Kapnos Taverna: Seafood Tower

Seafood Tower

When someone says Mike Isabella you likely think of pepperoni sauce, killer pizza, maybe even spit-roasted meat. But, thanks to the addition of Kapnos Taverna, Mike can add seafood to his growing list of culinary sorties.

The biggest differentiator between Ballston’s shiny new Kapnos Taverna and the 14th Street original, Kapnos, is the addition of a raw bar that cranks out seafood towers and platters that can compete with the likes of Fiola Mare and Le Diplomate (yea, we said it). For reasons that will soon become obvious, the magnanimous seafood tower with its bounty of ocean critters and house made condiments is the Best Thing on the Menu. It’s so impressive that we’re breaking it down by tier.

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Warm up on the first floor where things are pretty familiar: shrimp that have been sexed up by some kind of tangy yogurt sauce and an array of oysters divided by West Coast and East Coast. Boost their briny flavor with harissa hot sauce, tomato-ouzo cocktail sauce, lemon yogurt, mignonette or fresh horseradish.

Tier Two

The Taylor Bay scallops made zippy by apple and grapefruit steal the show in tier two, though the marinated mussels accompanied by celery, preserved lemon and pomegranate bring competition. Also served in small metal vats are king salmon tartare with purple potatoes, mustard and cucumber as well as tender octopus with eggplant, red pepper and olive.

Tier Three

Finally, like a lady wearing a whacky hat at a horse race, lobster and crab form the dramatic crown of the tower daring you to take on the work that goes into cracking those crab legs.

The whole thing weighs in at $125, but if you bring a team of four it won’t break the bank. All you’ll need to leave feeling full is a few dips and spreads that come with flatbread or maybe some vegetable mezze like Greek spiced potato fries or fried burssels with lemon, pomegranate, dill and garlic yogurt (reminiscent of he Best Thing on the Menu at Zaytinya).

Kapnos Tavern is located at 4000 Wilson Blvd.

Seafood tower not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

G by Mike Isabella: Gnudi

G Gnudi

Expecting to see a sandwich? Sorry to disappoint between-the-bread lovers, G by Mike Isabella is more than a scrumptious sub shop. By night, the casual spot changes over to an Italian restaurant serving a tasting menu. The meal begins with an explosion of antipasti encompassing everything from marinated vegetables to fried arancini, followed by a pasta course, main dish and desserts (all for $40!).

The Best Thing on the Menu at our latest meal was a plate of steaming hot gnudi. The G dish hit the spot (get your mind out of the gutter). Gnudi is an adorable Italian way to describe dumplings made from what would normally be enclosed in a ravioli. In other words, you’re eating the filling, which we suppose could also be considered a fun form of gluten free pasta!

Making Gnudi

The dish has a small piece of my heart since I learned to make gnudi on my honeymoon in Italy. It also has a big part of my admiration, because IT IS DIFFICULT. The little balls of filling are tough to keep together once they hit boiling water. When finished though, they match well with a sage brown butter sauce or a simple marinara.

It’s unlikely that gnudi will be at G when you turnover your menu because things change from week to week based on what’s in season. But not to worry – the other pasta dishes look tasty too like this past week’s pappardelle with lamb ragu, peas and pistachio.

Share your favorites from your G by Mike Isabella meal in the comments section.

G is located at 2201 14th St NW, Washington, DC.

You mint also like Osteria Morini or Alba Osteria.

Top 5 Surprise Picks for Vegetarians

Vegetarians

Chances are, if you’re a vegetarian in the District, you’ve already “steaked” out your go-to restaurants that reliably offer vegetarian fare. However, with more and more inside-the-beltway diners celebrating fresh produce done right, vegetarian stunners are springing up on menus in unexpected places. In an effort to expand your options, we share with you Top Five Surprise Picks for Vegetarians:

Mandu

Potato

While Korean BBQ and vegetarians don’t necessarily sound synonymous, Mandu (now with two locations) is a vegetarian mecca. Almost every dish can be made vegetarian (if it’s not born that way to begin with). Choose from sizzling bibim bap, egg-dipped zucchini and eggplant, glazed veggies and tofu off the grill or chap-chae sweet potato noodles, just to name a few. This is a chance for vegetarians to get in on Korean cuisine that’s surpassing sushi as the frontrunner Asian food in pop culture. See the menu here.

Kapnos

Eggplant

Kapnos, which BTM visited earlier this month, captured our veggie-loving hearts. They have 20 items on their menu that are vegetarian, and many of them contended for our top pick. From smoky hen of the woods mushrooms to potato garlic phyllo pies, you really can’t go wrong. Not that you have to, but you could easily make a meal out of their delicious bread and flavorful dips (four of which are vegetarian). See Mike Isabella’s menu here.

Firefly

Cabbage

Also ringing in with around 20 vegetarian options is Firefly. It’s no surprise that this forest-canopied restaurant treats its veggies with tender loving care. We can personally attest to the Goat Cheese Gnocchi, which we selected as the Best Thing on the Menu. Also delicious:  Farro Salad, Fried Green Tomatoes and 3 Bean Risotto. See the menu here.

Volt

Raddish

Why should fancy tasting menu adventures be for meat eaters only? We imagine that’s what star chef Bryan Voltaggio asked himself when he designed the “Tasting of Fruits and Vegetables” menu at Volt. Six mouthwatering courses showcase earth’s natural candy in ways we’ve never thought of. See for yourself, here. We’re headed there in two weeks and will report back.

Taylor Gourmet

Bok Choy

Moving now from gourmet tasting menus to Taylor Gourmet. Why shouldn’t you be able to enjoy a hoagie just because you don’t eat hog? Taylor Gourmet, with its multiple locations, has five great hoagies (subs, grinders, heroes, sandwiches …) just for you. We’re particularly intrigued by “Christian Street,” containing portobella mushrooms, arugula, roasted red peppers and goat cheese. In case you have room after hoagie heaven, don’t forget Taylor Gourmet’s risotto balls. We’ve already requested these in lieu of a birthday cake this year. Here’s hoping the candle stays put. See the menu here.

Other suggestions for surprise vegetarian-friendly spots? Share with us in the comments section.

Kapnos: Roasted Duck Phyllo Pie

Kapnos: Duck Phyllo Pie

At Top Chef Mike Isabella’s foray into Greek cuisine, we ended our evening with a little game called Duck Duck Dinner. The Best Thing on the Menu: Roasted Duck Phyllo Pie with Cress, Cherries and Pistachio Yogurt was so good, we called in a second order for dessert. The plate shuffling and utensil conundrum we caused our server by throwing an appetizer in with our dessert order was as awkward as a duck on water-skis, but when it came to devouring a double dose of the BTM, we didn’t care.  Tender shredded duck fills freshly-baked phyllo dough and the tart cherries and tangy pistachio yogurt are the perfect accompaniments. Each order comes with two triangles, so order accordingly or you’ll contribute to making doubling-up at dessert a true trend.

Duck wasn’t the only protein we were passionate about at Kapnos, which translates to “smoke” in Greek. It should come as no surprise that all of the spit-roasted meat was divine. We tried the lamb, suckling pig and the baby goat. If you’re only a table of two and need to pick one, definitely go for goat, which by the way is increasing in popularity.

Contrary to its meat-centric menu and carnivorous vibe, Kapnos has the potential to be a real haven for vegetarians. There are 20 items on the menu that are purely vegetarian. For herbivores sick of cobbling together a meal out of side dishes, you can call Kapnos home.

Finally, a word on imbibing. Come to Kapnos with an open mind when it comes to the wine list. Simply saying, “I’ll have the Greek wine to go with my Greek food” won’t get you very far, as there are an overwhelming number of hard-to-pronounce varietals offered. Perhaps this is one of those situations where you really do need a sommelier, or at least an oenophile server. Just for fun, here are seven top Greek varietals.

Roasted Duck Phyllo Pie with Cress, Cherries and Pistachio Yogurt not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

If you like this, you may also like: ZaytinyaAgora, or Kellari Taverna.

ZooFari: Redwood’s Donut Hole Fried Chicken

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Today’s entry makes a departure from the norm to detail, instead, the Best Thing at the Party. BTM had the great pleasure of attending ZooFari Thursday evening and, with elastic waistbands and empty stomachs in tow, we set off to try almost every offering from more than 100 restaurants.

There were big names in attendance, including Top Cheftestant Mike Isabella who was debuting a fish dish from his soon–to-debut Greek restaurant, Kapnos (coming to 14th and W). Also serving up bites were 1789, Central Michel Richard, Jackson 20, Masa 14, Plume at The Jefferson Hotel, Rogue24 and so many more. As usual, the Georgetown Cupcake stand had the longest line, and the greediest double-cupcake hoarding patrons.  Pork belly was featured in all imaginable incarnations, and the crowd definitely picked up on the piggy popularity.

But, it was Redwood Restaurant & Bar that created a dish worthy of luring animals out of their dens. The Best Thing at the Party: Glazed Maple Donut Hole with Fried Chicken and Arugula Salad was a hot sticky mess served as neatly as possible on a stick.

To our dismay, this flavorful concoction is not offered on Redwood’s brunch, lunch or dinner menus. However, if the morsel served at ZooFari is any indication of the chef’s ability to combine flavors and textures, Bethesda Row’s Redwood, is definitely worth a visit.  We’re excited to try their Elvis Burger and Moonshine Eggs.

Redwood not your favorite offering at ZooFari? Share your favorites in the comments section.