DC Grub 2011: Komi

Tuesday Night at Komi…

At Komi, when it comes to taking pictures, the decision is made for you…you can’t do it. It’s a rule of the house, and rightfully so. It’s located in a cool little walk-up, above a dry cleaner in Dupont Circle, so it’s a pretty narrow Quaker-Mediterranean decorated space with a very mellow vibe…so the last thing anyone would want is for the snapping and flashing of photography. And if that’s too much for your entitled mind to grasp, then you would REALLY hate the dining format…..no menu, you just eat what is put in front of you. It’s a set-price, 13 or 14 course menu with a Greek/Mediterranean mezze theme…..for the most part. Chef Johnny Monis seems to be a polarizing figure of sorts in the DC food community…..I read comments calling him overrated, genius, and everything in between. In my opinion, if you live in a town with all of the restaurants I’ve been talking about within twenty minutes of your doorstep, you are pretty fortunate. So with that said, as someone from “flyover country”, I say that if you think Komi sucks then you’re pretty damn lucky to have the options and experience with which to make that type of observation. Now, I’ve had enough “faincy” meals to say that I would NOT go throwing the GENIUS label at Monis, and I can absolutely understand that it would not be everyone’s cup of tea….but I had one heck of a great time, and this will probably be the first place I visit with my wife when I return.

Oh the sounds of Morrissey and chick guitar music on the stereo, and none of those annoying DC business boys who get progressively louder and more aggressively political as they drink. My reservation was at 5:30, so the room was super-mellow for a while. Business and the noise did pick up as the night went on, but nothing that would inhibit quiet conversation. The staff was definitely on the younger side and extremely enthusiastic about the food. To drink I had some of their housemade ginger beer and some Sprecher’s Cola. A couple of the servers mentioned to me how they’ve seen a huge trend in the offering of upscale non-alcoholic drinks, and from a business perspective….wise move. Now, you’re never going to make wine money on soft drinks, but you can EASILY match your mixed drink profits because there really isn’t much of a difference in what I paid for a “fancy” non-alcoholic drink and what I would have paid for bourbon or beer. And I’ll order way more soft drinks during a three hour meal than I would mixed drinks, obviously. Good to hear some places are at least thinking in that direction, I will say that housemade cola is one of my favorite finds recently. Soooo…..friendly staff eager to hear what you thought about each course, warm and mellow room, pretty “cool” fellow diners….overall I’d say the vibe at Komi (and definitely Eola) were closest to my personal favorite comfort zone. Very relaxed with a little jolt of excitement in the room. AND for me, the perfect amount of food (other than the mega-sized goat should). No bariatric sweats, not even once, which means some folks may leave pissed off that they didn’t get enough to eat.

The first course was a bit of finger-food, Steamed Brioche with Smoked Trout Roe (and crème fraiche?), a twist on a classic canapé and good little intro to the meal. I totally spaced on some of these courses….they did provide me with a copy of the menu at the end, but it was pretty much a list of single words, so that plus my bad memory….you get the idea. In case you don’t know anything about Komi, the general idea is that as the meal progresses, the flavors and portions get bigger…a culinary crescendo.

Next up was a crudo trio… Hamachi w/Salt, Madai (Snapper) w/Fried Caper Berry and Kindai ( Blue Fun Tuna) w/Fresh Grated Wasabi. I am NOT an expert, but all were very good examples of crudo in my limited experience. The first two were perfectly sliced, not too warm and not too cold, and the third was a finely diced quenelle.

Scallop Two Ways– first was a horizontal slice with blood orange, and the second was diced with caramelized coconut. Loved this dish, I could have eaten three or four more of the first one.

Lobster– sadly, I don’t remember a damn thing…bisque? Weird, I generally remember a lobster dish, but this one is lost to the ages….

Spanikopita– another weeeee bit of finger food…the classic in cube form, on a little bed of tzatziki you can roll it in before eating.

Egg Ravioli with Shaved Smoked Tuna– now THIS BITE, this bite was way up on the southern cusp of “gay jock hate crime of love” territory. Absolutely fantastic….nice thin ravioli noodle, perfectly creamy egg yolk and then the punch of that tuna…smoked and then shaved on what had to be the thinnest setting on a truffle grater. One of the most perfect bites of food in the world today.

House Cured Smoked Foie Gras– this was described by my server as “a hint of the dishes to come”…and I guess it made sense, so far it went raw-raw-creamy-fried-smoked-smoked…..so where there’s smoke there’s going to be fire? Anyway, this was a tasty and creative little bite of foie gras….but after you’ve had the bacon cured version at Eola, there probably won’t be another comparable cured/smoked version found in your lifetime.

And then out of nowhere, all of the hint-dropping suddenly revealed itself in the Half Smoke with Old Bay Pork Rind. Okay, I know, sounds a bit gimmicky…the whole culinary crescendo thing, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t one fantastic hot dog. A little three bite version…spicy, perfectly grilled, delicious bun and relish, with an Old Bay pork rind on the side. I’d eat these all the time if I could.

Then, the Mascarpone Filled Date– a very warm roasted date split open, filled with mascarpone cheese and then sprinkled with a generous amount of salt. Totally worked…better than any similar version I’ve tasted at any tapas place.

Gnocchi– Damn, I really don’t remember what came with the gnocchi. They were very good texturally, and I think it was parmesan and some other things, nothing elaborate.

Casarelli– This was a little portion of housemade fusilli with ragu. The pasta itself was pretty impressive… homemade fusilli isn’t something I see on many menus, and the ragu had that rich, acidic kick you can only get from a long, slow simmer. Good dish.

And then, it was time for….the biggest and most irreverent dish of the evening- Katsikki– this monster of a dish consisted of a slow roasted young goat shoulder, homemade pita, tzatziki, pickled cabbage, hot sauce, herb salt and eggplant puree. A “do it yourself gyro” plate. It was really pretty glorious. No way to get into this thing than to squeeze on some fresh lemon and then dive in up your elbows in all of that roasted meat and slather on the condiments. This thing would have been a huge single meal on its own, much less the finale to so many other smaller bites. Trying the various condiments with pieces of the tender, roasted goat was what it was all about. I think they hand out a beach towel with this dish to keep the splatter-factor down. Obviously, when it comes to that much solid protein I’m done for, so they packed up most of it for me and it was one HELL of a midnight mega-snack. Yeah, very very tasty, kind of funny, Chef Monis is okay in my book.

Oh, then the most gloriously ironic course that I thought must have been invented with me in mind: a one-bite Mizithra cheese course. Just a little sandwich of cheese, less than a bite. I told them to let the chef know he is doing God’s work with this one.

Lemon– I think this was a cookie and ice cream dessert…can’t recall much about it.

Chocolate– This was AWESOME, and I’m not the biggest dessert guy. Chef Monis loves his salt, but unlike a lot of restaurants who have jumped on the salted caramel bandwagon, he does not overdo it. This was similar to that Kit Kat bar at Central, except tiny, less than 2 bites, and in my opinion way better. Chocolate, salted caramel and peanut butter, with some sort of crisp through the middle.

Lollipops– a little homemade sucker of a fruit I can’t recall and some black pepper.

Like I said, I did enjoy my meal at Komi. So much so, in fact, it will absolutely be at the top of my places to visit the next time I’m in town. I can understand some of the criticism…in some ways the no-menu/flavor progression thing can be a little awkard…..at one point I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to make a Home Alone face and scream, “Holy Fuck! They just gave me a hot dog!”. But in reality, sometimes it’s just too easy to overthink a concept or read too much into what a chef is trying to communicate. In the end, tasty and creative food, fantastic service, wonderful ambience…..and just plain fun. We can’t forget about fun.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “DC Grub 2011: Komi

  1. Kim Shook

    Wow, Jerry! This sounds amazing! I’d love to try this place. I’m afraid I’d burst, though. “One thin mint, sir?” Loving the reports!

    • zeemanb

      Oh, Komi was by far the most manageable place by far, when it comes to food overload. The only thing that no normal human could finish on their own was packed up and travelled well. It was no problem getting through all the courses there, but some of the other restaurants required a lot of extra time between courses, not finishing every bite of the dishes, etc. Not so much the quantity but the richness was the issue. Got one writeup left, Citronelle, it’s more book-length and detailed than the other reviews…..definitely the #1 meal of the whole trip, by a large margin.

    • Beer, cider, cocktails, etc. are delteiinfy starting to make more appearances in tasting menus. Rogue 24 calls theirs a beverage pairing for exactly that reason. I wouldn’t hate on the beer especially since it probably paired better with a half-smoke than most wine would.What was lacking in the charm department during your visit? We’ve always enjoyed attentive, knowledgeable service and love the homey interior.As for financial sense, it’s a splurge to be sure. I wouldn’t make it a regular Tuesday night thing, but for a special occasion I can’t think of a better place to celebrate in DC at the moment.

  2. Kim Shook

    I forgot to tell you that while I was in the dining room reading this report on my laptop, Mike came up from the family room to tell me that I should go right to your blog to read this! So we are both enjoying this, Jerry!

  3. How was the experience dining alone? Most D.C. restaurants treat single travelers really well, but I always figured it’d be awkward at Komi — the meal running so long, and the tables so few (not a privacy issue, I’m just assuming a business would want to maximize their seating with such a popular reservation).

    • zeemanb

      I’m a pretty big fan of lone-dining and Komi was probably the most casual and comfortable experience of my trip. And I think the meal only ran around 2 1/2 hours total….and even with larger parties that’s how long it seemed to be taking as well. Now, maybe they keep it running a little faster earlier in the evening to make sure the tables turn for the next seating, but I never felt rushed or bored. Most of my other meals were around an hour longer, so it moves pretty quickly for all those courses. High recommendation for the single diner, absolutely. And yeah, everyplace I’ve visited in DC so far has treated me great. With the exception of Hank’s Oyster Bar, but I didn’t notice them being overly friendly to anyone…not bad, the other restaurants just spoiled me.

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