The fire that destroyed Hook in Georgetown in June gave owner Jonathan Umbel some time to think about how to restructure his upscale seafood establishment in a down economy, and he came up with what sounds like a fail-safe -- if about-face -- plan: “I’m converting Hook into a modern Mexican restaurant,” he announced today, and installing “a local chef who’s really hot right now:” Mike Isabella , the former Top Chef contestant and the visionary behind Graffiato in Chinatown.
The small-plates concept will be called Bandolero, and Umbel’s hope is to have the 5,000-square foot space open as early as February.
Attracted to the deal in part by “a prime location,” Isabella says his followers should not be surprised by his plan to open a Mexican-themed dining room. One of his mentors is star chef Jose Garces, under whom he cooked at Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia. Another, of course, is Washington’s own Jose Andres, who hired Isabella to cook Greek and Turkish food at Zaytinya in Penn Quarter. Says Isabella, “my ultimate goal is to open more restaurants and hire executive chefs to oversee the properties.”
While Umbel owns the building, Isabella says he has “100 percent control” over Bandolero. “It will be my vision, my food, my way or the highway,” says the 36-year-old New Jersey native, who plans to play an active role in the kitchen but also hire a chef de cuisine with name recognition.
Isabella envisions “awesome cocktails” and “lots of tacos” -- stuffed with everything from octopus to asparagus with beet salsa -- on his menu of “reworked classics.”
Graffiato will be tapped to stock Bandolero. General manager James Horn and bar honcho Sam Babcock will both relocate from Chinatown to Georgetown, says their boss. Helping to make Isabella’s commute from one restaurant to the other a little easier is his brand-new, black Honda Ruckus scooter.