Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kapnos

Chef Mike Isabella draws inspiration from Northern Greece to create a menu of spreads, breads, vegetables and other small plates, including his signature wood-grilled octopus at his newest restaurant, Kapnos. Two wood-fire grills with rotating spits and a large oven for stone-baked flat breads service the 160-seat restaurant. Guests enjoy carvings from whole animals that have been spit-roasted all day, including lamb, goat, duck, chicken, and suckling pig.  Closest Metro is U Street.

Photo: Greg Powers
Smile Like a Doughnut
It's Retaurant Week again in our nation's capital, and Kapnos is featuring two dinner menus for the occasion: 4 courses for $35.14 or 5 courses for $55.14.  We were seated in the back corner near the kitchen window.  The ambience was modern with European flair and I loved the spot lighting above each table (perfect for a food blogger!) but found the wood chairs to be uncomfortable - my legs quickly fell asleep from the awkward positioning.  Our server was incredibly friendly and attentive all night - I didn't catch her name, but she was stellar all around.  She allowed us to order from each menu, which was great and allowed us to sample even more of a variety of the Greek small plates.

First we ordered drinks, and I chose a glass of the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Momo, Marlborough.  It was very crisp and clean.  Keith started with a beer and then switched to a cocktail called Smile Like a Doughnut – which was a bottled mix of Beefeater 24 gin, Idoniko brandy, and house made grapefruit tonic.  Our server described it as a "more fun gin & tonic."  It was garnished with a spiced orange peel and sprig of dill that gave a fragrant note when sipping.

grilled bread
For our first courses, we shared the Taramosalata - a dip made from carp roe and cauliflower puree.  We had this for the first time during our honeymoon in Greece and fell in love with the fishy dip.  While Chef Isabella's version was good, the fish flavor was slightly underwhelming and tame.  However, the portion was decent and paired perfectly with the grilled bread served along with it.  We also used the bread to scoop up the delicious smoked eggplant dip with roasted peppers, walnuts, and feta called Melitzanosalata.  We were pleasantly surprised by this dish and it was one of our favorites of the entire meal.  To round out the cold dishes, we also shared the Bronzino that was served crudo-style with diced pickled cucumber, lemon, dill, and topped with crackling.  The bronzino had such a tart kick from the pickled juice that made your mouth pucker in a good way.  The cucumber's texture was changed by the pickling juice so much that Keith was convinced it was kiwi fruit.  All in all, this dish was a nice palate cleanser and segue to the warmer dishes.

Spanakopita
Charred Octopus
Next, we shared the classic baked pie of spinach, leeks, and feta called Spanakopita.  This dish can often get mundane, but Chef Isabella's preparation was traditional to what we had in Greece, and very fresh and light.  We really enjoyed this baked goodness.  Another dish that I had high hopes for was the Charred Octopus.  A single tentacle leg was cooked tenderly and then charred on the wood grill to enhance the smoky flavor, topped with amaranth grains and served with a green harissa and smoky eggplant sauce.  I enjoyed the charred flavor of this dish, but would have liked a bit more octopus meat itself. 

As a main/meat course, I sampled the Suckling Pig.  I normally would not have ordered this dish, but the meat courses were limiting for me, and I knew Keith would eat it if I did not like it.  The chunks of pork meat were burnt so much that the flavor was bitter in my mouth.  The menu stated that the dish was served with orzo, dill, and orange but my dish had pineapple instead.  The citrus was definitely needed to lighten up the heavy smoked meat.  Keith chose the Spring Lamb served with an ancient grain salad.  The chunks of lamb were also grilled nicely and he enjoyed both meat courses.

For dessert, we shared the Rizogalo - a warm rice pudding with pear, almond, and an anise flavored liquor called armangac.  Keith is a huge fan of rice pudding, yet was disappointed with this version.  It was a little too soupy for my tastes.  We also shared the Apple Baklava with pistachios, a mint-apple puree, and ginger sorbet.  The flavors were a nice combination and I enjoyed the refreshing ginger to end my meal, however similar to our experience at G, the desserts are lacking compared to the other dishes.

In the end, I was completely stuffed and happy with our RW choices.  Compared to the regular menu, the Kapnos RW option is a deal.  For 'small plates' the portions at Kapnos are generous and perfect for sharing.  We ended up ordering 9 dishes between the two of us, which was much more than we needed.  The service was excellent and points were only lost slightly due to the lackluster desserts, and uncomfortable seats.  Also, the temperature was hard to regulate - heat from the kitchen battled the cold air outside, and the servers were constantly adjusting the thermometer behind me.  Kapnos is extending their RW menu through January 26th, so check them out.

Total Rating: 4.43
Food: 4.5, Price: 4, Service: 5, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 5

What I ate:
Taramosalata
carp roe, cauliflower

Melitzanosalata
smoky eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts, feta

Bronzino
cucumber, lemon, dill, crackling

Spanakopita
spinach, leeks, feta

Charred Octopus
green harissa, eggplant smoky

Suckling Pig
 orzo, dill, orange

Apple Baklava
pistachios, mint, apple ginger sorbet

Rizogalo
warm rice pudding, pear, almond, armangac

Plus Keith ate:
Spring Lamb
 ancient grain salad
Kapnos on Urbanspoon

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