Being the EU's deadbeat debt-dodgers du jour, the Greeks haven't been getting a lot of love lately, making me all the more grateful for the love they have been sending our way this spring. For it is Greek Festival season once again, when Greek Orthodox churches around the country break out the stripy tents and roasting spits and make with the Bacchanal (or is Dionysisal for the Greeks? Whatever.).
If you spend any time traveling up and down Wisconsin Ave, you no doubt will have seen the large banner advertising St. Sophia's festival, which took place a couple weekends ago; some friends and I swung by that Saturday. Though lacking in the rides and pig-racing departments, the event had a carnival atmosphere, with an unsurprising Greek twist. Along with the obligatory sand art and crafts for the kids, there were dozens of vendors, hawking everything from fine art to garage sale rejects (I got a wallet of dubious origins for five bucks!). In the main tent, a band played and sang songs in, presumably, Greek, while patrons danced and milled about the silent auction tables.
Of course, the central focus of any such festival is the food. The smell of roasting lamb permeated the entire outdoor space, and rotating spits cooked the meat for the thousands of gyros they must have sold that weekend. Greek beer and wine flowed freely, featuring the classic retsina, a distinctive Greek wine flavored with pine resin. Since we made the intelligent decision to arrive at 5:00 pm, the hot food line was just too long a wait -- thankfully, there were several vendors selling the innumerable, delightful pastries for which the Greeks are known and loved. We got the obligatory baklava, and a dozen of these great honey-coated donuts called loukoumades me meli, which were being fried in huge batches throughout the festival.
The best part about the whole affair was that I bet on something in the silent auction, and actually won! The prize in question was an old-ass bottle of Metaxa "Seven Star," and 22 pieces of something called "Galaktoboureko," a custard filled pocket of phyllo dough.
Metaxa is a Greek brandy producer, who are probably most well known for their whimsical bottles. I had never thought to pick up a bottle before, so I am glad fate kinda through one in my lap. The Star Series (Three, Five, and Seven) are barrel aged brandies mixed with a portion of sweet white wine. The end result is something like a tawny port, with lots of old, dried fruit flavors and some spice and honey, but drier, and with a good deal more kick, coming in at 92 proof. I have heard that the Three and Five Star are similar, with the Five being a bit drier, and that all are now cut to 80 proof.
The galaktoboureko is much less dense than it's more well known cousin, baklava, though similarly flaky. The sauce is not overly sweet, and has an interesting contrast of spicy cinnamon and citrus flavors, both of which compliment the creamy custard center. The spicy aspect is amplified when served with the Metaxa, whose mild sweetness mirrors well that of the pastry. Very tasty! I consider the gamble a rousing success.
Want to recreate the experience at home? Metaxa products are available at most comprehensive liquor stores (ie, Schneider's, Ace Beverage, Calvert Woodley, etc), and should run you between $20 and $40 a bottle, depending on your selection. And here is one of the simpler recipes I could find for the pastries.
(Adapted from recipezaar.com)
1 lb phyllo dough
2 pints milk
6 ounces sugar
6 ounces fine semolina
1/2 cup butter, melted, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
12 ounces sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice or lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
In a saucepan over medium heat add milk, sugar, semolina, 2 ounces butter, vanilla, salt and a sliver of lemon peel. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Beat eggs in a separate bowl then stir into milk mixture. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a 9 X 13 buttered baking pan with half the sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with the melted butter and allowing the edges to overlap the sides. Spread custard evenly over phyllo. Cover with remaining sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with the melted butter. Trim the edges and fold in carefully to seal the filling. Brush the top with melted butter and seal edges with a bit of cold water. Bake 45 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile make the syrup; In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and sliver of lemon peel and boil for 10 minutes. When Galaktoboureko is done and still hot from the oven, spoon syrup over a little at a time until absorbed by the pastry. Cool completely, cut into diamond shape and serve.
This is best made the day before it is needed. It gives the pastry time to absorb the syrup and the filling to become firm.
Assuming you aren't feeding the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the twenty-odd pastries yielded from this recipe are gonna last you awhile. They freeze well, and can be reheated at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes. The sauce keeps fine at room temperature.
Of course, if you don't feel like running your oven for an hour in 90 degree heat, I guess I can't blame you. Fortunately, there are several local Greek festivals coming up in June, so you can get yourself a smaller, more concentrated dose of Greekiness, with less effort. Get your Opa! on the weekend of June 4th at St. Katherine's out in Falls Church, or check out The Greek American Directory's comprehensive state-by-state list of upcoming festivities.
I'm officially adding Komi to my Foodie Experiences category. Why? Let me explain.
Actually, let me give you some background first...it was Amy's birthday (December 27th) and there was no other restaurant that she wanted to go to more than Komi. So when I tried to make reservations last Monday for tonight, I learned that Komi was going to be closed for two weeks for renovations. "WAIT NO!! You can't be!"
It wouldn't have been that big a deal if this didn't happen to us every year on Amy's birthday. Every year, we try to go out on her birthday and the restaurant we want to go to is closed for some reason. Her birthday either comes on a Sunday, or the restaurant is closed the week after Christmas, or the whole restaurant gets the flu.
I wrote some quick emails to our babysitter, "Hey, are you gonna be around this week at all? Any chance you're free for babysitting ANY night this week?!!" Lucky for me, she was.
So on Thursday night, we headed over to Komi for dinner. It had been a while since we'd been there -- probably at least two months and a good deal had changed, but in the end, it was still the same old Komi.
The most noticable change was the menu. There were a many new dishes on the menu, all of which I wanted to try. Lucky for me, there was a tasting menu available. For $57 a person, you get a series of small plates (which basically ends up being small portions of all the appetizers on the menu), your choice of pasta course and dinner course, a cheese course and your choice of dessert course. We also asked for a wine pairing which will run you an additional $40 a person, but is well worth it because they basically never let your glass get empty.
Our first dish was just a few olives that Chef Johnny Monis and his girlfriend discovered during their trip to Italy last summer. They were mild flavored and juicy to the point where you bit into them, the juices would squirt into your mouth.
Following the olives, was another amuse bouche and quite possibly the world's most perfect food -- two dates, heated to just before the point of carmelization, filled with mascarpone cheese and topped with olive oil and a touch of sea salt. There's so much to this: flavors of sweet, salty, creamy, smooth. It's a huge dish of contrast and simplicity in four little bites.
Shortly after we finished the dates off, out came the Burrata di Bufala, which came topped with crispy breadcrumbs, a slice of fresh anchovy, and just the right amount of sea salt. If you've never had burrata before, it's a type of mozzarella cheese that's very creamy and rich in flavor -- and quite hard to find. I loved that the cheese was topped with the crunchy breadcrumbs. Normally burrata is great on its own, and I didn't think it was possible to make it better.
Next, two dishes were brought out at the same time. The first was a grilled bread topped with prosciutto and figs -- a perfect contrast of sweet and salty -- and is representative of Johnny's menu which embraces influences from Italian and Greek cuisine. The second was a crostini topped with a slice of deviled egg. Both were fantastic and nothing I ever would've thought to make myself.
Those dishes were followed by a fried ricotta ball, which was good, but a little too salty for my taste. Moving on.
Following the ricotta ball was probably one of the more adventurous and different dishes I've eaten all year -- a cauliflower and tallegio panna cotta. It took me a little while to figure this dish out, but once I found the quail egg surprise in the center of the panna cotta -- oozing out when you sliced into it with your fork -- and mixed it with the shaved rutabega and (of all things!) blood orange slices, I realized that Johnny Monis has raised the culinary bar for dishes in DC. Absolutely delicious!
One of the nice things about Komi is the pacing of the meal. When you
order the tasting menu, the kitchen spaces it out each of the courses well to give
you time to digest the food. I took advantage of this time to clear my mind of the panna cotta, finish off my glass of wine, and allow myself to move onto our upcoming pasta course. Lucky for me, our pasta course was excellent as well.
I chose to go with the bread soup with kale and homemade lamb sausage, which I had loved during our last trip to Komi when Amy had ordered it. This was overshadowed, however, by the ricotta ravioli with mushrooms and almonds that Amy ordered. After trying the ravioli, the bread soup just didn't seem quite as good as the last time I'd had it. I still have yet to eat anything with mushrooms at Komi I didn't love.
Moving on to our entrees, I decided to order the one thing that I've never had at Komi: a grilled lamb tenderloin with lentils and rutabega. The lamb was quite complex. The lentil and rutabega salad on the side was seasoned with something spicy -- most likely a curry of some kind, which went well with the lamb. Once again, Amy went with her favorite, the Bronzini Me Harti -- and why shouldn't she? It was her birthday for Christ's sake. The bronzini is a very light and fluffy fish which is simply topped with olive oil, lemon and salt and served with fingerling potatoes and some fresh greens.
At this point, I was pretty full, despite the spacing of the meal. We'd been there for close to two hours, and we still had the cheese and dessert courses to go. Luckily, the cheese course wasn't very big with three small pieces of cheese, one of which was a delightfully stinky blue. The cheese was served to us with a glass of Vin Santo, a traditional dessert wine from central Italy.
We had our choice of any dessert on the menu, which was a difficult choice. "Should I take the safe route and order the donuts?" I asked Amy.
"The donuts are good." Amy replied. "But you can't always write about the donuts. You should try something new."
It might have been because we were so full, but the desserts didn't leave quite the impression on us that the rest of the meal did. I tried the Pumkin Flan which was dense and sweet but I really wished we'd ordered the homemade donuts, because there's no dessert in the city that's better.
Ever since our first trip to Komi, service has never been an issue, and this time was no different. As usual, the whole restaurant worked as a team to make our meal seamless. No complaints there.
In my opinion, Komi is an extremely good value when you consider what you're getting. The food easily competes with that of Michelle Richard's Citronelle and Maestro and at those places you're guaranteed to spend twice what you'll pay at Komi. Our check came to $200 before tip and taxes. This included the tasting menu and wine pairing for both of us. I believe when Amy and I went to Citronelle for my birthday, the check came to over twice that, and Amy wasn't even drinking at the time.
One last thing I want to add (and for those of you who are still reading, I thank you): For every person I talk to who eats there at my recommendation and loves it, there's someone who just doesn't get it, and here's the reason I think they don't get it. They go, and order off the menu like it's a normal appetizer, entree, and dessert kind of place. This, in my humble opinion, is a mistake. You really need to get at least four courses at Komi to truly get the full experience.
Read about my past trips to Komi.
1509 17th St NW
Washington, DC 20036
Closed Sunday and Monday.
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: None, nada, zip - street parking is a rare in Dupont. No valet either. I
recommend taking a cab. Or take the Metro to Dupont Circle and walk a few blocks.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle
Amy's Bathroom rating: Immaculate.