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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

From Greece to Your Dinner Table

Charred Octopus
Charred Octopus


2201 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 — (202) 234-5000


Kapnos Taverna

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4000 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22203 (703) 243-4400

Service: 8/10

Food: 9/10

Environment:  9/10

Bang for your buck: 7/10

Overall rating: 9/10

Cost: $$

Photo Credit: Marta Maliszewska

During the summer of sixth grade, my family and I traveled to Greece. I have very few good memories from that vacation, nothing really worked out. We went from swimming in a jellyfish infested bay, to being less than ten feet away from huge forest fire, to sleeping on the cold ground of a night ferry booked last minute, to visiting monuments in such sweltering heat that even the birds and bugs hid themselves away in the shade.

However, there was one good element throughout it all. And that was the food. Greek cuisine is amazing, packed with fresh, healthy ingredients and recipes passed down for generations. The food is always seasonal, and this makes a huge difference. An imported tomato in a U.S. grocery store and the juicy tomatoes that come from a restaurant garden in Greece may as well be completely different fruits.

So that was about the moment where I completely fell in love with Greek cooking. And that led me to right to the front door of two restaurants owned by highly acclaimed chef, Mike Isabella, Kapnos and Kapnos Taverna.

Kapnos serves northern Greek cuisine, while Kapnos Taverna is more focused on coastal Greece. Coastal cuisine tends to be lighter and more focused more fresh seafood, while inland cuisine can feature more meats and cheese in the dishes. There are many items that overlap on both menus. Chef George Pagonis is the executive chef at Kapnos, located in Washington DC.

I was hoping to go to Kapnos because it is in DC, and therefore closer to WIS, but time and distance constraints piled on, and my family and I ended up going to Kapnos Taverna, located in Arlington, VA. There are many items on the menus of both of the restaurants that are similar or the same, and so I decided to sample only those that could apply to both of the restaurants.

  We were quickly seated by a friendly staff in the outdoor seating area, which is the best place for us due to being accompanied by two small children. Unfortunately, they cannot sit still and talk politely for more than five minutes. The nautical decoration of the restaurant makes it seem very open and casual. We ordered quickly.

Within five minutes, the first plates arrived at the table. Pieces of warm, unevenly folded flatbread came on wooden boards, with the kind of effortless, messy perfection that accompanies hand-made bread. These came with shallow bowls of dips drizzled with vinegar or topped with fresh herbs and vegetables.

Photo Credit: Marta Maliszewska
Tzatziki and Melitzanosalata dips with flatbread (Photo Credit: Marta Maliszewska)

You can either order each dip individually for around $10, or a tasting plate of three for $23. The tasting plate may seem like a better deal, but the meager portions of the dips won’t satisfy more than one person comfortably. And trust me, you won’t want to share. Better to go for the much larger bowls of the individual dips.

The flatbread is phenomenal, just the right ratio of salt to olive oil to bread. The warmth and flavour seem to melt in your mouth. I tried the tyrokafteri dip next. It’s a mixture of feta cheese, smoked manori (which is another type of Greek cheese), and grains of paradise (a type of peppery spice). It was delicious, the creaminess of the feta and cheese complimented the spice perfectly, and the crunchy radishes served on top offered a bit of a different texture.

Lastly, I tasted the melitzanosalata (mel-its-zan-na sal-ah-ta) dip. Don’t let the name scare you, it was the one I enjoyed the most. It’s a combination of smoked eggplant, red pepper, feta cheese, and walnuts. The smoky eggplant flavour and sweet red pepper worked together beautifully, and when you add the briny salt taste of feta and the earthy crunch of walnuts, you get near perfection.

“The key to our melitzanosalata spread would have to be smoke. At Kapnos, we cook the eggplants on the wood-fire grill until they are completely charred and cooked through” Chef Pagonis stated after I asked how the dip is made. The flavour from the grill really does shine through, giving the eggplant a deeper and more assertive taste.

Next, we tried one of the Garden Mezze, Kolokithokeftedes, which are zucchini fritters, served with a mint yogurt. They were delicious, still piping hot. The rather subtle flavour of zucchini became more pronounced, and was combined with gooey feta and the crunchy surface of the fritter. You’ll want to be careful not to burn yourself by scarfing them down. They’re that good.

I do wish there was a little more of the mint yogurt on the plate, because the flavour and texture of the fritter overwhelmed the modest amount given. But the zucchini fritters were good with or without the yogurt, so I’m willing to forgive.

By the time the charred octopus arrived at the table, I had extremely high expectations. And I wasn’t not disappointed. The sticky, chewy texture I’ve come to associate with octopus did not match up with that soft, tender piece of meat. The smoky grilled flavour was there, as well as a hint of lemon that enhances the octopuses’ oceanic flavour.

I later found out that the charred octopus is one of Chef Pagonis’ favorite items on the menu. He tells me that the octopus is poached in olive oil at a very low temperature, and then grilled. This explains how perfectly tender the meat is.

Finally, the wood roasted mezze we ordered arrived, shortly after the octopus. It’s a marinated lamb dish, with bulgur (a type of grain), couscous, and wild rice. The lamb is amazing. In fact, it’s one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had in my life.

The lamb is soft and tender, and it falls apart in your mouth. It’s seasoned modestly, letting the flavour of the smoky, succulent meat shine through.

“I love the clean and simple flavors. Each dish has a few simple ingredients that are packed with flavor,” Chef Pagonis said when asked about what he loves most about Greek cuisine. I can certainly see his point, and I am inclined to think that it’s one of my favorite things about Greek cuisine as well.

Over all, dining at Kapnos Taverna was much cheaper than a trip to Greece, but with some of the same experiences. The food is fresh, simple,and healthy, with a bit of a modern twist. It’s an excellent representation of Greek cuisine.

Just fifteen minutes away from WIS by car, or around twenty five by metro, it’s a great option for lunch on a half day. You don’t want to miss this fantastic restaurant, especially if you haven’t ever tried much Greek food. It’s the best place to get a real taste of Greece, and there won’t be any forest fires.

By Marta Maliszewska

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