The old and familiar Popkin Tavern sign might still light the corner of Broad and Jefferson streets, but inside Popkin’s old space, a new eatery with as much buzz as Hardywood’s Gingerbread stout has made landfall. Graffiato is a hit, and rightly so.
The original Graffiato opened and proved success in DC’s Chinatown district in 2011. The guy behind it all? Top Chef and Italian-American influenced, Mike Isabella (also Best New Chef Mid-Atlantic by Food + Wine magazine). After connecting with several RVA restauranteurs and chefs, he set his sight on Richmond’s culinary landscape to open a second Graffiato that would focus on the same casual Italian fare (think pasta and pizza), but also feature new additions such as Rockfish, Halibut, and NY Strip.
The fresh hustle and bustle of Graffiato’s dining room and bar [last] opening weekend was just as any new and hot restaurant should be expected. In fact, it was so busy, my 8:45 reservation became a 10:00 dinner. I didn’t complain except the sounds my famished belly made as I patiently waited.
Graffiato’s space is open, airy, and sexy. Nothing over the top or pretentious. The staff was friendly, even though they had their hands full with a crazy busy dining room and frustrated diners who didn’t handle their delayed reservations too well (hangry folks for sure).
The drink menu listed a great selection of Virginia brews and wines were categorized by Country, which I appreciate since my eyes scan every wine list for Spanish reds. My date started with a Hardywood Singel and for me, a glass of Touriga Nacional (a bold red from Portugal).
Being 10 pm and all, we needed to eat immediately so we quickly ordered the crispy artichoke with borqurones (anchovies – didn’t realize until later) and capers. The presentation on this dish was sleek and minimal, the flavor a little salty but should be expected. Nothing to boast about but it did settle the constant growling of my stomach.
My date went simple and chose the American Pie pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil ($12) which she instantly devoured. I was craving something small and carb-y so I went with the Smoked Burrata ($12). So glad I did. A thick smear of creamy burrata topped a thick slice of chewy Pane Pugliese bread with a cascade of sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and tangy arugula pesto. It was the perfect portion and flavor.
By the time we finished, it was nearing 11, the buzz of the dining room began to slowly fade but the bar was still in full swing. We were tempted by dessert but at the same time, we were also ready to head out so we got the Tiramisu ($7) to go. This was the winner. Traditionally, Tiramisu is a little sweet for me but Graffiato’s was creamy with balanced flavors of coffee, mascarpone, and cocoa. Might sound crazy, but there was a slight hint of tanginess that resembled Gorgonzola that proved a pleasant surprise.
After boasting about the good experience to friends, they decided to go for dinner and had a rather different experience. Their server explained the menu was tapas style and advised they order 3 – 4 dishes each. This was not my understanding of the menu or even mentioned by our serves. Their Potato Gnocci was slightly overcooked and mushy and the table next to them didn’t have much to boast about the Rockfish (I guess so much they told another table).
For me, I’ll certainly go again. My taste buds are set on the Greco Roman pizza with black figs, goat cheese, tasso ham ($14) and their Brussel Sprouts adorned with pancetta, maple, yogurt, egg ($8). Of course, a round 2 of the Tiramisu is in the bag.
Feel trusting? For $29 – $49, let the chef select a variety of tastings from their menu (dinner and drink).