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Mike Isabella’s Kapnos: Even Better than Graffiato?

15 Jul

We had the pleasure of stopping by opening night of Mike Isabella’s Kapnos (2201 14th Street, NW) on opening night, July 5th.  Even ten days later, we are still savoring the taste of perhaps the best dinner we have had all year.  While Isabella’s first restaurant, Graffiato, may have been a more anticipated opening in the media, Kapnos is already giving Graffiato a run for its money (and this is coming from huge fans of Graffiato).

Kapnos is located on the corner of 14th and W Streets, a block north of U Street on the first floor of a new apartment complex.  The restaurant features a beautiful open kitchen that enables the diner to enjoy a full view of the show that goes into the preparation of their dinner.  On opening night, Isabella himself helmed the kitchen and inspected every dish prior to it being sent out to the table.

We started dinner with one of Isabella’s kegged lemonades, a specialty of the house according to our waiter.  While the second round had more fizz than the first round, both were a refreshing break from the hot and humid D.C. night that we had just come in from outside.  In addition to the three versions of kegged lemonade, Kapnos has an extensive wine list and an in house sommelier (something our waiter pointed out several times) as well as many different cocktails.

Like his other two restaurants, the menu at Kapnos is divided up into categories of tapas.  To sample the menu fully, we tried at least one from each category (a tasting menu is also available for a reasonable $65 a person).  To begin our feast, we started with two of the spreads: a standard tzatziki and the melitzanosalata.  The tzatziki was good, but the melitzanosalata, a smokey combination of eggplant, feta, and red peppers stole the show.  Next we moved on to the “barely raw mezze” where we chose the bronzino.  The Mediterranean fish was cured in a cucumber dill sauce and topped with two small slivers of the fish’s skin that had been lightly fried and tasted almost like slightly crunchier popcorn.

Smoky Beets at Kapnos

Smoky Beets at Kapnos

To pretend to be healthy, we tripled up on the vegetable section by ordering the asparagus, the beets, and the potatoes (the greek fries “vegetable” dish was not available opening night).  In this section, the asparagus, lightly grilled with lemon rind and served with a generous helping of sundried tomatoes and feta, was transformed from a good but sometimes overused and forgettable summer vegetable into a stellar dish that we hope to replicate at home sometime soon.  The smoky beets featured an interesting contrast between the spice of the green peppercorn crisp and the citrusy yogurt they were served with.  While beets may be over featured on menus across town currently, you definitely don’t want to miss out on this delicious and unique preparation at Kapnos. Continue reading

Opening Night at Thaaja Indian Food Bar

26 Jan

We stopped by opening night at Thaaja Indian Food Bar in NoMa on Wednesday to check it out.  Opening night saw a moderate but steady flow of customers despite the extreme cold outside.  We tried the rice bowl with steak and added roasted corn, cheese, chickpeas, tomatoes, and topped it off with the vindaloo sauce.  The sauce had a nice spicy kick, the steak was very tender, and the portion was very generous.  We also tried the Thaaja roll appetizer with the samosa filling and enjoyed it.  If you’re looking for a less spicy sauce, try the “Triple C” (cilantro, cucumber, and coriander) which we sampled and also liked.  You can check out our complete preview here and see their menu here.

Opening Night at Hikari Sushi and Sake Bar

4 Jan

After much anticipation, Hikari Sushi and Sake Bar finally opened Thursday night on H Street (644 H Street, NE).  Here is a copy of their opening night menu.  Overall we were very impressed with both the food and the restaurant itself.

Upstairs Sushi Bar at Hikari Sushi and Sake

Upstairs Sushi Bar at Hikari Sushi and Sake

Hikari is a two level row house that has been completely redesigned.  The first floor is a full service bar with several tall tables available for dinner service or drinks.  Upstairs features a sushi bar where you can watch your sushi being made right in front of you while chatting with the chefs.  It also has several booths (including two with window views) for a more intimate setting.   Continue reading

Khan’s Bar and Grill: A Tasty (but Often Overlooked) Option on H Street

17 Dec

It’s 8:30pm on a Friday night on H Street.  You didn’t make a reservation at the Atlas Room.  Toki Underground has a 3 hour wait.  Sticky Rice has a similarly long wait.  Cusbah has a wait and the line at H &pizza is long.  You’re meeting up with a group of friends and need to eat soon.  Where do you go?  While there have recently been several high profile new openings on H Street, one place has been on H Street for a while but has flown somewhat under the radar.  Yet the good food, the fun atmosphere, and the affordability of Khan’s Bar and Grill (1125 H Street, NE) deserve your attention.

Khan's Bar and Grill on H Street

Khan’s Bar and Grill on H Street

Khan’s, which opened last year, is on the same block as Cusbah, H &pizza, and Taylor Gourmet but on the opposite side of the street.  Its end unit location allows the restaurant to have a large patio that is open during warm weather and makes for a very pleasant evening.  The restaurant usually has tiki torches lit outside on nice evenings and enough tables so that there is never a wait.  Inside Khan’s has a bar and several large TVs playing whatever sports games may be on at that particular time.  The inside is made up of a variety of booths and tables (as well as the bar) that give diners a view of the TVs as well as the main attraction: the large grill where Khan’s chefs grill your dinner.

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Chinito’s Burritos: Asian Influenced Tex-Mex

26 Mar

Exterior of Chinito’s Burritos

Asian influenced burritos with fried rice sounds weird.  So do Mexican egg rolls.  But if you are scared away simply because it sounds unusual, you will really miss out on what first time owner Jin Chong has to offer at the new Chinito’s Burritos (635 Florida Avenue, NE).  While eclectic, the food at Chinito’s Burritos is exciting and a nice change from the more typical tex-mex offered by so many restaurants and chains (and quite tasty too).

Chinito’s Burritos takes the typical burrito and puts an Asian spin on it.  You fill out what you want on a card (the restaurant is welcoming to its neighbors at Gallaudet University), choosing from either a burrito, tacos, or a box.  The burritos start at a very reasonable $3 base and then go up as you add more ingredients (but still stay reasonably priced as you add ingredients).  The restaurant always has three types of salsa and guacamole for you to add as well as grilled vegetables, beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream.  Be sure to add the rice to your burrito; it is the delicious fried rice that adds the Asian flavor to the meal.  The meats you can add to your meal vary by day–some include carne asada, ground beef, chicken, and shrimp.  Chinito’s Burritos also has several side items from the typical chips and salsa to the more adventurous Mexican egg rolls.  The Mexican egg rolls are deep fried and look like a typical egg roll, but when you bite into them they explode with cheese, pieces of tenderly cooked chicken and corn all with a strong tex-mex spicy flavor. Continue reading

Pho Bar and Grill: Another Cheap and Tasty Option on H Street

30 Nov

Outside of Pho Bar and Grill

It may have taken awhile (we were inaccurately told they would open months ago) and there may still be a few kinks (they still can’t serve alcohol because of a delay with their liquor license application), but Pho Bar and Grill on H Street (1360 H Street NE) has finally opened.  The restaurant is located on the east end of H Street near the fairly recently opened Shawafel and across from popular bars like the Rock N Roll Hotel and H Street Country Club.  It serves a variety of Vietnamese dishes but focuses on pho (a traditional Vietnamese soup that usually features broth, a type of meat, noodles, and a variety of other ingredients ranging from basil to lime to hot sauce to bean sprouts).

If you walk in and are not immediately greeted, don’t be deterred or you will miss out on the food (menu here).  The service is somewhat lacking (as it is many places on H Street), but the food will have you coming back for more.  As a starter, try the crispy egg rolls.  For $5, you get two lightly fried rolls that have a mixture of shrimp, pork, and crab meat–mostly pork.  They are nicely cooked so that there is a light crunch when you bite into them, but they are not overly hard or greasy.  Pho Bar and Grill also has several types of dumplings, but we have yet to try them as they have been out. Continue reading

ShopHouse Kitchen: Chipotle’s Successful Attempt to Revolutionize Asian Food (On a Small Scale for Now)

28 Sep

Grilled Steak Bowl at ShopHouse Kitchen

Over the last decade, Chipotle revolutionized Tex-Mex food.  Existing in almost every state, Americans across the country return to Chipotle over and over when they want relatively cheap and quick Tex-Mex.  Especially among college students and young adults, Chipotle has such strong brand loyalty that people will drive for miles and wait in long lines for their favorite burrito.  Chipotle made Tex-Mex food quick, cheap, and high quality nationwide in a way that other quick service casual chains had not been able to master.  However, revolutionizing just one type of cuisine was not enough for Chipotle.  The company is now attempting to revolutionize Southeast Asian food with its new restaurant, ShopHouse Kitchen, which recently opened its first (and currently only) location in Dupont Circle.  While Chipotle claims that it does not have plans to expand ShopHouse Kitchen right now, if it is successful, it would seem logical for them to start expanding it aggressively like they did with Chipotle.

ShopHouse Kitchen is set up very similarly to Chipotle.  The customer slides down the counter telling the server how to customize their meal as they go.  The first decision is a bowl or a sandwich.  The sandwiches are a take on Banh Mi sandwiches and have less customization than the bowls.  If you choose a bowl, you then have to choose whether you would like rice or chilled rice noodles; if you choose rice you must decide jasmine rice or brown rice.  The next step is the choice of meat: grilled chicken satay, pork and chicken meatballs, grilled steak, or tofu.  The next steps in the process make it more complex than Chipotle.  You get a choice of vegetable: Chinese broccoli, eggplant and Thai basil, long bean, or spicy roasted corn; you get a choice of topping: roasted garlic, toasted rice, or crushed peanuts; you get a choice of garnish: green papaya slaw, pickles, or herb salad; and finally you get a choice of sauce: spicy red curry, green curry, or tamarind vinagrette.  On your first trip you may want to study the menu before you get in line, the choices are more numerous and potentially confusing than your standard Chipotle burrito order that you know by heart.  Additionally, because of all of these options, you are much more likely to change up your order on repeat visits whereas most people seem to have one order at Chipotle that they get over and over again. Continue reading