Honestly, what got my attention even at the hostess stand was the Tool song playing in the background. What followed was like the playlist I burned onto CDs for my Discman back in high school. There was Nirvana, Metalica, Pantera, White Zombie, Black Sabbath, Alice in Chains, and Disturbed. Some people would not have liked it that but I loved it. It sent me back to younger days that once sent me to the ER following a rather vigorous head banging session, and it also all seemed very intense but in a comforting way. Or as comforting as Pantera (RE! SPECT!!) can be. I don't know who put together that playlist, but mad props.
Graffiato is kind like a tapas place and you're meant to order several plates to share. Erica and I needed about ten minutes to settle on what we wanted and on more than one occasion we considered just ordering one of everything. In the end we settled on five items.
Flatbread with Pepperoni Sauce
Had to get this. I mean Isabella's pepperoni sauce and Gail Simmons foodgasm on cable TV are almost more famous then Mr. Isabella himself. And it's good, like liquid pepperoni good. It smacks you upside the head with flavor. At that moment I had two thoughts: 1) I will not be able to physically take it if all the dishes are this powerful. 2) The chicken thigh with pepperoni sauce is probably amazing because it would blunt some of the sauces natural heft. That said, if you're not going to do the chicken thigh then you gotta have the pepperoni sauce on the menu somewhere for all the Top Chef junkies that flood in. Easiest $5 Graffiato will ever make.
Polenta with Crispy Goat, Pears, and Saba
This dish was truly the unsung hero of the night. The first bite, for me, was relief. The flavors were mild and subtle. If you had all the elements on their own it was good. If you put together that complete single bite, it was great. Just a perfection of texture and taste and so much quieter then the pepperoni sauce. For a meal that was full of bold flavors, the polenta was a welcome respite.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Maple, and Egg
I'm a late in life brussel sprouts whore, but when they're done well they could be the best vegetable ever. Better than even broccolini. My reaction after one bite was to exclaim, "This is somewhere between cotton candy and God." I mean awesome. I mean, "Where the f*** are you going with that plate?!?! I haven't licked it clean yet!!!" awesome. I was concerned the pancetta or the maple would over power, but neither did. No the maple set the whole thing off and took the excellently crisped sprouts into the sublime combination of flavors. We nearly ordered seconds.
Wild Board Flatbread with Chestnut, Apple, and Balsamic
Another winner without a doubt. It tasted like the forest. I can't think of a better way to describe it and once again, much like the polenta, you had the fantastic balance of savory and sweet. The chestnuts took on so much flavor. Just fantastic. I must admit I still regret not getting the bone marrow flatbread, but in case you couldn't tell by now I'd be fine with going back.
Jersey Shore Pizza with Fried Calamari, Tomato, Provolone, and Cherry Pepper Aioli
The Jersey Shore pizza is already gaining a following and who are we to buck convention? There's a lot to potentially love about this. Fried calamari, cooked to perfection. Cherry pepper aioli that had some great heat to it, but never overwhelmed. But the thing that impressed Erica and I the most was the tomato. I mean there it is, buried beneath fried squid, pepper aioli, and provolone, but without a doubt it was the star element in the pizza. And the singular bite with the squid, the aioli, and the sauce was just fantastic, a symphony.
Warm Pistachio Cake
After the preceding five dishes I was stuffed. I even suggested we take a couple slices of the pizza home, but Erica would hear none of it and ordered the pistachio cake. It was a great finish. Admittedly I only had a couple bites but it was great because it wasn't too sweet.
Overall, this was probably the single most delicious meal I've had in easily the last 6 months if not the entirety of 2011. I'll also say, I tend to not like tapas style because I'm afraid I'm just going to want more, but the portions were just right even for my outsized appetite. And when you consider that we got all of that food plus a drink for just over $80, you just can't argue with anything about the experience.
The title of this post is "Ultimate Dilemma" but what could be the dilemma after my unequivocal support for every dish we had? Sitting at the table last night Erica and I discussed never telling anyone how awesome it is. The dilemma is that the food is so great you want to be able to walk in and get it at any time, but great food very rarely affords you that convenience. With apologies to Erica, I have decided to share the awesomeness.
Now go make a reservation at Graffiato right now, or Pantera will get you.