Isabella, incidentally, remains convinced that he won the “All-Stars” finale over Blais. He swears that Blais thought the same thing after the final challenge in the Bahamas, too. (Blais counters: He never tasted Isabella’s food, so he couldn’t have made a call, but says he “was prepared to lose.”) Regardless, Isabella says he is sort of relieved he didn’t win: “I think it would have messed with my opening a bit.”
The fact is, Graffiato is already behind schedule. Isabella thought his restaurant would open in early spring, but it is only now ready to swing its doors wide at 5 p.m. Thursday. Last week he was working with sous-chef Elliot Drew and executive sous-chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley to train the cooks and execute the small plates, pastas and pizzas on Isabella’s concise menu.
Isabella refuses to call Graffiato an Italian restaurant. He doesn’t even want his servers to use the term “antipasti” when describing his collection of vegetable-driven appetizers, such as the “blistered sweet peppers” and “honey-glazed cipollini.” It might seem counterintuitive, especially with such dishes as hand-cut spaghetti with olive-oil-poached cherry tomatoes on the menu, until you spot ingredients such as mint (in the romaine salad), coriander yogurt (served with pork ribs) and dates (paired with roasted baby carrots). Isabella has created a hybrid beast, a menu that pulls together his Italian American past with his experiences in Mediterranean cooking. Even the small plates scream Zaytinya.