By Mia Shehadi
I cannot emphasize the word “mixed” enough when it comes to my feelings about Valentine’s Day. My grandpa used to tell me that is was a dumb holiday because you should make your love feel special every day; you don’t need a company to tell you to do that. While I wholeheartedly believe that, I have come to think of it as an excuse to get dressed up and get my significant other off the couch. This holiday, I made a reservation at Graft.
Graft is a special gem located right on Capitol Square. This location is stellar because of one incredible thing: parking. Just a block or so down from the restaurant is the Carroll Street parking ramp. This is key because usually the parking on the Capitol is either non-existent or very limited. This also allows for a nice romantic stroll in the Square’s lights right before and after your meal.
A friendly hostess greeted us at the front door, asking for our reservation and offering to hang our coats. The restaurant is oriented more for bigger parties, all the tables and booths sit at least four people and could fit larger parties with ease. A stunning retro-inspired bar greets you when you walk in and to the left are the booths. Made to be subtly private in an open space, the semi-circular booths are sectioned by bundled curtains. The seclusion is further elevated by the slightly raised platform they each sit on. In the middle of the room are four-person wooden tables, all situated on a distressed brick floor. An accent wall of dark wood captures the eye and your gaze lingers over the gorgeous, über-colorful painting right in the middle. A chrome open-air kitchen covers the very back wall of the restaurant filling the air with a subtle comforting warmth.
Our server was outstanding. Her sense of humor combined with her genuine desire to make us feel at home are what made Tracy one of the best parts about Graft. We mentioned this random Wednesday night meal was actually a make-up Valentine’s Day. She began to throw out stellar suggestions for appetizers, her favorite entrées and dessert. We ordered Fried Chévre, scallops, hanger steak and coffee ice cream in a puff pastry drizzled with caramel sauce.
First to the table was the Fried Chévre, three balls of goat cheese lightly fried and laid out over a black pepper and honey gastrique. The black pepper accentuated the honey, giving it a little kick without creating an overpowering flavor as using hot sauce or chili pepper might. This paired nicely with the salty, creamy cheese. Lightly frying the balls adds an array of textures, the slight crunch broke apart what would otherwise be an uncomfortable mouthful.
Next came the scallops. One thing that sparked a flame between my boyfriend and I is our mutual adoration of scallops. Three plump scallops sat side-by-side, dressed with braised fennel and parsley and a butternut square puree. My first reaction was excitement over the colors: the vegetables were an incredible dark green and the orange from the puree really stood out on the plate. Scallops are very easy to overcook and pretty difficult to tell if they’re undercooked unless cut in half, so practice is key when preparing this kind of seafood. Our scallops were perfectly cooked so our fork glided through them, and a slight grill at the top and bottom added a little texture to the dish.
The hanger steak was also cooked to perfection. This dish had a much richer flavor overall, from the meat, to the bread pudding, to the Gouda sauce covering the whole dish. The portion size of our dishes so far had been on the smaller side, and I’m glad this one was as well. Even though the steak’s natural flavor was able to cut through the sauce, the creaminess was very prominent. The parsnips were fantastic, adding a little bit of crunch and melding well with the gusto of the dish. The leek bread pudding helped lighten the flavor by adding a fluffy component to soak up and distribute the sauce over more items.
Last came our dessert, a cute, little trio of pastries in a large bowl. A small ball of coffee ice cream was cradled in between two halves of a light, crunchy pastry. A glorious drizzle of caramel was poured lightly over the whole dish adding visual cohesiveness and well as the perfect extra bit of sweetness.
The whole meal was fantastic: the atmosphere was incredibly friendly, yet elegant, and the staff was extremely attentive and fun. I would recommend Graft as more of a larger party restaurant, as in a birthday, meeting or corporate event. Although I went there on a date and had a spectacular time, it might be better suited for a grander celebration.