My birthday rarely goes unnoticed, thanks to Mr. Green Bean’s love for throwing parties in my honor. This year I somehow convinced my husband to let me fly under the radar. On the evening of my birthday, we found ourselves wandering around town in a Car2Go, hungry and hoping to feel inspired. We were in front of a very dark Red Hen (closed on Monday nights) when I realized it would be the perfect occasion to try Kapnos. Mike Isabella’s newest Greek-inspired mezze restaurant was pleasantly quiet, and we jumped at the opportunity to sit at the chef’s counter overlooking sauté pans, prep stations, and two pigs rotating slowly on spits. It just so happened to be the sous chef’s birthday as well. I felt a pang of guilt for celebrating while he worked and silently hoped he wouldn’t sabotage our food.
At first glance, the interior of Kapnos has that ever-popular, industrial-chic look. But a closer examination reveals embellishments such as arched niches, lamps, tchotchkes and floor patterns inspired by ancient Greek designs. The menu draws from Northern Greece, focusing on spreads, an abundance of vegetable mezze, and wood roasted and spit-roasted meats. Servers are well informed and trustworthy guides through a menu that is largely gluten-free. I assuredly let down my guard after making clear my limitations, knowing whatever we ordered would be properly modified to meet my needs. Our server proved herself when she retracted our order of Greek Fries after checking on the contamination in that day’s oil bath, saving me from morning after birthday woes.
We started with Mr. Green Bean’s favorite Greek dip, Tzatziki, and Kapnos’ take on hummus, Revithosalata, made with chickpeas, tahini, and a sultan chutney. Both spreads give new life to the basic Greek recipes. The tzatziki is topped with a bright pink pile of sweet watermelon that compliments the cool, cucumber yogurt perfectly and almost made me forget about the $7.00 price tag. While the house-made flatbread looks torturously delicious, Kapnos offers gluten-free patrons an accompaniment of lemon-sesame green tomatoes and kohlrabi, free of charge (unheard of in the gluten-free world). The crunchy vegetables are satisfying enough to be a dish all on their own.
Left to my own devices, I would have ordered every dish on the very intriguing, predominantly vegetarian, left side of the menu. But alas, there was my dining partner to consider. We stuck with the Farm House Vegetable Salad and Charred Brussels sprouts. From the right side of the menu, I ordered the signature wood-grilled, Charred Octopus with green harissa and eggplant, and Mr. Green Bean voted for the wood roasted, Marinated Spring Lamb with lemony potatoes instead of the ancient grain salad. The farm house, or should I say “full house” salad, arrived first, packed with zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, capers, and large chunks of creamy feta cheese, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. Mr. GB picked through the “foreign” objects to find all of the cucumbers and then pushed the bowl in my direction.
A large, hooked octopus arm covered in popped amaranth quickly took my attention away from our salad. It was almost too beautiful to cut through; I got over that quickly. The meat is the tenderest octopus I have had, accented by toasty grains that crackle in the mouth and a smokey, spicy eggplant purée. The chefs behind the counter and I begged Mr. Green Bean to try a bite, thinking this dish would surely convert him. Mr. GB argued that fried calamari is the closest he would ever come to grilled octopus, which the birthday chef took as a challenge. Moments later we were presented with a small plate of lightly fried octopus. Mr. GB tried it reluctantly and was polite enough to swallow.
The charred brussels sprouts are prepared with black garlic, kalamata olives, capers, onion, red pepper, hearts of palm, mint, white anchovy, and a citrus vinaigrette. The dish bursts with salty and zesty flavors that match the brussels’ boldness.
The marinated lamb is…soft as a lamb, and rich in flavor. Camouflaged fat might catch you off guard (and if you’re like Mr. Green Bean, turn you off). But there is no denying this hearty dish is cooked patiently and with love.
We opted out of ice cream and sorbet (the only gluten-free dessert option), and headed home for a surprise final course of gourmet chocolates from Bryan Voltaggio’s Range candy counter, one of the few delicacies Mr. Green Bean and I can agree on.
My impromptu birthday dinner pleased beyond my expectations. I look forward to trying Kapnos again for more unusual garden mezze, such as gigandes beans with onion seeds, bulbs, stems and flowers, and salsify with turnips, baby carrot, sweet potato and dates. More gluten-free friendly than Isabella’s American-Italian hot spot, Graffiato, Kapnos is worth the trip from north of U to Northern Greece.