Saturday, April 26, 2014

James Beard Foundation CELEBRITY CHEF TOUR sails into DC at Mike Isabella's KAPNOS (4-23-14)

Boy was I glad Passover ended the day before the James Beard Foundation arrived in town this year for their periodic Celebrity Chef Tour. This year we had close to a dozen chefs and mixologists hosting at Mike Isabella's new 14th Street haunt, KAPNOS. When I walked in just before the 7pm starting time, the bar was already heaving as people crowded around the three mixologists working hard to custom mix and pour each drink.
I passed the first group and headed to Taha Ismail who is the mixologist for Kapnos. He was pouring a superb drink made from Skinos, Hum, Grapefruit, Maple and Burlesque Bitters. He explained the first two alcohols come from Greece, but you will have to do your own research here! Next to him, where the long line was previously were the folks from Mockingbird Hill on 7th St, NW ( mixing up Green Hat Spring/Summer Gin, Alexandro Moscatel Sherry, Fresh Lemon Juice, Orange Bitters and adding a sprig of singed Lemongrass for aroma. I adored this drink, but boy did it pack a punch.
I tasted the fab hor's d'oevres which consisted of Crispy Deep Fried Pork Roll, Smoked Salmon something, Scallop Sushi with a Wasabi Cream punch and my favorite that I could not resist; Spoons of WAGYU BEEF TARTARE! I must have had 6 or more of these irresistible treats. After these I moved to Adam Bernbach from 2 birds, 1 stone who was mixing up a drink called Banana is My Business. I wish this was served at the end of the meal as it was sweetish, but here it served as a palate cleanser of sorts before we sat down. It was made from High West Silver Oat Whiskey, Amaro Ramazzotti, Hefeweizen (which he explained is a light wheat beer with a banana hint!) & Banana Soda. It was just right.
We sat down and we were told that the hor's d'oevres were made by local chefs Scott Drewno of The Source, Victor Albisu of Del Campo (yay for the scallop and wagyu!) and Hiadar Karoum of Doi Moi, Estadio and Proof; not a bad start.
The restaurant if full, and it was jammed, can be loud, but we were thankfully in the quieter back room in the corner, which was a blessing. I was lucky enough to be at the "head" table with Jeff Black from Boulder, CO who spends his life organizing these dinners all over the country; not a bad job! They pured Moscofilero, Tselepos "Villa Amalia" , Arcadia Sparkling Brut which was the first of all wonderful Greek wines, but it was not cold. They quickly replaced the glass with a very cold one and it was perfect, especially oh so cold, with the RAW FLUKE, Eggplant, Peas and Mint from Chef Kevin Sbraga (of Sbraga in Philly) which was an instant hit. The secret here were the small cubed deep fried pieces of eggplant which were in a kicky spicy coating that lit up the dish to no end; we all were surprised at the intense spice, but it was quick and the brut was perfect to distill it.
Second came Chef Jamie Bisonnette (of Coppo & Toro in Boston) who served a tasty OCTOPUS A LA PLANCHA with a mild Harissa, Burnt Onion and a divine crispy Bone Marrow that made the dish. We wanted more from the harissa as it actually seemed more like a mild red pepper puree. An aromatic Malagouisa, Gerivassilou White 2012 from Thessaloniki accompanied brilliantly.
The next course was from one of my favorite US chefs (whose tabbouleh recipe is to die for) Mike Solomonov (of Zahav in Philly) which I really want to visit! His DUCK & FOIE GRAS KEBAB was simple yet superb with Huckleberry & Pistachio over Jasmine Rice. We all argued over what was atop the kebab, which was more like a mini-burger. I was sure it was a radish, but it turned out to be a poached carrot. The wine was one of my favorites all night and I kept asking for more of the Tannat, Alpha Estate "Utopia" 2009 from Amyndeon which indeed sent me to utopia.
The "main" meat course was from Chef Mike Isabella himself who presented perfectly cooked Spit Roasted LAMB with Boureki, Green Garbanzos, Ramps. The lamb was smokey and intense and the puree of garbanzos was ingenious. The phyllo boureki pastry was filled with spinach, mushroom, feta and white raisins; who would have thought? The wine was another amazing red: Agiorghitiko/Cabernet from Domaine Skouros  2008 called "Megas Oenos" (big work?) from Peleponnese.
Nearing my limit I was pleased to see that Pastry Chef Chris Ford (now of Bouchon Bakery in LA) sent out a perfect GOAT CHEESE PANNA COTTA with Orange Honey, Candied Almonds, Kaitfi (that crunchy "shredded wheat") & Pistachio Gelato. It was a small plate with perfect portions just right and served with a wonderful Assyrtico/Aidani Vin Santo from Domaine Sigalas 2004 on Santorini, where we had actually visited the winery some 6 years ago!
I am sorry that the tour will return to DC this summer, but I am unable to attend; hopefully more dates are in store as DC becomes a culinary center and big yield for the James Beard Foundation!