Graffiato chef Mike Isabella turned his modern Italian restaurant over to guest chefs Monday night for the second of his monthly Industry Takeover Nights. And thanks to a whir of activity and heavy representation by “Top Chef” alums, it all felt a little like witnessing D.C.’s very own Quickfire challenge, where guests get to judge the results for free.
The next event is March 4 with the saucy “Top Chef” competitor Jennifer Carroll and the Columbia Room’s Derek Brown, and if you don’t mind a crush of people and foraging for your food a little, it can be a lot of fun. It’s designed as a gathering place for restaurant folk after their shifts have ended, but it’s open to the public and there’s no charge to get in.
Here’s what to know:
Crowds line up outside Graffiato before the restaurant opens for the event at 10 p.m. Once inside, they bum rush the open kitchen in the back, where the chefs hand down plate after plate of gratis snacks. Diners, in turn, appreciatively scarf it all down and generously pass plates back to those unable to stake out a space in front of the chefs. Need a break from all the elbowing? Head to the bar, where wine, beers and a (very good) cocktail are $5.
What was fun: Watching Scott Drewno of the Source, Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground and Good Stuff Eatery‘s Spike Mendelsohn (Bryan Voltaggio of Range also made an appearance last night) sweat over rapidly-fired beef tongue hotpot; plates of pork and cucumber; and lettuce wraps with pork and candied kumquat. The best part isn’t that the tastes are free; it’s getting to witness some of the city’s most popular chefs in action.
What wasn’t: The mass confusion. On this night, it appears, wedding cocktail-hour rules apply: Guests have to storm the pizza bar and occasionally employ sharp elbows to get a taste. What exactly you’re eating isn’t printed anywhere, but passed down, like legend, from diner to diner.
Best for: Foodies who also actually enjoy the thrill of shopping on Black Friday.