Diminutive nibbles come by many names these days ' appetizers, antipasti, canapés, finger food, tapas. Whatever the appellation, the small-bite trend has a strong grip on the gastronomic motivations of diners in this city, and restaurateur Kevin Fonzo is doing his part to tighten that grip. K2, his latest venture, is a dusky lounge affixed to the hip of his popular K Wine Bar, and aims to satiate appetites one miniature morsel at a time.
But given the surprising absence of patrons on the Saturday night we visited, K2, the College Park tapas bar, more resembled the lifeless environs of K2, the Himalayan peak. If anything, it allowed us to freely traverse the length of the narrow room, peruse the modern art, then uninhibitedly relax on the cozy leather sofa before taking our seats next to the candlelit brick wall. Mood music was playing softly enough to allow the chatter from K's dining room to seep through, an oddly placating effect considering how empty K2 was. So long as my stomach didn't stay empty (a prospect that, at one point, seemed possible after the desertion of our server) I didn't mind, and the barren loungescape didn't seem to affect the quality of the food.
Executive chef Scott Copeland was in fine form, and most of the small plates I sampled passed muster. Cheeses and charcuterie are also offered, and if the duck prosciutto ($5) is available, don't pass it up. The house-cured slivers, served with canapé toast and tarragon mustard, aren't gamy in the least (as can sometimes be the case) and the delectably salty fat made for a sublime start. Pickled hearts of palm, however, were a needless garnish. The cheese plate ($10) featured a chef's selection of three fine fromages: semi-soft pecorino infused with peppercorns; a tart and fluffy chèvre; and earthy Fourme d'Ambert. I would've preferred a berry compote to dried cranberries, but the candied pecans were a nice addition. A glass of cream oloroso ($5) paired well with the blue cheese and pecans, but the lone sherry offering will be a disappointment for those in search of a truer (Spanish) tapas experience.
Of the small plates, the trio of beef carpaccio spoons ($4) proved to be the standout item of the lot, with wafer-thin waffle potatoes and bursts of garlicky smoked paprika aioli (a nod to the Iberian peninsula) raising their worth. Escargots ($5), encased in house-made vol-au-vent-like buns, were a buttery indulgence, while imaginative lobster corn dogs ($10) took amusement-park fare to new heights. Alternating overly sweet mouthfuls with the addictive K2 frites ($5), flavored with applewood-smoked bacon, supplied a necessary balance.
Falling under the good-not-great category were sweet, greasy fried quail legs ($6) and unremarkable beef tenderloin skewers ($5) in a peanut-barbecue marinade. Dense frangipane cake ($3), layered with apricots and almonds, was largely flavorless and didn't compare to the handmade dark chocolate truffles ($3). The three stellar bites of espresso-mocha, pecan brittle and apricot provided a decadent denouement to the affair.
Small plates have become a trendy and profitable tool for many restaurant owners, and it's obvious why: They can charge more for less food. But K2's meticulously prepared portions are both satisfying and reasonably priced. Here, less really is more.