With a bustling bar and a smoky aroma, it is evident right when you walk through the doors of “Top Chef” personality Mike Isabella’s new restaurant, Kapnos, that this place was designed to exceed expectations. Isabella, who also owns the Italian-inspired Graffiato and used to own the modern Mexican Bandolero, opened the doors to Kapnos, which puts a contemporary spin on traditional Northern Greek cuisine, this past summer.
The restaurant, located on the 14th street corridor, is both sexy and rustic, with dark eggplant and sage colored walls, chandeliers made of wineglasses and hardwood floors. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the open-air kitchen, where a huge rotisserie cooks entire lambs, goats and chickens. This style of cooking gives Kapnos’ meats a delectable smoky flavor and was also the inspiration for the restaurant’s name, which translates to smoke.
All of the dishes are served mezze style and are designed to be shared. Depending on your appetite, it is recommended to order two or three dishes per person. The menu offers a little bit of everything from whole fish to chickpeas fritters, phyllo-roasted duck pie to spiced baby goat or tzatziki spread to fava beans. Kapnos also offers daily specials of classic Greek dishes like moussaka, an eggplant-based dish, and spanakopita, a savory spinach pastry.
Kapnos offers a host of beautiful handcrafted cocktails that taste as great as they sound. The Picasso — a rye cocktail mixed with aged apple vinegar, raspberries, rhubarb bitters and mint was a standout. The Gameface, which is a lighter rye cocktail with maraschino, cinnamon, lemon and sea salt, is also a great choice. There is also a variety of hard lemonades and a hefty, if slightly pricy, wine list, and for those who aren’t in the mood for alcoholic beverages, Kapnos features housemade sodas and iced tea, including mandarin and mint or watermelon and fennel-flavored drinks.
A visit to Kapnos should not go without one of its signature spreads. Each one is served with fresh, fluffy and warm flatbread with hints of salt and a light brushing of olive oil. The taramasalata, which is a cauliflower dip with carp roe and caviar, was both tangy and creamy. The garnish of the latter was a nice briny complement to the delectable spread.
From the garden mezze section of the menu, we chose the grilled asparagus, which was smoky and excellently paired with a creamy, salty feta and a tangy sundried tomato garnish. A sprinkling of fresh dill was the finishing touch that fused all of the flavors together. The daily special, kapama, was a heart lamb stew in a cinnamon-spiced tomato broth served over orzo, was also spectacular. The lamb was extremely tender, and the orzo was the perfect complement. The tangy broth paired well with the rich meat, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs gave the homey stew a pop of freshness.
For dessert, the semolina cake was outstanding. It was soaked in orange syrup and was balanced perfectly with a crusty outside and a moist inside. Although perhaps not traditional pairings, roasted figs and a light olive oil ice cream accompanied the cake. For a post-dinner drink, the spiked coffee is a must-have. The concoction is infused with fennel, ginger and cinnamon and topped with anise whipped cream.
It is obvious with a trip to Kapnos that Isabella is extremely talented at pairing perhaps untraditional flavors together in order to create an outstandingly delectable experience for guests. The combination of a stylish ambience, an attentive staff and delicious Greek food sets Kapnos apart from other restaurants in the city.