Mike Isabella’s name is in lights at Nationals Stadium. He appeared on season six of “Top Chef” and was runner up on “Top Chef All-Stars.” He is often a featured chef at fundraising events around town, and this summer will appear on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Duels.” Not to mention, he is chef/owner of a growing group of well-respected DC and now Virginia restaurants, including Graffiato, Kapnos, and G by Mike Isabella.
The chef is not exactly operating under the radar. But when I mention to people that we’re going to G by Mike Isabella for the tasting menu, I get more than a few blank stares. On Wednesday through Thursday evenings, G by Mike Isabella transforms from a shop serving inventive sandwiches into a more-structured albeit casual Italian restaurant with a four course meal for $40.
“I’m really happy with both concepts. But I guess that one thing would be that G is a sandwich shop but at night’s it’s a tasting menu. And we get so much hype for the sandwich shop, that people didn’t realize it’s a double concept. People thought the double concept was the sandwich shop and Greek restaurant but it’s really a triple concept with the tasting menu.”
G’s tasting menu appears on my radar after reading Tom Sietsema’s review in the Washington Post Magazine. Sietsema calls it “one of the best meal deals around: $40 a head for G Tasting Menu, an Italian spread that rivals what some of the expense-account establishments are serving.” I couldn’t agree more.
Tasting menus can be challenging for my kosher/pescatarian husband, with limited choices. Our server mentions that the antipasti features a selection of hams. When we reveal that three members of our party of four don’t eat ham, he offers up a vegetarian antipasti. I selflessly declare “I can live without pork.” With an antipasti as noteworthy as the one at G, anyone can.
We are presented with a stunning array of pickled vegetables, cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins, zucchini fritters, frittata with cauliflower and spinach, and crostini with fava and lemon basil. It”s hard to know where to dig in first, but it doesn’t matter. Each bite is consistent in that it exceeds our expectations. Our smiley server is satisfied by our expressions of contentment.
An optional heirloom tomato salad for $11 attracts our attention. We don’t need more food, but dining usually isn’t about need (or is that just my perspective?) We are wary- is it too early in the summer for tomatoes to be at their best? We needn’t be concerned. These are full flavored and nicely adorned with lightly fried green tomatoes, tomato jam, cucumber, and horseradish.
Primi is a choice between sunchoke tortellini or spit roasted turkey bolognese with pappardelle. I can’t resist spit roasted turkey from the adjacent Kapnos. It’s a hearty dish, almost too heavy for my taste on a summery night. But spring peas and pea shoots give it a seasonal touch. The dish is so expertly prepared that I succumb to its charm.
Secondi offerings include beef brisket or fish, plus a vegetarian option. Roasted arctic char with chili puree, grilled zucchini, and salsa verde is emboldened with zing. While I have some difficulty polishing off the pasta dish preceding this, I have no trouble at all with the lighter, brighter fish. A small slice of bread to swipe the extra sauce on my plate would be a most welcome addition.
One of my dining companion enjoys vegetarian polenta, although she finds the texture too watery. It’s the only textural misstep, as we admire the crunch of the fried green tomatoes, as well as the skin on the arctic char.
For dessert, I keep things on the lighter side with a nectarine lavender tart with vanilla cream. It’s a letdown with fruit that’s tough to cut, and a lack of discernible flavor. I only need to look across the table to see that gelato sundae with nut brittle, ganache, and whipped cream is a better choice.
Coffee anyone? This is a question I would have appreciated. But our server, who is attentive and affable to start, peters out towards the end of the evening. Still, I can’t be dissuaded from enthusiastically recommending the tasting menu at G by Mike Isabella. The generous portions and gifted talents of the chefs (including Elliot Drew who prepares the consistently changing menu) is a gratifying experience.
G by Mike Isabella has earned its reputation for superb sandwiches. Gee whiz- its tasting menu deserves equal attention.
G by Mike Isabella, 2201 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: “At G and Zentan, certain nights are magic”
Zagat, Ten Amazing Tasting Menus Around DC
Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2015, #59
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