Mike Isabella Stakes Out 14th Street — with a Spit Roaster

Mike Isabella, “Top Chef All-Stars” runner-up and local restaurateur, has his hungry eyes set on the District.

After a successful tenure commanding the kitchen at Zaytinia, José Andrés’s Mediterranean-inspired eatery, Isabella opened his flagship restaurant Graffiato in June of last year to rave reviews. The neo-Italian cuisine has been almost universally adored by critics and guests for its fresh take on old-world culinary traditions, with its salt-and-pepper tributes to the chef’s Jersey roots (The Jersey Shore pizza, from their wood-fired oven, is heaped with fried calamari, provolone and cherry pepper aioli).

Isabella is also on the cusp of opening his latest venture, Bandolero, a Mexican-themed restaurant in Georgetown in the space once occupied by Hook at 3241 M St., N.W.

Now, Isabella is upping the ante — and doubling the wager. He announced last week plans to open two new restaurants for 14th Street, N.W., next door to each other. This announcement comes at a time that would already be a full plate for any restaurateur.

If all goes to plan, the 7,000-square foot space at 1326 W St., N.W., will be up and running at double capacity in early 2013. The first restaurant, Kapnos (Greek for “smoke”), will be a Greek restaurant that Isabella has been conceptualizing for years — presumably inspired from his days at Zaytinya. Its sister restaurant, simply named G, will serve up sandwiches by day and four-course tasting menus in the evening. Not such simple ambitions.

Perhaps, the most mouthwatering bit of news released is Isabella’s intent to employ a spit roaster to use in the restaurants. Spit roasting is an ancient culinary practice, but one that has been largely phased out, mostly due to its sheer impracticality and inconvenience. But if you’ve ever had a bite of pork shoulder or grilled vegetables pulled right out of a crackling, wood-fired flame, it is nothing you ever forget. The Greeks are famous for their roasting of whole animals, particularly lamb (Does “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” ring any bells?), and Isabella plans to bring this communal tradition to Washington for the first time. While it sounds old fashioned — prehistoric, even — there’s no telling how Isabella plans to spin this technique for the modern epicure.

“I’ve been cooking Greek food for a large part of my career,” said Isabella in a statement. “So, opening my own place was only a matter of time. With Kapnos, I want to bring something totally unique to D.C.; daily whole animal spit-roasting is a side of Greek cuisine that no one else is doing in this city. G is a sister to Graffiato, but the menu will be more traditional Italian — a place to get a meatball hero for lunch and a four-course dinner.”

Once Kapnos and G open their doors, Isabella will have himself a culinary empire in the District. It looks like Andrés, Washington’s current epicurean kingpin, might have to start watching his back.


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