When I hear that Top Chef star Chef Mike Isabella was opening a Greek restaurant in DC, I have to say I was wary. I was at Kapnos (www.kapnosdc.com) in the spring for a James Beard event and was impressed, but that night the chefs were from all over the USA. Last night four of us returned for an awesome tasting menu that never ceased to impress us at every bite. We were seated just before 7pm and the dining room was not yet full on a Saturday night, but then it is a holiday weekend. Well, by the time we got into our first course, every table was full and they seemed to be turning people away or giving them the option of outdoor (80degree+) seating! The dining room can tend to noisy, but we had a quieter table near the street window and could see the open kitchen with its spits of roasted chickens, whole suckling pig on rotisserie and leg of lamb. The chandeliers are fun here as they are made of recycled wine bottles or wine glasses.
We ordered some cocktails and loved our choices. Our excellent server Yari (pronounced Jarri) suggested the "Blame It on the Rain" with Absolut elyx, burnt cinnamon, lemon, grilled fresno pepper & Domaine de Canton for Will as he said he didn't want anything too sweet; it was ideal. I mentioned that I liked spice and she said to have the fairly spicy "Angry Elf" with Altos Reposado Tequila, Serrano infused Yellow Chartreuse (you don't taste chartreuse at all, but the chilis are super), lemon & Benedictine. Sparkling and still house filtered water is served at no charge; this should be mandatory at every newly opened restaurant!
We mentioned to Yari that we liked lots of small plates and many tastes included in our tasting menu, and we had clearly chosen the right place. After finishing our drinks and telling her our "allergies" or dislikes, we were served a glass of House Keg Lemonade made with licorice, mastiha liqueur, watermelon, lemon and tarragon. Luckily the licorice was extremely mild and the stuff was so light and fun with a shaved radish in it for garnish that it disappeared fast! Our first plates arrived from the "SPREADS" section of the menu:
Warm stone baked flatbread that is almost a foot diameter and folded on a small tray are seasoned superbly with sea salt to dip in the many spreads that arrived.
FAVOSALATA was yellow lentils, scallions and black garlic
MELITZANOSALATA is smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, walnuts and feta - think Baba Ghanoush on crack.
REVITHOSALATA is chickpea hummus with tahini and sultan chutney
TZATAKI here is the traditional yogurt, cucumber and dill with citrus and garnished with caviar
We always ask for and adore TARAMOSALATA which is carp roe, caviar, and here made with cauliflower---it was a huge hit as they all were.
Tops was the TYROKAFTERI of feta, smoked manouri cheese and grains of paradise(whatever that is) garnished with jalapenos for a nice kick.
All of these can be ordered separately or in a "pikilia" or large stone (very heavy) tray with three sections and your choice of three for $22.00....don't skip them.
We had moved on to our first wine which was a sparkling Cote-Mas Brut Rose, Cremant de Limoux made from Pinot Noir & Chenin Blanc--an odd combo for a sparkler, but perfect with the various and strong flavors in the spreads.
Next came Assyrtiko Hatzidakis 2012 from Santorini, which Yari called Sauvignon Blanc. I was not aware that Assytriko was S.B., or even related, and I have had it many times, but it does have a strong citrus flavor for sure. It paired with our next set of COLD MEZZE & GARDEN MEZZE which were as varied as could be:
SPANAKOPITA is made here with the traditional spinach & feta but adds leeks for extra flavor
DOLMADES were rich, lemony and full of flavor
Farm House Vegetable Salad was tomato, cucumber, eggplant and feta in a red wine vinaigrette--nice but basic
ROKKA SALAD was awesome with peach marmalade, grilled plums and grilled halloumi cheese
SMOKY BEETS of red and yellow had the mandatory yogurt but came with green peppercorns, citrus segments and the wildest meringue croutons
WATERMELON SALAD was so refreshing with manouri cheese sorbet (this was a prize in itself), urfa (a spice) and pickled watermelon rind. Who would have thought that manouri (a got and cow cheese), or any cheese, would make an amazing sorbet?
The FAVA was yellow lentils with corn, spinach and pearl onions served hot, but it was the
GREEK FRIES that wowed us more made with chickpeas, peppercorns and mizithra. These potato pancake-like cylinders had a kick from the peppercorns and the mizithra cheese was grated over them a la parmesan. To me it was a potato/chickpea kishka without the meat!
Our one OCEAN MEZZE was a perfectly cooked PAN ROASTED SEA BASS with Artichoke, Pastirma & Baby Carrots. The pastirma is indeed a pastrami that is smoked with orange zest, but to us it had a curry flavor and tasted like a pastrami potato chip as it was so thin and crispy. WHAT FUN! The dish was topped with a savory relish that turned out to be stone fruit compote. Who woullda knew?
We moved on to a superb house red KAPNOS RESERVE Kit-Yianni 2001 from Naoussa in Greece made from Syrah/Merlot & Xinomavro that really was silky, smooth and a bit spicy. I could drink this wine anytime here with any dish!
Our two WOOD ROASTED MEZZE were the
SUCKLING PIG with orzo, dill and orange that also has broccoli, pork rinds and scallions with a crispy skin and oh so juicy meat loaded with flavor.
The MARINATED LAMB was very crispy and crunchy as well with and ancient grain salad (I failed to asked how old the grain was!), but not as flavorful as the pig, though very nice.
I have one major complaint alone about Kapnos and it is the flatware. The knives are contemporary style with curved handles that cause them to constantly slide off the small mezze plates used throughout the meal. I counted losing the knife in my lap at least five times! I know the staff told me they pass on the constant complaints, but someone needs to tell management to buy new knives!
A trio of desserts arrived as we knew we were reaching our limits:
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE was a rectangular bar which and creamy with a scoop of creamy cherry gelato atop.(Did I really hear Yari say the gelato was made with merlot and syrah? Well, I could have eaten a bottle.)
LOUKAMIDES were pistachio and fried with lots of dipping honey that was abit too cloying and sweet, but we all adored
the PANNA COTTA with Blood Orange and Pistachio crumble. I mourned the fact that Chef Mike Isabella had lost Top Chef Duels earlier this week probably for his panna cotta which did not set well; it's a shame he didn't serve this one!
A glass of excellent ANTHEMIS 2008 Sweet Moscato from UWC Samos sent us on our way after a wonderful evening with friends!
We also now know that we have to return to Kapnos to try all the other items that we didn't get to taste on the menu!