As a Top Chef fan and DC resident, I like to keep up with what local alums have been up to. While I haven't yet made the trek out to Frederick, Maryland to see what Bryan Voltaggio is up to, I can report on the recent endeavors of Mike Isabella, Spike Mendelsohn, and Carla Hall.
Mike Isabella has been in the local news A LOT lately--he opened his first restaurant, Graffiato, a year ago, and recently opened Bandolero, his second DC restaurant; he's also working on a cookbook and maybe another restaurant? My husband and I decided to go to Graffiato to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary a few weeks ago. I'm happy to report that all the hype does not appear to have adversely affected the food.
As you can see, the restaurant does not feel super-fancy. The menu is made up of small plates and pizza; since it was a special occasion for us we opted for the $55/person tasting menu. Both of us came away feeling like the tasting menu was a tremendous value. We got to enjoy 16 different dishes over the course of the evening, and just about everything was excellent.
Highlights included roasted cauliflower with pecorino and mint, beet green ravioli, and the above-pictured pizza, which featured black truffles, fontina cheese, and a soft cooked egg. We left full of good food with some leftovers to bring home--I'd definitely be happy to go back. I'm also eager to try Bandolero once the crowds and buzz die down a little bit.
Spike Mendelsohn opened Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill in 2008. It's a casual place serving burgers, fries, and milkshakes. He subsequently opened a pizza place next door (We the Pizza), and recently opened a second Good Stuff location in Virginia.
While I always found Spike kind of annoying on the show, I am a fan of Good Stuff. The burgers are quite good (I'm partial to the Blazin' Barn, which features Sriracha mayo and Vietnamese-style pickles and herbs), and because it's an order-at-the-counter place it's a good place to go with kids. But the thing that keeps me coming back is the milkshakes. The toasted marshmallow milkshake is their signature shake, and it is worth a special trip on its own. It is rich and creamy with a burnt-sugar edge from the toasted marshmallows (here's a recipe if you want to give it a try at home).
Finally, I recently tried some cookies and nuts from Carla Hall's Alchemy line of products.
The Black Forest Crinkle is little chocolate cherry cookies; the first box that I bought from a local market was delicious and totally addictive: rich chocolate, tart cherries, and a wonderful chewy texture. I bought another box a few weeks later, though, and they were too sweet and crumbly. So while there's great potential there, based on my experience there may be some issues with consistency.
I also tried a box of Alchemy's spiced nuts--these were delicious and would make a fabulous hostess gift.
So there you have it--my take on three of the DC-area Top Chef alums. Have you had experience (either good or bad) with these or other Top Chef participants?