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Graffiti

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My understanding was that the place recently opened. Has anyone been there yet?


Arley Sasson

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My understanding was that the place recently opened. Has anyone been there yet?

Tried calling to go today and no one answered the phone. In fact, it wasn't connected. However, I hear they've changed the number.

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It's good. really good.

tiny. 18 seats. stopped by at 11:15 on Saturday night. they took my number and called me at midnight with a table for two.

wine list of about 20 bottles...most of them are available by the glass. all bottles are $25....all glasses are $8. had a bottle of a slightly off-dry Riesling...it was fine....certainly for the price!

bunch of small plates ranging in price from $7-14. the plates aren't that small btw.

heirloom tomato salad with a balsalmic and olive granita was very good. simple and obvious, but good.

foie gras with strawberry glaze was terrific. generous portion for $12 (!?!).

crabmeat "spring rolls" were good. so were the ginger-glazed scallops...maybe a little overcooked (but then I think scallops should always be raw). generous portion.

service was charming (literally). space isn't the most comfortable but it creates a sort of "dinner party" atmosphere.

loved it.

no, it's not as subtle or good or put-together as Tailor...not by any means. but it's pretty darn amazing for 18 seats in a tiny EV storefront.

go.

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Okay, so some background: Graffiti is the minuscule, highly personal, genius restaurant of Jehangir Mehta, who has worked at Jean Georges, Union Pacific, Virot, Compass, Aix, and Sapa. His background is primarily as a pastry chef, though from the food at Graffiti you'd never guess he wasn't the chef de cuisine at all those restaurants. It's astounding what a high level of cuisine they're able to produce from a nothing kitchen, with a staff (front and back combined) of three. He's Indian, but the food isn't Indian. It isn't really anything, though various Asian influences are evident in most (not all) dishes.

The reason the service is so charming is that Mehta himself does most of the order-taking and customer interaction. It took me awhile to figure this out, because at first it didn't occur to me that the chef could be the headwaiter and I didn't know what Mehta looked like (I think I shook his hand once at some event way back when, but maybe not). Once I put two and two together, though, it made sense. Mehta is basically the executive chef by day, designing the dishes and handling the business side, and the maitre d' and half the waitstaff by night. Mehta's partner works the tiny kitchen single-handedly, and there's one server who assists Mehta on the floor.

We were swept away not only by the food but by the whole experience. You can't believe how small Graffiti is until you get in there. It makes Momofuku Ssam Bar look like Tavern on the Green. It makes Upstairs at Bouley look like the mess hall on an aircraft carrier. There are four tables! Three tables for four, and one table for six. If you're a party of two, you'll share space. The room is narrow and, as you'll see from the photos, dimly lit. There are Indian art objects on the walls, and the tables are set with those funky Hog Wild Zoo chopsticks.

As soon as you walk in you're in the care of Mehta, who is warm, hospitable and eager to please, though not at all obsequious. The pace is relaxed. It takes awhile to get seated, awhile to order, the food comes plate by plate, it takes awhile to get your bill and to have it processed. You've got to get into the spirit of the place -- this restaurant probably couldn't exist outside New York but it's not New York, it's a tiny nation under Mehta, where they don't experience stress or wear watches.

We started with a salad of fresh watermelon, cubes of feta cheese, mint sorbet and pomegranate syrup. As soon as we saw the plate and tasted the pure flavors, we knew we were at a very high level of restaurant. (Again, the restaurant is dimly lit, and the intimacy of the place made flash inappropriate, so these photos were the best I could do.)

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Next, chili-pork dumplings with grapefruit confit, topped with crispy semolina. Like the watermelon-feta dish, this was a study in contrasts, and the best dumpling dish I've had in ages. Surprisingly spicy, a little bit rustic at heart but evidencing advanced technique.

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Crabmeat noodle rolls with onion confit went in the opposite direction from the dumplings: subtle, delicate, along the lines of miniature streamlined summer rolls based on crabmeat.

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Slices of lightly seared scallops topped with pickled ginger. The line of red is red chili jam. Served with slices of fresh-baked flatbread.

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This dish was over the top: foie gras-raspberry crostini with walnut salad. Enough said.

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Ironically (given Mehta's background), the one dish that wasn't impressive was one of the desserts: halva with mascarpone-date cream. Just didn't work. The other dessert, however, was extraordinary: a steamed bun stuffed with chocolate, served with peanut-butter ice cream.

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There are two cocktails that are, bizarrely, listed on the regular menu right with the $7 small-plate appetizer-type dishes. (The menu is actually divided by price: $7 dishes, $12 dishes, $15 dishes, and $6 dishes -- the first three categories are roughly in progressive order of size and heft, and the last category is dessert). We tried both and they were very enjoyable -- sweet but complex. The Prosecco lychee Martini came together nicely, but the real standout was the pineapple grape tarragon peach tequila muddle. You get a little bowl of chopped pineapple and red grapes topped with fresh tarragon, and you're supposed to eat the fruit and take sips of the frozen peach-tequila cocktail.

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Prices are very reasonable. We had seven plates of food (five savory plates, two desserts) and two substantial cocktails. $81 (before tax and tip).

I can't recommend Graffiti highly enough. It's a treasure. As Nathan says: go.

The restaurant does double duty as an off-the-charts sophisticated place for kids' birthday parties and other sweets-oriented events. Mehta will also do similar events in people's homes. The primary target audience for that side of the business is kids 4 to 14.

Graffiti

224 East 10th Street (between First and Second Avenues)

212.677.0695

http://www.graffitinyc.com/


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Thanks for the report!

Did you make reservations or walk-in? I keep wanting to walk in on the spur of the moment...


"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

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We walked in and were seated immediately at 8:30pm on a Tuesday, but we were lucky: if we had arrived 10 minutes later we'd have had a 45 minute wait. I would definitely suggest making reservations if you can, but there's no certainly no harm in attempting a walk-in -- especially if you go early.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Had a thoroughly enjoyable meal at Graffiti last night.

We had the watermelon/feta salad and green mango paneer from the $7 set. I second FG's comments on the former, but I was even more impressed with the paneer, which is served with fenugreek-spiked naan.

From the $12 section, we also had the foie gras crostini, which were simply delicious and quite substantial. The pork dumplings were also the best I've had in a long time, though the chili unfortunately overwhelmed the grapefruit. We were drinking prosecco, and the flavors from the dumplings exploded with a sip of wine.

From the $15 section, we had the pork buns, and these were outstanding, the best dish of the evening. They surpass even those at Momofuku. Really unbelievably good.

We shared the halva, and this was, as described, a dud.

As Nathan notes, all wines are $25/bottle, $8/glass. Our server told us that they got a mention in a Post round-up of wine bars. She also said the Times had just been in for a photo shoot, so go before the tables get even tighter.

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I've written elsewhere that I think Paul Adams of the New York Sun is the best restaurant reviewer writing today, but rarely have I felt so completely in agreement with any restaurant review as I was with his review today of Graffiti. Paul Adams gets the place. He's enthusiastic about it, he understands what makes it impressive, but he also understands its flaws.

Wherever I've had a dish, Paul Adams's analysis is spot-on, such that when I haven't had a dish I feel confident relying on his evaluation.

The highlights of the $7 tier are two salads whose delicious, keen flavors belie their blatant unseasonality. In one, crisp tiles of watermelon are strewn with tart-salty feta crumbles and capped with mint sorbet that has the clean taste of the fresh-picked herb. The other is a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes covered with balsamic ice and crunchy candy nodules. Cubes of firm paneer are served hot, their creamy blandness offset with spice and with the sourness of unripe mango.

He's not 100% positive. He nails it on the dessert point:

Desserts (all $6) are neither as ambitious nor as successful as one would expect from a practiced dessert chef. . . . Crystalline halvah topped with date cream is neither sweet nor particularly satisfying. The dessert I will return for is one I had for the first time when Mr. Mehta cooked it at Sapa, a recap of the steamed pork buns: puffy cakes filled this time with gooey mocha chocolate and paired with luscious peanut ice cream, plain and rich.

I recommend the review to anyone who wants to get a really solid, favorable but not sentimental picture of this idiosyncratic restaurant.

Meanwhile, I thought the New York Times didn't quite get the place. In his short review of Graffiti today, Peter Meehan summed up the food as "The restaurant serves a short menu of Asian fusion small plates, most with an Indian accent" -- a characterization with which I'm just not sure I can agree. He's overly dismissive of the physical space and the kitchen.

And its space on East 10th Street is an obstacle to liking the place. It is comically small, and it feels smaller still because of the plush sea of throw pillows and too many chairs. It’s too bad: Graffiti’s stabs at hospitality would play better on a bigger stage, and Mr. Mehta’s creative cooking could be more fully realized if it were coming from a full kitchen, not a nook the size of a pantry.

I think there are certainly people who will feel that way about a tiny restaurant like Graffiti. But then there are people who won't. What some find claustrophobic others find intimate and charming. Put me in the latter camp.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I usually agree with Meehan but in this case I agree with you and Adams. the space is small, but warm and friendly.

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Adams, too, finds the space problematic:

The room has four tables, which diners may be compelled to share with strangers if the restaurant gets full. Though the cozy scale has its charms, particularly when Mr. Mehta is pressed into service as a waiter, too often it detracts from the experience and distracts from the food.

I didn't find the cramped quarters particularly distracting once seated. But there isn't any room for patrons to wait once they enter the restaurant. I can certainly appreciate that this may detract from the charm.

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after snacking at Terroir, continued a progressive supper at Graffiti last night.

the chili pork dumplings are now topped with crispy semolina. little duck summer rolls are very nice. but the standout dish was an asparagus wasabi "pizza"....

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And what does the name have to do with anything? It could be called any number of cheesy names why this one, because it's NYC, I think it's cheesy with no context. I checked the website and couldn't find anything.

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I stopped by this place for a later dinner on Friday night and had a decent meal. I came away liking most of the dishes individually but perhaps found the overall meal a bit unfulfilling. Nathan got the mood right when he said it feels like a dinner party. The service is charming--as it certainly must in a place this small and cramped--but the whole operation feels just a bit amateurish. Not necessarily in the execution of the dishes, but it doesn't feel like a Serious Restaurant.

Four of us had seven or eight plates, all but one of which were savory. As others have noted, the dessert was the low-point. Some unobjectionable chocolate cupcake with crispy chocolate candy-things on top with chocolate chip ice cream. Across the board I liked the creative spicing and the Indian inflection. There were unexpected notes of heat, acid, and bitterness that I found quite pleasing in the small plates staples that make up the menu--see: sliders, dumplings, pork buns, crostini/bruschette/stuff-on-bread, etc. I quite liked the foie With that said, I felt the food here lacked a bit of an identity. The Indian influences were not enough to canvas an identifiable cuisine (and I do not count "small plates" as a cuisine).

All in all, I didn't spend that much--just shy of $40 splitting a bottle of wine four ways--but I just didn't come out liking the place as much as I could have. It's good, and I'd go back, just not to try to cobble together a full meal.

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