Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing, especially when it comes to food. At least that’s what I realized after a food nerd trip to Graffiato in Washington, DC. The experience also reinforced the notion that food is indeed a universal unifier, a truth that most of us know already.
I was in DC for a work trip at the end of April (yeah, April; here’s why it took so long for me to write this) when I found myself at the restaurant with small group of foodies, one whom is a good friend, one whom I mostly connect with through social media, and three others I had literally just met. Eric (the social media friend) lives in the area and arranged the meet-up at this hard-to-book restaurant run by Mike Graffiato of Top Chef fame.
If you know me, you know I’m kind of socially awkward, especially when it comes to small talk with new people. I have an insane fear of not knowing what to say, which manifests by me usually not saying anything at all or just responding to other people’s well-meaning, conversation-starting questions with conversation-killing answers. Brilliant, right? It happens every time.
But shockingly, it was not the case this time. Because again, food is the universal unifier. Even if we had nothing else in common, we all loved and appreciated good—and, as I learned, moderately adventurous—food.
Graffiato serves innovative Italian food in small plates, perfect for sharing among a table of six food nerds. Each of us was able to select a few menu items we wanted to try, and the portions were perfect for six generous tastes from each plate. In total, we ordered 12 small plates and 12 desserts (that’s right, 12; more on that later).
I ordered my small plates safely, selecting a roasted cauliflower vegetable dish (pictured at the top of this post) and a burrata salad. The cauliflower was exceptional, roasted with copious amounts of fruity olive oil and pungent pecorino and served dusted with mint. The burrata salad was less impressive, but only because it didn’t stand up to its menu description, which said it would be served with smoked pork loin and kumquat. The fruit was there and added a refreshing yet interesting citrus twist, but we could not find any pork on the plate at all, no matter how hard we searched. We ultimately came to the conclusion that the breadcrumb-like topping on the burrata must be the pork. Perhaps the chef was dabbling in molecular gastronomy and freeze-dried and then shaved the pork on our cheese?
Fortunately, others at the table were not as conservative as me, because some of my favorite plates from the evening were items I would never-in-a-million-years have ordered and might not have even tried if I hadn’t been introduced as “the food blogger” to the others at the table. Talk about peer pressure.
The top three plates of the evening were all sleeper hits for me, but here they are in no particular order.
- Snails. Yes, snails, mixed with pasta, bits of delicious bone marrow (which may have sealed the deal for me even without the peer pressure), fava beans, and spring garlic. The snails were surprisingly tender, and the bone marrow added a richness to the garlicky sauce. Delicious.
- Rabbit ragu and pasta. Yes, I ate bunnies for the first time. And I really liked them. Sue me. The pasta was dressed in a light and extremely flavorful lemon thyme sauce and blended with sweet baby peas and eggplant. I was worried the meat would be gamey, but it wasn’t. In fact, it was a bit like chicken. (Really!)
- Sweetbreads. Okay, I lied about this list being in no particular order. I did save the best for last. Yes, sweetbreads are thymus glands, and I loved them. I was worried they’d be chewy (I have a problem with chewy proteins—I’ll never touch overcooked shrimp), but they weren’t at all. They were tender yet crispy and served in a pomelo, almond, and coffee sauce. The group joked that it tasted like Chinese takeout orange chicken (pomelo is a citrus), but so much better.
Nearly everyone at the table was also trying sweetbreads for the first time, so we all bonded over the experience, but we also bonded over our universal love of food. Everyone had something interesting to say about every plate, and it allowed us all to relate even though we all had different occupations, lived in different parts of the country, etc.
When it came time for dessert, the menu had six dessert options, so it was simple math to just order one of each, at least until our server threw a wrench into things and informed us that we had another six choices of gelato for the gelato dessert. You can pretty much guess where this is going . . . yup, we just told her to bring out one of each gelato, as well. You only live once, right?
In short, I loved Graffiato. I can’t say whether it was the food, the delightful company, or a combination of each, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend or return.