January 21, 2014 | by Jonathan Howard
Handing over the reins
Mike Isabella, dining, gay news, Washington Blade

Mike Isabella has created buzz with his monthly Industry Takeover Nights at Graffiatto. (Photo by Greg Powers)

Mike Isabella is a household name in Washington. Not only is he a “Top Chef” alum, but he also has three major restaurants including Graffiatto (707 Sixth St. N.W.), host of Industry Takeover Night.

This monthly blowout just celebrated its one-year anniversary in style on Jan. 6 with a huge party by inviting back a few favorites from previous events like fellow “Top Chef” alum Jennifer Carroll and local luminary Victor Albisu of Del Campo.

Industry Nights used to be a term that simply described a group of restaurant employees, cooks, bartenders or waiters gathering at a local watering hole to have drinks and exchange war stories. Now in D.C. and thanks to Isabella, Industry Nights means much more. The concept is simple: Chef Isabella hands over the first floor kitchen at Graffiato to one of many renowned chefs and the bar to an equally renowned bartender the first Monday of every month. Isabella then steps back and enjoys the party. The chef can make whatever he or she wants and the bartenders will be serving their own original cocktails. For $10 (half of which goes to charity), guests can get a taste of all the food they can get their hands on, as well as enjoy $5 cocktails. The outcome of this simple concept is a mind-blowing event every month.

“I like to party and I like to hang out with friends,” Isabella says.

Guests have the opportunity to gather around the open kitchen at Graffiato and watch renowned chefs prepare some of their favorite dishes up close, and sometimes even chat with them as they do it. The restaurant is packed with masses of people celebrating the joys of food. It’s not only the food lovers who show up for this event, but also other famous chefs from the area, so you never know who you will be rubbing elbows with.

Last January, Bryan Voltaggio and his head mixologist at Range, Owen Thomson, were the first ones to take over, serving dishes like lamb tongue pasta, black cod with hazelnuts and even samplings of candy from Range’s candy counter for dessert. Thomson brought over a bottled tequila punch called Serpentine Overflow, which contained cranberry, hibiscus and black pepper. Since that first takeover the chefs have been kicking Isabella out of his own kitchen and packing the restaurant every month. Some of the participants last year included Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery; Anwar Morgan, head mixologist at Sbraga; Erik Bruner-Yang, chef and owner of Toki Underground; Timothy Spinner of La Calaca Feliz; and Shannon Overmiller, head chef at Majestic.

On Jan. 6, Isabella decided to expand the takeover night to include the second floor of the restaurant and keep the doors open until 2 a.m. He filled this extra space and time with some of the most popular chefs and bartenders from previous events to please the crowd.

Scott Drewno of The Source prepared a char sui bao and a spicy chicken dumpling. Adam Sobel, former head toque at Bourbon steak, now of RN74 of San Francisco, made his return to D.C. and prepared Burrata-stuffed meatballs for diners. Chef Jennifer Carroll of Concrete Blonde pleased the crowd with a Shellfish Escabeche that had crab, mussels, scallops and shrimp and Angelo Sosa of Poppy Den made an Asian Borscht with Korean-style pork belly.

Victor Albisu of Del Campo made some small plates for the crowd including Smoked Beef Tongue, Blood Sausage, Chorizo and Tripa Tacos. Andre Mack, owner and winemaker of Mouton Noir Wines, mixed drinks. Isabella clearly knows how to celebrate an anniversary in style.

Lindsay Autry, another “Top Chef” alum and chef/owner of Table Frederick De Pue, will take the reins Feb. 2.

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