As rich with restaurants as Chinatown may be, the neighborhood offers few options for lovers of Italian cuisine. On the one hand is Carmine's, the where too much food is never enough. On the other is Graffiato, where you will spend your meal wishing for just a bit more. The two are perfect foils: Graffiato is as modern as Carmine's is classic, with its industrial-meets-artistic decor and unobtrusive, no-frills service.
At Graffiato, celebrity chef Mike Isabella offers a seasonal list of small plates so fresh that the pea ravioli a friend recommended after her meal on Saturday was off the menu by Wednesday night. Some classics are more steadily available: broccolini with spicy pepper relish and sweet corn agnolotti with chanterelles are both delicious, and were gone too soon. The fettucini with blue crab, summer squash, and arugula pesto was salty, but both of my dinner companions wished that it were available as a full entree. The highlight of the meal was easily the Countryman pizza, which is finished tableside and features a black truffle sauce, fontina cheese, and a sous-vide egg.
As teasingly tiny as Chef Isabella's plates are, just two or three make a very filling meal for two - assuming that you're having a pizza as well, which you should. But be sure not to pass on drinks or dessert, both of which are very good at Graffiato. Choose from a relatively small but interesting selection of wines or cocktails, or skip the alcohol and try a house-made soda in lemon basil or strawberry cardamom. I recommend finishing your meal with blood orange cheesecake, a new favorite, and panna cotta, which is brilliantly topped with caramel-coated pretzel bits and a thin layer of fudge. If you're anything like me, you'll start planning your next meal at Graffiato before the last crunchy bite!