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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Komi

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #1, Washingtonian 2010 #1, Washingtonian 2009 #1, Washingtonian 2008 #1, 2011 James Beard Nominee - Best Chef Mid-Atlantic - Johnny Monis (too many accolades to name)
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Months ago, Official Friend of DCWD Beatrice was lamenting to me about a cancelled reservation at Komi, the ballyhooed restaurant in Dupont Circle. I've said before it's a struggle to find anybody who will spend the sort of money that you'd have to spend at Komi for any dinner, so I seized on the opportunity, convincing Official Friends of DCWD Stormtrooper and Swizzle to join the two of us.

The Vibe

For a restaurant so perennially at the top of the Washingtonian rankings, Komi is wonderfully low-key in its vibe, a fact not lost on Stormtrooper, who much appreciated the relaxed atmosphere. In fact, the only way you'd know that the restaurant is white-cloth is... well the white table cloths. Otherwise, Komi, built into the ground floor of a townhouse, resembles someone's old country home. First, the furniture: birch red chairs with beige cushions on a old wooden floor, a simple dining room table near the host stand with a large bouquet centerpiece and water vases, and two cabinets filled with china and wine bottles respectively. But perhaps, most of all, it's the paint that sets the the tone, a pale marigold yellow, dry-brushed and sponged to give it that rustic look. With only the front window providing any real glimpse of sunlight, lighting is provided by candles on the walls and a halo of small lights hiding around the ceiling.

It's a small space with only a handful of tables (mostly fours), but the sound seems to amplify a little more than you would expect. If anything, the noise level puts you more at ease; this is in fact a top-flight restaurant devoid of the normal white-cloth accompaniment of stuffiness. The other thing that relaxes you for the epicurean journey ahead is the service, which is incredible and has to be up there with some of the best I've ever had. But beyond the traditional attention to detail that is the hallmark of great service, it was the staff's attentiveness, warmth, and generosity that really struck me. Take our main waiter for instance (main, because I swear, four or five people must have brought us a course during the night). With no set menu, I was taking short notes on my cell about what we were eating. By course two, he told me that they could give me a written menu by the end of the night instead; amazing of him to notice what I was doing so quickly (or maybe I just outed myself as a blogger too obviously). Either way, props. He was also friendly and explanatory when he needed to be, and all-in-all, was complementary to the great atmosphere.

The real star of the service though was the sommelier (who incidentally has a total rockstar name: Kat Bangs) who was just about the friendliest, most engaging, downright amazing sommelier I've ever had the pleasure of being around. Wait, you're not a stuffy wine snob, but a funny charming person that I actually feel like I could be friends with? When she spoke to us, it actually felt like she felt personally invested in us enjoying the night, and her easy laugh made us feel welcome. Moreover, Swizzle and Stormtrooper decided to chart their own course instead of going with the pairing, and I swear they must have ended up drinking more wine for less money than Beatrice and I did because Kat kept suggesting new and awesome wines with fairly liberal pours (including introducing me and Swizzle to a varietal, Arneis, that we had never heard of before which was absolutely delicious). And incidentally, the pairing was pretty effing amazing in its own right. I think I probably left that night with a bigger crush on her than on the food... just kidding. Maybe.

The Food


But let's not get too hyperbolic about the sommelier when there's so much hyperbole to go around about the food (spoiler alert: most of it validated). Komi has no a la carte menu, and like its contemporary minibar, has only one unpublished tasting menu (a fact that Stormtrooper did not know until an hour before the meal), so get prepared for fifteen courses. Oh and no pictures for this one; no-photo-rule and low lighting anyway.

The first dish was amuse-bouche sized: an interpretation of taramosalata. In this instance, a tiny steamed brioche bun (again similar to a minibar dish), topped with a light yogurt and smoked trout roe. Perfectly light but with some nice flavor and did the job of an amuse-bouche: announced how the meal was going to go (interesting flavor combinations painted with a Mediterranean palette) and packed a punch doing it.

The second was a dish of hiramasa, more commonly known as yellowtail kingfish. Just weeks earlier, I'd had a beautifully prepared kingfish at Le Bernardin and thus had beautiful visions dancing in my head. Luckily, this was just as nice as my memory, but without the near-cheating benefit of black truffles. Instead, this was kingfish two ways: a slice of loin topped with chives and sea salt, and a slice of belly topped with juniper berry and onions. The first was a simple classic presentation like a more flavorful Japanese sashimi, while the second was the winner for me, innovative flavor profiles with a nice textural contrast.

Next came another two ways dish, this time with scallops; the first was shaved scallop topped with rhubarb and served on an oyster shell, the second preparation was diced scallop formed together with coconut milk cream. The table's collective opinion was that the coconut cream version was far superior; Swizzle thought the rhubarb version was too salty. Still, the coconut cream for me was a nice touch, and one that shook me from the shackles of the "too many seared scallops" malaise I had been in.

The fourth dish was something that just blew my mind: a hunk of burrata with sea urchin as well as what the waiter described as French shiso and what I figured to be either pomegranate seeds or some sort of flavored pine nuts. No matter: the combination was like a piece of creamy heaven with the combined flavor and texture of the burrata and urchin combining into such a magnificent mix of sweet, savory, and briny in a smooth, almost butter-like bite. Combining with the other pieces, this was one of the best dishes of a great night.

Fifth was one we had been waiting for: the spanakopita. Except in place of the traditional Greek dish was a one-bite breaded ball, with liquid spinach inside the crust. Beautifully creamy and just the right amount of hot, this was another of the table's favorite dishes of the night. The innovation was definitely there, and for me, it recalled all the wonderful Thanksgiving lunches my family has had with Boston Market's creamed spinach... except if it was a thousand times better.

Next up was a piece of egg ravioli with shaved tuna. There were a lot of surprises about this dish, from Stormtrooper's "so wait, there's an egg yolk in here?" to Beatrice's "this doesn't taste like tuna normally does." For me, the dish started off as sort of weird, as the pasta wasn't as fresh as I wanted it to be. But then once I cracked out the yolk, like one would do with overeasy or poached eggs, and mixed the yolk and flake-thin tuna with the pasta, it all came together much better. Maybe a tad salty, but rich in flavor.

The next dish was one of the more intriguing dishes: a piece of cold smoked foie gras served on top of black trumpet mushrooms and strawberries, and topped with pea shoots. I love hot preparations more than cold, as it tends to bring out more of the foie's fatty and buttery flavors, and this one didn't quite match up to the smoked foie I'd had at Eola. That being said, like the dish before it, the real treat was when everything was taken in unison, which accentuated the sweet of the strawberries and gave the whole dish a taste like... well, peanuts, of all things.

Eighth was the fabled half smoke, a recreation of DC's "signature dish" but with everything housemade, including the side of pork rinds. Beatrice had prepped me for this dish (I had eschewed reading anything about Komi leading up to the meal except for the occasional tweets about the goat) and this was one that people were hyperbolic about. After one bite, I could see why: that fatty, almost gamey texture/flavor combination that you get with high-end burgers (the kind that use steak instead of ground beef) was ever-present in the sausage, while the brioche bun was to die for.

It might have been hard to follow up on that, but the next course did: mascarpone filled dates topped with sea salt. Like most things that combine two flavors I love, this dish was already fishing with dynamite. That being said... oh MY god, why had no one before thought of filling dates with mascarpone. Sweet with a slight acid from the cream, it was just heavenly to bite into, and probably ended up as Swizzle's favorite dish of the night.

Next, the real pasta course: tagliatelle with charred octopus. These ribbons were a little fresher than their ravioli brethren, and the overall dish was definitely helped by the char of the octopus, which packed that strong "part-burn-part-ink" taste. Still, in the grand scheme of the night, this dish got a little lost for me, being sandwiched in between some of the best courses.

So now that the suspense is gone, here comes the main course: a plate of katsikaki, or suckling goat shoulder, and one of "American" Wagyu beef (which seems contradictory, but I let it go). These two helpings came with housemade pita, and a row of sides (cured radish, red pepper, tzatziki, red onion mustard, lemon salt). Wow. The table was split on which one was better, but this was what we might call a good problem. For me and Beatrice, the goat reigned supreme, perhaps the best example of a meat cooked so well that it falls in stringy melt-in-your-mouth pieces. For Swizzle and Stormtrooper, the beef's tenderness and strong sear flavor was a welcome climax to the meal. It might have been a simple question of geography (the goat was on our side of the table, and vice versa), but both were amazing. Coupled with the fluffy, doughy pita which kept on coming, this was just stunning.

The denouement to the meal began with the "cheese course." In this instance, that was a myzithra cheese on a mini Grands-like biscuit and topped with shaved fennel. After the strong flavors of the last few dishes, this mildness was appreciated, if lacking in memorability (the copious amounts of wine helped). I do recall thinking it was a solid use of fennel however.

Dessert one was a frozen lemon meringue served on top of Lorna Doone-esque cookies (which is to say they were very shortbread-y). The meringue was nice and tart, and the combination with the cookie made for a pleasant balance. I love shortbread and its sweet but almost-chalky consistency so this was also good for me, like a decomposed meringue pie. The wine pairing with this was also PERFECT (I wish I had asked Kat what that beautiful rose-colored dessert wine was).

The last bites of the night, and dish fifteen was some salted caramel with coconut cream. This was a fitting end to the meal for me, as it was a perfect blend of a lot of fun flavors: strong salt, sweet caramel, milky coconut cream. I liked the use of coconut before, and I liked it on this piece as well. When taken as one solid bite, I couldn't help but get a taste like bananas. Seriously.

As parting gifts, we all got some housemade root beer lollipops. A fun treat for a fun meal.

The Verdict


Let's not dance around it. This meal was amazing, and worth the many superlatives that people adorn onto it. The service was by far the most thoughtful and friendliest I'd ever had, and the food balanced perfectly between the traditional and the innovative. Were there a couple things that could have used a dash less salt? Maybe. But was this a meal I would live over and over again? Without a doubt. Probably tied for second for the best meal of all-time.

Food Rating: *****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual to Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) (more than $100 for two)
Pairing
: No pairing this time, because you're in for a three-hour, top-class meal.

Komi on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Re - American Wagyu. Wagyu refers to any of several breeds, whereas Kobe is the DOC. Hence, American Wagyu is not a contradiction.

Angela said...

Ah, God. That burrata and sea urchin dish sounds to die for. We definitely did NOT have that when we were there. Really nicely written, my friend. Makes me wish I could go again. And again, and again...

Jeffrey Barrett said...

Awesome review. Your review confirms the photos associated with this restaurant.