Mike Isabella’s Bandolero Opens in Georgetown
Last night Mike Isabella, who has become DC’s golden boy, hosted a “tequila and taco party”, a media preview of his newest and highly anticipated modern Mexican restaurant, Bandolero (3241 M Street) in Georgetown. It was a star-studded party last night with appearances by several local celebrity chefs, including Mary Beth Albright from the Food Network and Top Chefestant and friend of Isabella’s, Jennifer Carroll, who took the train in from Philly “just to show her support,” according to Carroll. They appeared together in the unforgettable season six, filmed in the sweltering Las Vegas. Hells Kitchen winner Chef Rock Harper also made an appearance to the party with his wife Tamara. It’s no surprise that Isabella has the support of so many local chefs — he’s a very talented young chef who is clearly motivated to bring the DC restaurant scene to a new level. Last night, Isabella was grinning from ear to ear – as he should be! Especially since no where else in the city serves Margaritas on tap! Just as Graffiato offers Prosecco on tap, Isabella has another “first in DC’ under his belt.
Inside Bandolero it is a rather dark, like a “Day of the Dead” look or as I teased him, “Mexican prison” theme, complete with black iron cemetery gates, host stand lined with machine gun bullets, cactus, and blanched animal skulls. Even the staff wore t-shirts with printed Machine Gun Bandoliers. Think Desperadoes but … without the band of guerrillas who go on a murderous rampage.
It was the first time that I’ve seen the inside since Isabella took over the former Hook restaurant space. The two-level restaurant which once had a bright nautical theme has truly been transformed, especially the bar and lounge area with giant Mexican gunman mural and features a long copper bar with wooden crates acting as shelves to display the numerous bottles of tequila and mezcal–37 of the first and about 15 of the latter, according to Sam Babcock, the Mixologist and Beverage Director. He has moved over from Graffiato to mix and shake full-time at Bandolero.
DC’s foodie elite came out in droves. Local media, bloggers, and key restaurant industry players, such as Eun Yang from Channel 4, Pamela Sorensen from Pamela’s Punch, Jessica Sidman of the City Paper, and Nycci Nellis from theListAreYouOnIt.com, Mary DeVito from Girl Meets Food, and Lauren DeSantis from The Capital Cooking Show, just to name a few, all hovered towards the open kitchen hoping to get first grab of the delicious tacos or tostadas.
Tasty bites being passed by smiling team members included tacos of various flavors, including Tuna tartare, Blue Crab with coconut, red chili, and purple potato, Snapper, and Crispy Mahi Mahi with chipotle, avocado, and lime or as Mike calls them “fish stick” tacos, which were one of my faves. Other big hits included the poblano and cheese empanadas; sopes of lamb and goat cheese; and a large round table filled with bowls of freshly made guacamole, pumpkin-seed-and-jalapeño spread, and tomato salsa. The food samples were overall a big hit and even the most discerning foodies agreed that everything was delicious.
To was it all down, Mixologist Babcock served up incredibly potent cocktails, including the Jesus Malverde, a smoky concoction made with Sombra Mezcal, cucumber juice, and cilantro and also the El Diablo made with blanco tequila (or mezcal), creme de casis, lime, and ginger beer. I personally had only two or three and I was sufficiently sloshed. The taste of tequila, even for those who gag thinking about it, won’t be able to tell it has tequila. Not only is it masked well, it’s deliciously smooth — maybe too smooth. Plan ahead for your BMW (bus, metro, walk).
Isabella has plans to continue to add to his growing empire. In addition to Graffiato, his Italian-inspired eatery in Chinatown and Bandolero, early 2013, Chef Isabella plans to open Kapnos, a Greek concept with an Italian sandwich shop, G, next door. These will be his third and fourth restaurants in Washington, D.C. If the success of the current two are any indication of the future successes of these upcoming restaurants, I’d say the future looks bright for us all. Congrats, Mike!
I’m looking forward to coming back and trying even more!
Bandolero. 3241 M St., NW; 202-625-4488 ; bandolerodc.com. Open Sunday through Tuesday from 4 to 10 PM, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 PM to midnight (dinner until 11), and Friday and Saturday from 4 PM to 2 AM (dinner service until midnight). Dinner service begins daily at 4:30.
** All photos by the talented, Paul Ferrari