Anticipation is a funny thing. It can easily set you up for failure. You can get so excited about something that it can’t possibly live up to expectations. Or, if you’re lucky you can start out with a big smile on your face, and it’s all uphill from there.
I am totally pumped up for dinner at Komi. Washingtonian has just named it the number one restaurant in the area for the fourth year in a row. I have very recently dined at Chef Johnny Monis’ new venture Little Serow, and I definitely have a chef-crush. The $135 per person multi-course dinner is on the top of my list for 2012 and I am not wasting any time getting there.
The process of securing reservations at Komi for four people on a Saturday night is daunting. It takes perseverance and determination. You must call at noon, exactly one month before your chosen date. I am at the ready with my cellphone and work land line. I take turns dialing frantically from each phone. I wonder if I am competing with myself. I do it anyway. After 35 minutes of solid dialing, I get through. I am put on hold. My heart is pounding and my palms are sweaty. What if I can’t get the date? I ultimately succeed. I text my friend: “I feel like we’ve won the lottery…. Except that we’re the ones paying.”
Komi does not have a menu, so I must explain our food restrictions in advance. The woman taking the reservation is nonplussed and downright warm as I explain. Two pescetarians, no shellfish. I proudly tell her that I’m “going to be a big girl” and try everything. When I get off the phone I remember that the fourth person in our group doesn’t eat fish or cheese, in direct opposition to the pescetarians. I decide we’ll deal with it later. I’m actually afraid they’ll tell us it’s not do-able, and I’ll be heartbroken.
One month to the day and it’s finally time for our dinner. What do I wear? I don’t want to be too dressed up. I’m thinking simple but elegant. As we enter the restaurant I am trying to manage my expectations. The staff makes it difficult by being so damn nice. I am greeted with a friendly “welcome back!” I have no idea if this is a reference to my long ago visit to Komi or my recent visit to Little Serow. It doesn’t really matter. I feel welcomed.
A server comes by to reconfirm our food restrictions before the meal begins. He is making sure we’ve told him everything. I decide that honesty is the way to go here and so I disclose my aversion to nuts. I know I’ll be happier this way. Having secrets is no way to start a new relationship.
The food at Komi is a progression of flavors beginning with small bites of intricately designed fish dishes (or veggies as the case may be) to heavier/heartier dishes. I want to thoroughly enjoy the flavors and textures of each dish for as long as possible, and am actually dismayed when the next course arrives. Wait, I think. I’m not done savoring the smoked trout roe with grapefruit.
Each course delivers new flavor profiles that are equally enticing. The spanakopita is a one-bite wonder. It is lightly fried with spinach and feta cheese (which is most definitely an oversimplification of the ingredients). There is a burst of flavor that elicits surprise and delight. Dates with mascarpone and a touch of sea salt are divine.
For each course we are often served three distinct preparations of the same dish. If a course has shellfish, there is a fish substitution for the two non-shellfish eaters and a vegetable treatment for the non-fish eater. Amazingly, no one feels as if they are missing a thing and each of us is made to feel special by the staff. As the meat dishes begin to arrive, my friend who doesn’t eat fish realizes that he forgot to say he also doesn’t eat pork. Oops. I am the benefactor of the pork belly that he is served in place of my scallop dish. I am surprised that this declaration doesn’t elicit more of a reaction from the server. Nothing but an apology. Classy.
In my pre-dinner research, I have seen high praise for a half smoke dish. The ever-changing menu means that you never know what you’ll be served at Komi in advance. I’m skeptical about what sounds like ballpark food. Silly me. I should know by now to trust the brilliant chef. The spicy, chewy sausage topped with bright napa cabbage and served on a delicious bun is one of my favorite courses of the night. Bonus- it’s served with a complimentary glass of ale. As a non beer drinker I don’t appreciate the taste, but the gesture is a fine one.
The final main course is roasted goat for the meat-eaters and a salt-encrusted whole lavraki (Greek sea bass). I’ve read about the goat and am prepared to be wowed. For some reason I’m more enthralled by the accompanying plate of condiments and pita bread. I don’t find tons of distinctive flavor in the meat. Perhaps I’m just too full. But this does not lessen my appreciation for the meal one bit. The highs are too high to deflate me now.
Throughout the evening the sommelier and a trio of servers check in to make sure we are satisfied, and when appropriate join in on our conversation in a completely non-obtrusive way. My friend describes the service as “feathery.” I like the imagery.
Towards the end of the meal I ask about Chef Monis. I haven’t noticed him in the kitchen. The server replies that he is downstairs at Little Serow nurturing the new “baby.” It’s perfectly understandable and the meal hasn’t suffered a bit. Not more than ten minutes later, Johnny is at our table delivering the first of our desserts. The Washington Post review of Little Serow has just come out and we congratulate him. He seems earnestly humble and grateful for the positive review. I’ve been smiling all night but my smile definitely gets a little broader after his visit.
There are a series of desserts- my favorite being a take on a Rolo bar with chocolate and salted caramel. I am overcome with a barrage of feelings at this point. Exhilaration. Admiration. Exceeded expectations.
It’s the morning after. I ask my husband how he feels about the meal, considering after the cost of alcohol and tip it adds up to one of the most expensive dinners we’ve ever had. Was it worth it? He says yes. I speak to my friend and we agree that we are still on a high. In fact, the entire experience has taken on an even brighter lustre in retrospect.
The reality is that Komi is not going to be on my rotation for frequent dining. In fact some of the appeal would be lost if I dined here regularly. (younger sister Little Serow is actually more my speed). But it certainly sets the bar high for the future. I’m sure that at least for awhile after every restaurant meal I will continue to look back wistfully and think “Komi…you complete me.”
Komi, 1509 17th Street NW, Washington, DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.9
Washingtonian‘s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2012, #1, 4 stars (out of 4)
Washington Post Fall 2011 Dining Guide Review
Washingtonian 2011 Review