Taha Ismail and Kapnos team win Cocktail Program of the Year Award

2017 RAMMY Award is tribute to the relentless perfection sought by this Mike Isabella beverage team

This year’s RAMMY Awards Gala at the Walter E. Convention Center paid tribute to some of the local restaurant industry’s great culinary artists, business stalwarts, hard-working team members and creative minds. For this reason, it’s a great night for restaurateurs to bask in the glow of their accomplishments and to be unified in celebration under one roof. The RAMMY Cocktail Program of the Year Award went to Kapnos in Washington, D.C. and Taha Ismail, beverage director for Mike Isabella Concepts. Ismail joined the group in 2011, working at Graffiato. He is also a partner at Pepita Mexican Cantina in Arlington, Va.

Mike Isabella Concepts has been growing at a fast pace. The restaurant group now has nine concepts in the area: Arroz, Graffiato, Kapnos and G in Washington, D.C., Kapnos Taverna, Yona and Pepita in Arlington, Va., Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda, Md., and Requin in Fairfax, Va. A planned 40,000 square-foot, multi-concept culinary hall, Isabella Eatery, is in progress at Tysons Corner, Va.

The team that has made the cocktail program shine includes Jason Smith, recently promoted to assistant beverage director of Mike Isabella Concepts, Scotty Holland, Mary Kelly, and Hung Nguyen. Holland is a former bar manager at Kapnos and worked with Ismail when it opened in 2013.

Kelly is a former Kapnos bar manager and Nguyen is the current bar manager of Kapnos. “It was exciting and it was an honor to be a winner,” says Ismail. “I put a lot of work into it and the team did, as well.”

Taha Ismail - Cocktail Program of the Year - Eatery Pulse
Taha Ismail, beverage director for Mike Isabella Concepts, and the RAMMY Cocktail Program of the Year trophy for Kapnos

The growing foodie scene in the D.C. area and its increasing desire for great food and drink options have been a boon to restaurants like Kapnos. A dedication to best practices in cocktail creation, tapping Mediterranean influences and spurring creativity have been key to the winning formula. Starting with the quality of spirits and the fresh juices used, the cocktail program is derived and elevated from a desire to present the freshest ingredients. Cocktails are created with the ingredients in mind and then the spirits are fitted to the cocktail and their flavor profile. One of Ismail’s favorites, the Angry Elf, is made with a chartreuse that is infused with serrano chiles, Altos Reposado Tequila, lemon juice and benedictine, flavorful and herbaceous. “It’s a twist on a margarita,” says Ismail.

Ismail has made the ice program a centrepiece of excellence at the restaurants. At Kapnos,the artisanal ice program produces different ice variations, including tubular and chipped ice—much of the ice cut from a big block of ice made from chilled, purified water—as well as Kold Draft-produced ice cubes. Water quality is an essential consideration for the beverages.

Attention to the details has paid off for the Kapnos team, but creativity, drives the unique and exotic beverage experience. Kapnos uses nitrogen to keep the draft cocktails fresh, creativing a top experience for its guests. The draft cocktails, which are included in the selections for happy hour, include Private Events, a mix of El Silencio Mezcal with Plymouth Sloe gin, tepache, agave, lime, and coconut, and Living the Dream, a harmony of Redemption Rye Whiskey, cinnamon, grapefruit, lemon and honey earl grey tea.

Another highlight of the Mike Isabella culture and the reason Kapnos team is drawing local attention is its hospitality. As we’ve seen threaded throughout many of the stories of top restaurants in the D.C. market, the guest experience continues to be a hallmark of the best food and beverage programs. With the help of Smith, Ismail has been investing much time recently on the new multiconcept Isabella Eatery that is opening soon.

This article was originally published in the fall issue of Eatery Pulse News.