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all photos: Jeff Martin

In what can only be described as the “perfect storm of foodie buzz” moment of the week, Mike Isabella and his team spent four days cooking, grilling and drink mixing items from his upcoming BANDOLERO eatery  for 740 eager diners (spread over those four days naturally) who were lucky enough to grab one of the seats at the newly opened 918  F street Living Social experience space (the whole thing, priced at $120 for five courses with cocktail pairings by Sam Babcock, sold out in less then a work day).

We, naturally, stopped by in the name of research. The plan, we hear, is to have 13-14 dishes out of the weekend menu DEFINITELY end up on the official BANDOLERO menu (which, currently is rumored for an April opening) and it is great to see Isabella sticking with the Mexican take on what worked so well dining-style wise for his (we can all agree really well executed) Graffiato: shareable food, twists on classics and drinks you REALLY want to drink with your meal.


Now, about the food- things kick off with a classic (and not too spicy) guacamole and chips, chicharrones with salsa roja and the somewhat wild (or, in this case mild) card in the dip offerings-the Aztec inspired Sikil Pak which balances pumpkin and orange flavors for a smoother, warmer palates. The cockail pairing on offer is a Michelada, Babcock’s (who you may remember manning the bar at Cafe Atlantico) take on a Bloody Mary, with milagro blanco, mole bitters, corona and a nice thick salty rim.


The second course, aside from the vegetarian empanadas (which were a favorite of the table) is all finger foods, so to speak: easy to pick up and put right there in your mouth-no need for cutting, splitting or otherwise disrupting their perfect little compositions: the blue crab taquitos with coconut, red chile and lime are bound to be a favorite and the SOPES, offer a great top of with a smoky chipotle goat cheese, which our table noted-could go well with anything. More chipotle infused goat cheese everywhere please. All of these come with a nice fresh take on a Margarita (no salt on the rim) with a little bit of an extra kick offered with the citrus in it ALSO being alcoholic, courtesy of patron citronage.


Naturally, tacos are a major player in the game BANDOLERO is planning to play. We tried four different ones (covering all the basic food needs and wants: seafood, vegetarian, chicken and steak) and rumor has it that the menu will feature many more options. The fish-stick fried Mahi Mahi taco is what is intended to be the signature dish and with Isabella’s trademark playful take on a classic (remember the Jersey Shore pizza @ Graffiato? this is the taco equivalent-fried, creamy,  generous, with a sense of humor and a nostalgia vibe) it is easy to see why.


The vegetarian option is really the revelation here though, the charred asparagus perfectly cooked and the beet salsa somehow being both trendy AND perfectly appropriate at the same time. Grabbing one of these with the “CITY OF GOLD” cocktail (think a sidecar, but with tequila, cardamaro AND st.germain) has a strong potential for an after-work-ritual in the making.


Fourth course is naturally, and expectedly, pretty meaty. The tender steak with chimichuri sauce is bound to be a crowd pleaser but it is really Isabella’s love of mole sauces and incorporation of spicy chocolate flavors that shines in his chicken enchiladas and especially in his ribs, which come slathered in a thick, creamy, rich layer of chocolatey goodness (like all good mole -this one has too many ingredients to name-27 and counting).


Babcock pairs the richness of this course with a smoky-yet-refreshing Malverde cocktail which unexpectedly combines the mezcal and hellfire bitters with cucumbers and cilantro. Think: your favorite gin drink but replace the juniper with a real smokehouse vibe and you’ll be getting places in terms of imagining what it it like.


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The dessert dishes were simple (flan and a chocolate mousse) but with a playful twist: a mezcal crema on top give the mousse a decidedly adult vibe and the sparkling wine/jimador blanco/prickly pair cocktail pairing adds a nice tartness to the finish of the meal.

All in all-we’re excited to see these items in regular rotation, hopefully sooner rather than later. (hint)



Did you end up going? How was it for you?