Photo by aliciagriffin.
Several news outlets reported yesterday that star of Top Chef and owner of the new downtown Italian restaurant Graffiato, Mike Isabella, is going to take over Jonathan Umbel’s Hook. The Post explains:
The fire that destroyed Hook in Georgetown in June gave owner Jonathan Umbel some time to think about how to restructure his upscale seafood establishment in a down economy, and he came up with what sounds like a fail-safe — if about-face — plan: “I’m converting Hook into a modern Mexican restaurant,” he announced today, and installing “a local chef who’s really hot right now:” Mike Isabella , the former Top Chef contestant and the visionary behind Graffiato in Chinatown.
The small-plates concept will be called Bandolero, and Umbel’s hope is to have the 5,000-square foot space open as early as February.
Isabella is the real deal (and a top contender on what GM thinks was the best season of Top Chef). And it’s a real catch for Georgetown to be the location of his next venture. But there’s a bit of a let down behind this.
Hook was the last restaurant to open up in Georgetown that created some genuine buzz across the city. But that was four years ago, and the bloom has long been off of Hook’s rose. (The decline can probably be traced back to Barton Seaver’s decision to cut bait, so to speak, in 2008.)
So Umbel’s decision to hand over the reins to Isabella is a tacit admission that fire-or-no-fire, Hook was a shadow of its former self and in need of a dramatic makeover. So the first potenially buzz-worthy restaurant to open in Georgetown in four years is getting a shot only because the last buzz-worthy restaurant faded (and as far as GM can remember, the last interesting restaurant to open in Georgetown before Hook was Mei N Yu, and that was 2003.) When you put it that way, Isabella’s arrival seems like more of a coda than a new verse.
It’s worth noting that “buzz” is not always the same thing as “good”. But as DC becomes more and more of a seriously good food town, “buzz” and “good” are getting a lot closer to being synonymous.