Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Isabella Rocks with Feta

Kapnos     Spoons_FOUR

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.

Tzatziki and ??? with tomato and kohlrabi

Tzatziki and revithosalata with lemon-sesame tomatos and kohlrabi

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.

Field house salad

Farm house salad

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.

Charred octopus

Charred octopus

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.

Charred brussels sprouts

Charred brussels sprouts

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.

marinated lamb

Marinated spring lamb

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.

Kapnos, 2201 14th Street NW, Wasington DC

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Spreading Love

Cava Mezze Grill     Spoons_FOUR

Cava is a permanent item on my grocery list. No, Mr. Green Bean and I are not popping the Spanish sparkling wine on a regular basis (we prefer Prosecco for cheap, bubbly thrills anyway). I’m talking about Cava Mezze’s variety of Greek-inspired dips and spreads, now sold at Whole Foods and other select grocers along the East Coast. This sounds like a paid endorsement. I promise it’s not. We just really love the stuff! It was one of Mr. Green Bean’s proudest moments the first time he returned home from a food shopping expedition with Cava’s traditional hummus in hand, like an accomplished hunter with a prized kill. Our friends can attest that dinner parties at our apartment always begin with a platter of Cava hummus and tzatziki, baby carrots and some variety of gluten-free crisps.

We were introduced to the spreads at Cava Mezze on Capitol Hill (now one of three Cava Mezze locations). It was one of our first dining experiences in DC. The hip, Greek tapas restaurant by trio Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos and chef Dimitri Moshovitis quickly became our go-to spot to bring out-of-town guests for reliable, quality food in a festive environment. But where the Cava Mezze enterprise really succeeds is with their take home products and casual fast-food spin off Cava Mezze Grill.

Cava opened its first grill concept on Bethesda Row in 2011. Mr. Green Bean and I frequently trekked from Cleveland Park until two locations opened in more convenient neighborhoods, Tenleytown and Columbia Heights. Doors have also opened in Virginia’s Tysons Corner (McLean) and the Mosaic District (Merrifield). Cava Mezze boils down their industrial-chic restaurant look for the grill’s more casual atmosphere with reclaimed wood surfaces and heavy metal detailing. The menu concept is familiar, thanks to Chipotle: start with a base and add dips and toppings of your choosing. The well curated selections from chef Dimitri’s oeuvre all play nicely together, making it impossible to mess up an order. A wall decal as you enter lists all of Cava’s ingredients with allergen information, breaking down which items are gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc. Gluties will happily note that most ingredients are gluten-free, save for obvious culprits such as pita, meatballs and falafel.

Salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Power greens salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!

Gluten-free diners can choose from a variety of greens for a salad bowl or a brown or white basmati rice bowl. The power greens mix, with shredded brussels sprouts, kale, and other crunchy leaves, starts the bowl off with a nutritious kick. Gluten-free protein options such as chicken, braised lamb and braised beef make for a substantial meal; but I am often just as satisfied forgoing animal meat. Those renown spreads and dips come next, with a choice of tzatziki, traditional hummus, red pepper hummus, jalepeño-infused “crazy feta”, eggplant/red pepper, and spicy harissa (which I cautiously order on the side). Lastly comes an assortment of chopped salads, pickled onions, olives, herbs and more. Dressings are available but the flavorful concoctions never really need more than a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Harissa

Spicy Harissa…on the side

Gluties should be aware that while Cava Grill has the best intentions of accommodating gluten-free patrons with a variety of meal options and readiness to change gloves for an allergy, cross-contamination is a problem. Knives are used to spread the dips onto pita bread and placed back into the same bins that are used to scoop dips for the bowls. Food containers are closely packed together, making it easy for occasional droppings here and there. In part, the nature of an open preparation space reveals much of what happens behind the scenes at many restaurants. And fast-food is never the safest venue for highly sensitive individuals. But Cava Grill is certainly making an effort. Any place where I can get a hearty salad, stat, with a glass of wine to wash it down, ranks high on my chart.

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Glass of white wine with salad bowl

Cava Mezze Grill, 4832 Bethesda Avenue, Bethesda, MD (and various locations in DC and VA)