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Posted at 05:30 PM ET, 05/26/2011

Brick by Brick: Inside Mike Isabella’s Graffiato

Instead of standard-issue charcuterie, Mike Isabella plans to offer a "ham bar," with five selections of cured, artisanal meats. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
This is the third installment in our series following chef Mike Isabella as builds out his first restaurant, Graffiato. You can also read parts one and two.

Last Friday during a tour of his construction site, Mike Isabella — chef, future restaurant owner, newfound sex symbol for obsessive followers of “Top Chef All-Stars” — was explaining the hassles of building out his own space. He was already behind schedule, Isabella said, and he still didn’t have any utilities hooked up: gas, water or electric.

As if he had conjured them out of thin air, workers with the water authority showed up a few minutes later to start carefully pulling up the sidewalk — brick by fragile brick — so they could dig a trench and install a pipe to Graffiato , Isabella’s Italian-inspired restaurant behind Verizon Center.

Nearly a week later, the water line is almost done. Even better, the gas is installed, and Isabella should, if the utility gods are merciful, have electricity soon, which is good. Construction crews have been working off generators.

Ah, the joys of restaurant ownership.

Utilities have been a major part of the slow-down, Isabella told me during the tour. The power needs of a modern, 120-seat restaurant are far greater than a 1940s-era print shop, which is what had occupied the Sixth Street NW space for years. All the evidence you need can be viewed in the electrical “room” photos after the jump. The print shop required only a few boxes attached to a brick wall; Graffiato needs an entire dedicated room.

Isabella hopes to have Graffiato up and running by mid-June. But then again, at one point, he thought he’d have his place open early this year. In other words, don’t circle any dates on your calendar yet.

More photos after the jump.

The pizza dough will be made at Graffiato, and the mozzarella stretched in-house, but still Isabella hopes pies won't be the primary focus of his place. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The Wood Stone double-door oven will bake pizzas on one side and wood-fired small plates on the other. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The chalkboard over the second-story ham bar will list, among other things, the producers who will supply artisanal ingredients. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The ground floor at Graffiato will, in the words of Isabella, bring the outdoors inside. The light fixtures and some unpainted brick will give the space a feeling of an urban streetscape. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The first-floor counter at Graffiato, where diners can order pizza, pastas, wood-fired small plates and other dishes from Isabella's Italian-inspired menu. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

At present, this wobbly ladder provides the only access to the roof, where Isabella plans to grow herbs for his restaurant. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The old electrical "room" for the print shop that used to occupy Graffiato's space. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Graffiato's electrical room will help power the BTU-gobbling equipment of this modern kitchen. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Isabella's "office" at Graffiato is, for now, a barren desk and shelf underneath the humid basement stairs. Reality-show fame has its perks. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

By  |  05:30 PM ET, 05/26/2011

Categories:  Chefs, Media, Television | Tags:  Tim Carman

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