August 23, 2013 | by Jonathan Howard
Greek flavors
Kapnos, Mike Isabella, dining, Top Chef, gay news, Washington Blade

Kapnos (Photo by Greg Powers)

When I interviewed “Top Chef” finalist Mike Isabella for the opening of Bandolero (3241 M Street) in Georgetown, he said there were “three key components to a perfect night out — a welcome feel, cocktail in hand and delicious food at the ready.”

So, when Isabella announced the opening of Kapnos and G (2201 14th Street N.W.), I was excited to see how these key components would come to life at this location when it opened on July 5.

Isabella and co-owners George and Nick Pagonis drew inspiration from Northern Greece when they created the menu of small plates, spreads, breads and vegetables. There are two wood-fired grills with rotating spits as well as a large oven for stone-baked flat breads. Guests are even able to enjoy carvings from entire animals that have been spit roasted all day. The main idea behind Kapnos (which means smoke in Greek) is to modernize an ancient cuisine and bring this new twist to the diners of Washington.

With all the chatter and the big names involved in this project, as well as the fact that I didn’t dine there until a few weeks after opening, I was expecting a very strong meal. When I strolled up to the hostess stand, I felt like I was disturbing the women who were standing there. They completely ignored me and then eventually, without even making eye contact, told me to hold on. So much for the welcome feel. We were seated, but our waiter treated us as if we were getting in the way of his evening, so we quickly ordered some wine and several dishes off the menu and watched him scurry away. Overall, the service was cold, disinterested and unwelcoming. The night was not off to a good start, but I was still holding out hope for the food.

There were numerous items on the menu that caught our eyes and we were excited for all of them. However, as tends to be the issue with small plates and the “roving kitchen” concepts in D.C., we received our salad at the end of the meal and our substantial proteins early on.

The tzatziki and the whole bronzino with preserved lemon, tomato, kale and capers were our two favorite plates served, with several dishes being nothing more than mediocre. The spiced baby goat was one of the spit-roasted items I was most looking forward to, but when I took my first bite, I thought I had put chewing gum that had spent the day next to the campfire in my mouth. Thank goodness the Greek Skouras Agiorchitiko red wine we ordered was so delicious and full bodied or I may have spit out the goat entirely.

Graffiato and Bandolero are winners for Isabella but in my mind Kapnos falls short of the high standard he has set for himself. The service was poor and the food served that night was weak. Hopefully, these major kinks are worked out over the next few months.

There is still another aspect to the space at 2201 14th Street, and that is G, a sandwich shop for lunch and an extension of Graffiatto in the evenings. The tempting sandwiches include Italian classics like the chicken parm and the meatball sub, healthy options like the roasted cauliflower sub, and pressed sandwiches like the Cubano panini. It was hard for me to decide between the parm and the cubano, but the chicken won out in the end.

With Isabella having roots in New Jersey, I was hoping for the perfect chicken parm sub. While it wasn’t quite what I remembered from my childhood, it was a tasty twist on the classic chicken parm with crisp, toasted bread, tender chicken smothered in red sauce and covered in melted cheese.

In the evening, G serves a rotating four-course tasting menu. The menu consists of Italian-inspired small plates similar to those offered at Graffiato. If the tasting menu featured on Aug. 15 is any suggestion, then the tasting menu will be full of delicious ingredients like whipped ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, marscapone, pork ragu, roasted lamb, chocolate and New York-style cheescake

While Kapnos highlights the worst of what Isabella and his team can offer, G shows that Isabella can still shine with great dishes created with divine ingredients. It’s a bit of a mixed bag up at 14 and W and I think that I will be spending more time in the booths of G, but there is a great deal of unrealized potential for both spaces.

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