When I opened up “the lists” to find C F Folks earlier in the day, I took note of the other five District options, and before I headed to lunch I looked about making a dinner reservation. But here’s the delimma – OpenTable (my go-to food planning site) won’t let you make a reservation for a party of one. Hmmm. So I checked with the concierge (Tiffany, who according to the other folks behind the registration desk moved to concierge because she “knew how to eat”) and asked her for help. Originally, I was planning on going to the Birch and the Barley and heading to their upstairs bar, with which they share a kitchen, but then I decided to swing for the fences. “Tiffany, could you call Komi and see if they can squeeze in a party of 1 during normal hours tonight (I had seen a spot for 2 for 5:45 or 9:30)?” She said “I’ll try” and took my cell number. About 12:20, I received a call that she had me booked at 6:30. Nice.
I walked the eight blocks after my meeting ended and arrived at a walk-up with a very small sign. This will be a unique blog post for me as it boldly says on their home page, “No photos, please”. I resisted my inner rebel streak and took one, to give a feel for the restaurant, which will be at the very bottom of the post. Komi has been in business for ten years and serves a Greek-influenced multi-course fixed price menu, beginning with small plates (mezzethakia) moving up through pastas to a full entree. I was greeted by name when I arrived (I guess I was the single single guest at 6:30) and shown to a a table near the front of the restaurant, then given a choice of facing the street or the restaurant. I chose to look back into the space, which was long and narrow leading to a kitchen at the back, into which there was a doorway and a large window.
I often eat alone. Most of the time it’s at lunch and that never seems so bad. But eating dinner by yourself, particularly in a restaurant where you’re seated at a table and wait for service has always seemed different. Whether it’s true or not, I’ve always felt like the servers looked on you with something resembling pity because you were there by yourself. Often times, in this situation, I’ll find a place to sit at the bar. You can strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, or watch sports on TV to take away from the fact that you’re eating a meal by yourself.
My server came by and asked for a drink order. As I asked for a Diet Coke, I realized the mistake as soon as I said it – this place is not going to serve commercial sodas. He confirmed my thoughts and I decided on a bitter orange house-made soda which was a deep orange-red. And “bitter” was an apt description – it reminded me of a ruby red grapefruit. He asked about food allergies and preferences and I told him I wasn’t fond of chocolate or horseradish, but, otherwise, I was game. Sure, there are plenty of things I’m fairly sure that I don’t like (radishes, beets, brussel sprouts, organ meat) but I was willing to try most anything.
Then came the food.
Course one was finger food. A one and half inch square of sunchoke, cooked into a thin crisp, covered with crème fraîche and topped with brilliant orange trout roe. I remembered having liked trout roe, and the small globules exploded when you bit into them. The verdict – one thing I wouldn’t have ordered (sunchokes) prepared into a dish that was good.
Course two was finger food, also. Two thin slices of sashimi – a piece of Japanese horse mackerel (also known as Aji), with a leaf of some kind on top, and a slice of steel head trout with a slice of the smallest radish I’ve ever seen. I rolled the radish off and ate each piece of fish in one bite. The trout was the better of the two.
It was at this point that I began to notice the service. There were four servers (two male and two female), dressed smartly casual along with one guy in a suit, who all constantly walked a circle, in both directions, from the kitchen to the front. They brought food. They took empty plates. They filled water. They brought new utensils. And they did it all without ever seeming intrusive, or fawning.
Course three arrived in a small bowl and required a fork and/or spoon (both for me) – a Maine divers sea scallop, topped with crispy rice (which was in small round pieces on the top of the scallop), cooked with avocado and fennel. Again, scallops are not something I would generally order, but this was deliciously prepared. It was delicate (why I needed the spoon in addition to the fork), slightly sweet and salty, like the sea.
On a side note, there was a table next to me of two ladies celebrating a birthday who had started about fifteen minutes before I had, which improved my odds of keeping a list, and getting it correct, of the food. When I saw the fourth course arrive on their table, I was intrigued. When mine came to the table, I was able to see more closely what I had (there’s only so much staring you can do, over your shoulder, at somebody else’s food, before it becomes “awkward”).
On the left side of the dish was a brown eggshell with the top quarter removed, filled with slow cooked sea urchin and chives. Sea urchin! This, and the stealthily efficient overall service, harkened back to the great meal at Colicchio and Sons from last December. The right side of the plate had one, perfect garlic knot. The sea urchin was sweet, salty and earthy and I scraped the inside of the eggshell with the small spoon. The garlic knot was similar in texture to a well-cooked dark pretzel, with a crispy outer crust and light, sweet interior.
Course five was Yukon gold potato gnocchi, served with melted leeks, aged cheese curds and salmon roe. The gnocchi was tasty, but the melted leeks and cheese curds had very similar tastes, with the salmon roe adding a salty taste. I read a description of roe as “globule-shaped vehicles to taste the ocean”. It’s apt. I didn’t like it as much as the trout roe, but I still prefer it to caviar.
Course six was my least favorite of the dishes. Radishes with mole’ spices, finger limes and cultured cream. These radishes were ridiculously small (they must have been the same batch from which the slice in the sashimi course was culled), but still tasted like radishes. The mole’ sauce was heavy on chocolate and the finger limes were so small they couldn’t add enough citrus to drown the other flavors, in my opinion.
Seventh course? Grilled duck heart on a bed of freekeh and pickled mustard grains. Freekeh (or frikeh) is a cereal food that is made from green grain that is roasted in its production and Middle Eastern in nature (I asked the server to get the base info, then looked it up when I got home). The duck heart had a texture like a chicken liver and this green grain, combined with the mustard grains perfectly complemented the iron-heavy taste of the duck heart.
Next came more finger food – a piece of house-made sourdough toast, covered with a tomatillo marmalade and a smoked sheep’s milk ricotta, with a pea blossom on top. I heard a server tell the table next to me that this was a fava bean blossom. Either way, it was a flower. I took the first bite, which had very little ricotta on it and the tomatillo marmalade was very flavorful. Three more bites, including the flower (which sent a very floral fragrance up my nasal passages as I chewed it), and it was gone.
Number nine? Number nine? Number nine was more finger food, a crispy filo (about half the size of a Fisher Sweet, but round) filled with a foie gras purée, served with apricot vinegar. I would not, willingly, order foie gras but this bite was excellently prepared – the filo was crisp and layered and the apricot vinegar was a complementary dipping sauce. I will credit my appreciation for this dish to the quality of the ingredients and the skill of chefs. A word about the chefs – while I had been dining (I’m about an hour and twenty minutes into dinner here), I had been watching the “dance” in the kitchen. These four people moved effortlessly between stove and counter and oven and sinks and turned out everything fresh for each table.
The tenth dish was my absolute favorite of the night. The server warned that it was finger food, but since it was fresh out of the oven, I’d better take two bites. He was right about that – had I popped the entire thing in my mouth, I would have spent the next three minutes blowing out, around it, trying to cool off the inside of my mouth. It was a roasted Medjool date with mascarpone cheese, fleur de sel (hand harvested sea salt) and olive oil. Wow! This was amazing. Dates are one of those foods that I don’t often think about, but whenever I have them in a nice restaurant, they blow me away. I would have eaten three or four more of these. When I made, effectively, the same comment, I was told that this was the only dish that has been on the menu every day for ten years.
Eleven was another pasta – macarona (that’s not a typo, these were flower shaped pastas, not small elbows) with ramps, fava beans (I don’t know that I knew how large fava beans actually were – they’re the size of limas. I always think of “Silence of the Lambs” when I hear fava beans) and guanciale, which the deliverer (another of the four) said with gusto. “Pardon?” “Guanciale! Pork jowls – but I just love saying guanciale.” Pork jowls? Now we’re talking. This was a very well composed dish, the beans were not cooked to mush and the guanciale was in small cubes. But I was starting to get full.
Then the big plate arrived – a roasted kid shoulder (?) with house made pita triangles, sea salt, sliced lemon, pickled peppers, tzatziki sauce and a green mustard (the last three in small bowls). It appeared to be a shoulder, from the bone in the center, with the meat attached to it covered by the crispy skin (think chicaronnes). I was staring at the plate, trying to figure how best to tackle it when my server came by and said, “Use your hands. It’s the best option.” So I used the fork to shred the goat, picked some up and placed it on the pita, pinched some salt between two fingers and sprinkled it on top, then squeezed on some lemon. I took a bite and it reminded me much more of pork than most goat I’ve eaten (granted, most of that has been covered in jerk sauce in a Jamaican restaurant), and was dark, like lamb. But it was very good. The ladies across from me had a suckling pig instead of the kid. From what I read in reviews, I had the better protein. But I couldn’t clear the plate.
“Ready for dessert?”, he said as he put the shot glass sized ceramic container down in front of me. It was an olive oil cake with olive oil pudding and olive oil. When you dug to the bottom, it tasted like sweet bread, dipped in olive oil. How could that be a bad thing?
The final, fourteenth course arrived, a loukoumade (a Greek doughnut), served with black sesame gelato. The doughnut was light and airy, the gelato grainy and salty. I liked the doughnut a lot. For a little more than two hours, I had been treated like a culinary king, dining alone and simply enjoying the food. I said something to my server about dining alone and he said, loosely, there’s a lot to be said about the combination of a good meal and a good book. While it’s tough to beat a great meal shared with the company of your wife, or your child, or a close friend, I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same sadness about dining alone. Unless the meal sucks.
I walked the nine blocks back to my hotel, saving the house-made root beer lolly pop that was delivered with my receipt for another day.
[…] required a reconsulting of “the list”. Three years bag, I had a wonderful meal at Komi. They have a neighbor restaurant, Little Serow (rhymes with sparrow), which is on my list, so […]
If you’re ever back in D.C., you have to try out Komi’s sister restaurant next door: Little Serow. Best dang authentic (Northern) Thai you’ll ever have.
Thanks, Melissa, I’ll note that one as having a personal recommendation. Little Serow is on the same list (Southern Living’s 100 Places to Eat Now – August 2013) where I found Komi and CF Folks.