An Early Look at Mike Isabella’s Kapnos (Photos)

Whole animals and boozy lemonade await.

By: Anna Spiegel

One of the most highly anticipated openings of summer is almost here: Mike Isabella’s latest venture, Kapnos, is primed to open on July 5. We got a sneak peek inside the 168-seat Greek restaurant, which departs from the jeans-and-T-shirt casual of Graffiato and Bandolero and introduces Washington to a whole new realm of dining. Find out what to expect—and keep an eye out for adjoining sandwich shop G, due to debut in the coming weeks.

A walk-in full of animals . . .

The walk-in refrigerators at most restaurants are lined with quart containers. At Kapnos, they’re filled with 30-pound goats, pigs, and lambs in various stages of preparation. Suckling pigs marinate in oranges and herbs; Bahar spice-rubbed goats gather flavor before they hit the spit. Isabella says the restaurant is “whole-animal-focused”—the point is reinforced by the locally raised beasts (along with smaller fare such as chickens and lamb shoulders) turning slowly above hickory-wood-fired flames. You can get front-row seats to the spit show at the bar, which faces the open kitchen.

. . . but also a menu that’s about 60 percent vegetarian

Vegetarians who can stomach the display of meats will find plenty of animal-free dishes to choose from. Tapas-size plates riff on the classics. Guests can dredge fresh-baked flatbread­—or sliced kohlrabi for the gluten-adverse—through hummus with sultana raisin chutney and tzatziki crowned with cooling citrus ice. Cold and “garden” mezze offer more meatless options, including a twist on Greek salad with grilled eggplant, squash, and feta, or fragrant gigante beans mixed with onion seeds, garlic flowers, and chive blossoms. This being a Greek restaurant, there’s plenty for pescetarians, including charred octopus with grapefruit and lightly poached sweet shrimp.

Items that range from $8 small plates to a $1,500 feast

The menu already reads a little like a choose-your-own-adventure book—do you want a few light bites or a whole baby goat?—but there’s a whole other level of dining to be had. Sure, you can snack on chickpea fries. But you can also gather ten friends and book the chef’s table for a six-course extravaganza, with a minimum price of $1,500. The changing offerings includes a whole salt-baked fish and a choice of roasted animals, both carved tableside by Isabella or one of his chefs, as well as a parade of sides and small courses. If that seems a little extravagant, there’s also a lighter $98-per-person option Sunday through Wednesday, and a $65 chef’s tasting in the regular dining room.

Boozy lemonade on tap

Post up at the 50-seat bar for three variations of alcoholic lemonade on tap: watermelon-rum, a riff on the Arnold Palmer with Skinos, a Greek liqueur made with tree sap, and another that combines grilled lemons, thyme, and gin. Mike Isabella is a fan on the “on tap” trend—see: Prosecco at Graffiato, margaritas at Bandolero—and Kapnos offers red, white, and sparkling wines from the spout.

Wine as art

You won’t find kitschy Greek decor; the interior is filled with natural wood and stone instead of blue-and-white paintings of the Acropolis. Still, there are plenty of mini amphoras (wine bottles). The vessels hang above the chef’s table, and the water glasses are made from the bases of old bottles. A chandelier of Bordeaux glasses lights part of the dining room. You’ll find more actual wine on the menu, with a 125-deep list that offers many Greek and Israeli varietals.

Valet parking

Call it a sign of the times: With all the new restaurants, bars, and condo buildings sprouting up along 14th Street, parking is nearly impossible. We recommend cabbing it, but if you must drive, there’s $15 valet at your service. 

Head to the slideshow for a preview of dishes and the dining room. Warning to the carcass-averse: There’s a shot of Isabella in the cooler with the beasts. 

Kapnos. 2201 14th St., NW; 202-234-5000. Open nightly for dinner (brunch coming soon).

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