"Jason, Are you ok? Are you crying? " Heather asked.
"Yes, perfect. This is just SO amazing!!"
(flashback four days earlier...)
When I found out that our babysitter Heather was leaving town permanently and had NEVER been to Komi, I insisted that she let us take her as a going away present. It's my favorite place to eat, anywhere, and I just couldn't bear for her to leave town without eating there. My motivation might have been a tad selfish, because I was looking for an excuse to return to Komi, but regardless she obliged and let us take her.
Given Komi's recent press (with Johnny being in the upcoming July issue of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs 2007), I would've expected to have had to call further ahead to get a reservation, but I only had to call a few days in advance. Granted, we were going on a Tuesday, but I still expected to be turned down because of my usual lack of planning.
In preparation the day of the dinner, I didn't eat all day. I never eat breakfast anyway and I skipped lunch completely. I had a late meeting at work and traffic getting into DC from out in Reston was a nightmare so we were running very late. I've never actually had to drive to Komi. Up until our recent move, it's been a quick 10 minute cab ride away, but now it's a 20 minute drive for us. Luckily, our reservation was early, and Komi doesn't overbook their tables, otherwise we would've been hard pressed for time.
When we arrived, Heather already had a glass of champagne and was happy. Our waiter came over to our table, who'd interestingly enough been our waiter many times over at 2 Amys and had moved up in the world. "Whatever she's having is good enough for me. Thanks!"
The menu was what I was expecting -- a vast array of dishes that I can't get anywhere else, making it impossible to choose. There's now an option to order what is called the "Degustazione", which puts you in the hands of Johnny for the evening. You get what Johnny thinks is you should eat; sometimes things from the menu, sometimes not. If he has a spare cut of meat in the back that he's experimenting with it might just be on your plate at some point -- you never know.
"Degustazione" is more food than you receive for ordering the regular "Dinner" -- usually a couple meat and pasta courses each, and a couple more starters (or what they call mezzathakia), a cheese course, a dessert, and also includes a wine pairing for $150. The "Dinner" alone is now $78, a little more than it was the last time I was at Komi ($64), but still a steal for all the food you get.
With dinner you get a flight of several mezzathakia (or starters), a choice of pasta course and a choice of meat...and you get to choose your own dishes, but what's the fun in that. Since Heather doesn't eat red meat, we went with the regular "Dinner" menu instead, which turned out to be more than enough food for us.
The mezzathakia started coming out one at a time. First, the house-cured olives. These have become a staple at Komi, much like the dates filled with mascarpone or the speck-wrapped white tuna (R.I.P.). I can't think of a better way to start a meal. Next, some buttered radish topped with salmon roe and butter, cut to look like little fish. It was a great little bite of creamy salt and pepper.
Ever heard of Amberjack fish? Yeah, me neither, but Johnny was serving a simple Amberjack sashimi with sea salt, chives and Meyer lemon oil. Next came the dates filled with Mascarpone cheese. As I said they're a staple now. I can't remember not ever having them at Komi and I hope they never go away. I've attempted to recreate them on my own, but I've never been able to match the delicate flavor that Komi's kitchen produces. The mascarpone cheese was oozing out the side of the date oh so slightly and the date was warm and just slightly caramelized. MMMM!
The next delicacy to come out was a deep-fried foie gras fritter, probably about the size of a medium-sized marble with crispy breading and the nutty, sweet filling. After that, a mint and english pea panna cotta with a quail egg in the center. It took me back to the cauliflower panna cotta that I always would've ordered by the quart if I could, and this was better than that. It was like Spring in a Jello mold. Amazing.
I didn't think that anything could top the panna cotta, but then the next dish appeared and was probably the most odd combination of ingredients I've ever had -- charred octopus with sliced avocado, quail egg, on top of a mold of lentils and pig knuckles. The octopus was crispy and tender and when you mixed it with the rest of the ingredients it was a fabulous combination of texture and flavors - creamy, salty, meaty. I don't know if it was this dish that was suddenly made me start to cry or if it was that I had just realized how long it'd been since I'd eaten at Komi, but either way, I was in heaven. I wasn't balling and there weren't really tears, but Heather and Amy could tell I was moved. We all started to laugh a little. Amy said, "Now if only I could get him to react that way!"
After that, everything is a little fuzzy although I remember everything was equally amazing: a sardine with a salad of carrots, currants, capers, raisins, mint and pine nuts; a soft-shell crab fried in crispy Japanese panko bread crumbs, a peekytoe crab cannoli, and a mint fennel cucumber compote and quite possibly quite the best soft-shell crab I've ever had; a spoon with celeriac soup, sea urchin, and crispy fried sweetbreads (seriously, where does he come up with this stuff?); and the Komi gyro with oxtail meat, a sweet yellow beet tzatziki and pomogranite glaze. That finished off the starters.
We were served three different pastas for the pasta course. My favorite pasta was actually the one that Amy was served, a fava bean and mint ravioli with lamb tongue ragu. I had an agnolotti (basically tiny ravioli cut in little cylinder shapes) that was served in a broth too salty for my tastes.
Entrees were better than ever. To accommodate Heather's diet, she was served an individual serving of the whole bronzini (Mediterranean sea bass) which normally comes in a portion for two. It's cooked in a salt dome to keep the heat even and give the fish an extra flakey texture. Amy and I shared the spit roasted kasikaki (or kid goat), a whole thigh of kid goat, roasted until the meat is falling off the bone, amazingly tender and juicy, and a smoky flavor that tops that of the old suckling pig that Johnny used to make.
I'd be missing half the meal if I didn't mention the wine pairings which Derek Brown described in great deal before each course. The wines are paired very well with the food and do a great deal to enhance the entire meal. If you order the pairings with dinner, it will cost you $50, but the pairing is included with the "Degustazione". My favorite pairing was an unfiltered 2004 Gewurztraminer from Lazy Creek Vineyards with a smoky fruit flavor and not too much residual sugar. There was also a slight acidic flavor that cut down on the fruit a little.
At a little over $400 for the three of us, it was quite an expenditure. Komi is still an incredible value and worth every penny, but it's solidly a special occasion restaurant for me now rather than the whim place it used to be. The increase in price is partially due to the success that Johnny Monis has had recently, but also because the menu isn't available a la carte anymore.
1509 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20036
Closed Sunday and Monday.
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: It's very difficult to find parking in this area. There is a pay parking lot around the corner in an office building that's open until 12.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper. I wish I could give it more but the atmosphere just isn't appropriate for a child.