If you didn’t hear of Mike Isabella on Top Chef or Top Chef All-Stars, maybe you know him from being one of the chefs at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya for three years. No? Then maybe you know him from his first restaurant which opened up last year in Chinatown, Graffiato (read about my visit here). Or, maybe you know him as Food and Wine Magazine’s 2012 People’s Best New Chef of the Mid-Atlantic Region.
These are just a couple of highlights from Mike Isabella’s resume. He is continuing to grow and flourish as a chef, with his second restaurant Bandolero opening just this past May. Bandolero features a modern Mexican cuisine and is “taco centric,” as the website says. Located in Georgetown, this small plates concept has a rocking vibe emphasizing the Day of the Dead. Chris and I enjoyed hearing rock hits from the nineties/early 2000s as we dined, and we are convinced that a a major way to attract people in a particular age range is to play music from the age group’s childhood years!
As I mentioned, this is a small plates restaurant. Chris and I ate four plates between the two of us, but the number needed definitely depends on what you order. The fun thing about tapas restaurants is that the plates generally come out as soon as they are ready, so you may be surprised by the sequence.
The two obvious choices going into this meal were: 1.) Fun margaritas, and 2.) Tacos. There was quite the selection of margaritas, and we chose an El Bandolero and a Classico. For our taco dish, we decided to go with the Octopus Tacos. I don’t think I’ve ever had octopus before, but it tasted like squishy steak and went well with the cucumber relish included.
We weren’t a huge fan of the Sikil Pak, which involved pumpkin seeds, jalapenos, and oranges. It was very innovative in concept, but didn’t really blow us away in taste. Also, I know chicarrones are a big deal in Mexican cuisine and at Bandolero, but they come across to me as just really stale and thick chips. I’m not a fan.
Our absolute favorite dish of the night was the Queso Fundido, combining duck confit, maitake, manchego, and a sunny egg. Between Chris’ love of duck and my love of cheese, this was the perfect plate for us. The egg made the presentation really fun too. We stirred everything together and tried out best to finish every drop. You get a lot for your money in this dish; it is tasty and with all of the different proteins swimming together, it fills you up too!
The final plate was the Enchilada Verde which included wild mushrooms, oaxaca cheese, and mole verde. The presentation was very beautiful, but the dish itself was unfortunately rather bland. Maybe we should have gone for the Enchilada Rojo instead. We didn’t end up finishing this plate since we were getting full anyway.
To close out the night, we opted for a liquid dessert. Chris tried the Blood and Sand, containing blended scotch, cherry heering, sweet vermouth, and orange juice. I chose a red wine from Uruguay.
I cannot wait to follow Mike’s continued influence on the DC restaurant scene. Kapnos, a Greek restaurant, and G, an Italian sub shop, are the next places to come!