Kapnos in DC - Report
Eight Chowhounds tried out this new Greek venture by Mike Isabella. The food here is impressive. Here is what we ordered:
Tyrkaftari (feta spread)
Melitzanosalata (eggplant spread)
Revithosalata (aka hummus)
Fava (yellow lentils)
Fourno papatas (lemon potatoes)
Greek Fries (chick pea flour. actually)
Keftedes (Wednesday only special, fried tomato and herb galette)
Duck Phyllo Pie
Whole Lamb Shoulder ($79)
The first two spreads were so complex and delicious: I would say these are Must Orders, and will make any meal here an instant success. After that, you really can't go wrong.
The other item which was a total surprise and wonderful was the Greek Fries -not a Greek version of French Fries- but ethereal disks of fried chickpea flour. Get that.
The only thing that I didn't care about were the lemon potatoes, though nothing wrong with them. Hummus is something I can get elsewhere, so even though it's good, I'd probably skip that next time. Also, I wish the keftedes special was not served over a bed of yogurt sauce. The bottoms get soaked. They were divine on their own.
The lamb shoulder was beautifully spit-roasted and delicious. But If you are not eight people, you are not likely to order it! It's a mountain of food....maybe a possibility for four?... if you don't mind being overwhelmed when the shoulder is presented to you. If you had time for a long dinner, I could imagine picking at it all night.
The food here will make you want to linger.
Had a solo dinner at Kapnos the other night on a quick work trip to DC....and overall enjoyed it very much. Just long enough of a walk from my hotel (Courtyard by Marriott Dupont Circle) to get some exercise in...through a quite pleasant neighborhool, and in as near to perfect weather as I suppose is possible in DC in August.
Cocktails looked great but I stuck to wine. Short but nice selection of wines by the glass.
I ordered: Spicy watermelon: I agree with the poster who noted they are not messing around with the spice. However, I would have liked it much more with a bit of salt in addition to the pepper: I always salt watermelon at home and thought it was refreshing, but not something I'd be inclined to order again. Oddly bland despite the spice.
Halibut: beautiful golden exterior and perfectly cooked on the inside, with lovely leeks
Marinated Spring lamb: delicious, tender meat, flavorful grain salad.
I don't see much mention of dessert in the other reports but the semolina cake with grilled figs and olive oil ice cream was one of the best desserts I've had in a while. Not too sweet, perfectly balanced, and great ice cream. Too bad it was served with only a fork, as ice cream that good deserves a spoon to get every bite.
Four dishes sounds like a lot in retrospect, but I'd had a small lunch, and actually it was just about the right amount of food.
Mike Isabella was in the house, mostly just overseeing the line cooks (which was sort of fun for me to watch since I was dining at the counter overlooking the kitchen, even though he didn't come over to my end. ) On a Wednesday night the place was packed, and yes, noisy, especially in or near the bar area. Quietest area of the restaurant is the mezzanine room in back, and that's where I'd go with more than a party of one or two. If it is just me, I'd head right back to the counter again.
The food made me happy, but I must say that the service was more than a bit annoying: for one thing, there is a service plate at the center of each place setting that was never removed, so when each dish was brought it was placed off to the side, between me and the next person at the counter. I felt like I might have to fight my neighbor for my own dish. Small service plate was never removed, even after I picked it up, put it off to the side, and took my first dish and put it in front of me. So before the next dish came, they put service plate back in front of me and put next dish way off to the side again. huh? I could see keeping the service plate if one was sharing, but I was dining alone!.
It got stranger: at some point AFTER I was seated and AFTER my server took my order (I make this point to note that the server clearly knew I was dining alone, and oh by the way, I had made a reservation for one, noting that I wanted to dine at the counter), another woman was seated next to me. From that point on, the server treated us as if we were together: she started synching our dishes, and addressing us as if we were dining together, as in, 'Ladies: here is your next course..,You have the lamb, you have the whatever (description of each of our dishes followed).... Ladies, the next courses are xxx and yyyy.....Ladies, here are your bills....thank you and have a wonderful evening, ladies.."
Yes, the server did get the bills separately and correctly rung up up, but I still found it annoying (particularly when combined with the fact that my dishes were placed between the two of us; her dishes on the other side of her). Moreover, it is very hard for me to imagine her saying the same thing with 'Gentlemen' substituted for 'Ladies". Frankly, it felt as if it was a subtle (not so subtle) statement that 'Ladies' don't customarily dine alone, and it was a bit uncomfortable: I had had a long day and series of meetings, every other meal in DC was a business one, and I really didn't want to feel like I had to chat with the woman next to me or treat her like a dining partner. I wanted to dine alone.
However, as noted the food was excellent and dining at the counter is a lot of fun. It is a testament to the quality of the food that the annoying almost to the point of being inappropriate service won't keep me from returning. I guess next time I will need to bring my own dining partner to avoid being matched with one.
When you described the service plate action, I immediately thought that the server figured that you were sharing with the person next to you. Probably continued to think that throughout the meal. It's not unusual for two people eating together, particularly two women, to "go Dutch," so at least he got that part right.
Glad you enjoyed the food (and yes, it did sound like a lot). Olive oil ice cream? That's a new one on me.
The server was a she, but as I mentioned, I had been seated (for at least ten or fifteen minutes), my order taken, and my first glass of wine and first course served, before the woman next to me was seated, and before the same server who took my order and brought the wine and first course started synching me with the woman seated next to me. If in fact she thought we were together she has the shortest possible memory ever, or is just plain dumb and/or not paying attention, none of bodes well for someone in restaurant service. No, I think she was trying to make us feel comfortable about dining alone (Which backfired and was probably inappropriate) and I have no explanation for the service plate unless they just do it that way because most groups dine as, well, groups and not individuals (?).
It really wasn't as much food as it sounds. These are small plates. I did notice because of my place at the counter, however, that portion size did vary depending on the particular dish.
Olive oil ice cream is a great idea, IMO. I think Mario Batali might have been one of the first to popularize it. I've eaten at one or two of his restaurants but don't think I've had it to compare (or if I did, it wasn't memorable). In the case of Kapnos' version, I really liked that you could taste the interplay between cream, sugar and the olive oil itself, and it was a great combo with the grainy semolina cake.
We went early and snagged 2 seats at the chef's table last night. We had an incredible meal! For a place that's only been open for a month they are really firing on all cylinder. The service was great---we ordered a bunch of dishes and everything was perfectly spaced out. We got only one dish at a time, which we wanted. We enjoyed a nice bottle of wine (the waitress' family just happened to own the vineyard!). And it was fun to see all the action in the kitchen (including Chef Isabella himeself).
The dishes we got:
melitzanosalata - Amazing! Not your typical eggplant spread. Smoky and complex and delicious.
Hilopites Lobster Pasta- This was the winner of the night. Soupier than normal pasta but filled with delicious flavor and perfectly poached lobster meat. The dill added to the dish really brought out all the flavors.
chicken thigh souvlaki - Really nice version of this dish. Great char on the meat and thighs remained tender.
Spicy Watermelon-They were not messing around with the spice on this dish. It was a lot of fun though--the sweet, spicy, juicy all in one bite.
Smoky hen of the woods- This was a final dish we ordered last minute. It was nice, with nice depth of flavor.
spanakopita- This was the Friday night special. Probably the best spanakopita I've ever had. Not greasy at all, really light phyllo that was crisp, and the inside was sauteed and delicious. My fiance is a huge fan of spanakopita of all forms (I always make fun of him for it) but he loved this dish.
Fava with yellow lentils-This was the only so-so dish of the night. The flavor was good with corn and saffron but I swear I barely saw any fava beans. I'm use to big, green favas...maybe they were using something different.
Overall an excellent meal. I will certainly be back.
I liked the fourno papatas more than Steve did, but otherwise pretty much agree with his review.
The octopus was fantastic - that's a must-order to me. I'd want to give the potato phyllo pie a shot - while I liked the flavor of the duck, the consistency of the pulled duck itself was soft and off-putting to me.
I'd add the beet salad and the cauliflower to the "fine, but not better/different than other places" column. And I thought the gigandes were rather one-note.
Service from the support staff was excellent (water glasses, extra plates, silverware, etc.), but our actual server seemed to disappear at times.
One last note - the room is LOUD.
Great report, Steve - thanks! I don't know how you remember everything because I don't see you taking notes during dinner (nor pictures) so kudos to you.
I'm going to be dreaming about that lamb for awhile. There really were no clunkers - very enjoyable.
Great to meet new (to us) CHers, and see others we've dined with in the past.
Please tell me Chef Mike didn't come to the table after we left? Regardless, so glad we left when we did - just made the last train to Vienna before the night-time track work started.
No greeting from the chef, and I didn't expect it: we were just another bunch of hungry guests.
We were seated right in front of the kitchen with a good view of the action at a table that could accommodate twelve, and I don't think they had planned seating anyone after us. My guess is that if the restaurant doesn't get a group of 8-12, then maybe the table is left as a communal table or filled with walk-ups?