After commanding the kitchen at Zaytinya, appearing on Top Chef, authoring his own book, and founding both Bandolero and Graffiato, Mike Isabella wanted more and now he has it with not one, but two new restaurants. When he leased the space in the new 14W Apartments on 14th & W, he thought it would be great to separate the space into two restaurants and create a large upscale restaurant along with a smaller sandwich shop and so it was born -- Kapnos (meaning "smoke" in Greek) and G Sandwich Shop.
The most-anticipated opening of Kapnos took place on July 5. From the outside, Kapnos is sleek with its light brick facade. Inside, however, is a lively, bustling restaurant with several different rooms. To your left, you find a large bar area with wood cases holding fine liquors and dark wood seating. That's where Isabella's beverage director, Taha Ismail, crafts his unique cocktails. To the right, is a dining area complete with booths and freestanding tables, then up the steps there is another dining room that has a more intimate feel to it with yellow and red accents. Above you will see unique lighting ranging from old, rusty-looking lamps to chandeliers made with wine glasses. Just don't look straight ahead as that is where you will see the carcasses of dead animals roasting on a spit in front of the Chef's Table in a huge open kitchen. I kindly asked to be seated in the dining room to the right where the animals would not be in full view. They said that would be no problem. We were a few minutes early so we took seats at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. I started with the Hollywood, which was like a Manhattan, only better, made with basil hayden’s bourbon, dolin sweet vermouth, benedictine, cherry heering, and angostura bitters.
Soon thereafter, we were seated in the lower dining room to the right. The menu consists of small plates so we thought we'd order 2-3 per person. Our server advised the same. I informed the server that I had spoken to the chef and had a good idea of which items were vegan or could be made vegan. He then assured me he'd double check that with his list to be certain they were. Well, I was impressed that he had his own list. Very nice.
So we started with the Melitzanosalata, a spread made of smoky eggplant, roasted peppers, and walnuts (hold the feta). This cold spread was very rich and tasted great on this amazing wood-fired buttery bread that they assured me was vegan. My friend was like, "I don't know how they got the bread to taste this good," hinting that it might not be vegan so I had to ask twice! It really was good.
We went ahead and ordered five more items and a couple more drinks. We wanted to try a couple drinks using Skinos, a Greek liquor made from the sap of trees. My favorite of the two was the Papadapolous made with skinos, hum, grapefruit, lime, maple, and burlesque bitters. I also tried one of the kegged lemonades -- the Skinos lemonade.
After talking to our server for a bit who we found had come to Kapnos from Bandolera, a restaurant Mike Isabella just sold to the other owners, we realized there were several partners in this venture. Mike hooked up with George Pagonis, who is the Chef de Cuisine, and his brother, Nick Pagonis. George and Nick are both from Greece while Mike's heritage is Italian, but they had all been discussing modernizing Greek cuisine for years, which ultimately influenced this new venture.
Then some of our dishes arrived and some of them were very large -- I mean I could just have one by myself for dinner -- large. So we were a little worried about how much we had ordered. After digging into the Fava dish made with yellow lentils, corn, spinach, and pearl onions, we realized we couldn't eat all of this food and went ahead and canceled one dish. The Fava dish was super spicy and very tasty.
Next, we were served the Briam. This was one of my favorites. Made with roasted tomato, baby squash, purple eggplant, and potatoes, it was garnished with fresh herbs and was loaded with flavor. All of the vegetables were tender, yet firm and you could taste the high quality olive oil in the dish.
Lastly, we had the Braised Cauliflower. This dish had a similar sauce to the one we just had, but was more of an Indian-spiced dish with its yellow mustard seeds. The cauliflower was served with chickpeas and fenugreek. It was slightly spicy and oh so good.
Other dishes that are vegan or can be veganized include the kohlrabi crudite, compressed spicy watermelon, vegetable salad, charcoal roasted fennel, smoky beets, olives, grilled asparagus, and smoky hen of the woods mushrooms.
I should mention that the service was pretty good. At some point about an hour in, I asked if our other dishes were coming and the server stated that he could bring them out, but didn't want to crowd the table. So we asked to box some things up as we had clearly ordered too much food. The server was attentive, knowledgeable, and classy and I could tell that he enjoyed working with Mike very much.
Overall, we really enjoyed our experience at Kapnos. The food and service were very good. The drinks were excellent. The prices were in line with your typical Zaytinya and Jaleo small plates with the vegetable dishes ranging from $6 to $12 each. The only complaint I would have is that the acoustics don't seem to be very good as it was extremely loud in the restaurant. As I've spoken to others, they had the same complaint. But, I think I can deal with that. As Graffiato is not very vegan friendly, I'm super excited that Kapnos is and modern Greek fare is something us vegans don't always get to enjoy so it's a real treat.
2201 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001