Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Four Letter Word Komi Washington, DC

A fine line separates a culinary signature from a tic. Earlier this month I was in Washington for a week, and at the suggestion of friends I tried Komi, Johnny Monis’s Greek-inflected, slightly rustic, comfortable hot spot. And there is much to like – the service, the collection of well-composed Greek wines (and not a stereotypical Retsina) and the finely-prepared cuisine.

This night my companion and I selected the dinner: a selection of nine mezzathakia, a pasta, an entree, and dessert. We were well-treated. My only complaint was granular. This chef’s four letter word: salt. Sometimes dishes are oversalted out of incompetence: that is not the case at Komi. Chef Monis uses salt to add zest, a taste dimension that often characterizes his dishes. Once or twice during the meal would have been memorable, but the number of dishes that included salt as an ingredient or distinctive flavoring was startling. From the roasted dates with fleur de sel to the oversalted (although perfectly moist) spit roasted katiskaki (goat) to a rather unpleasant Meyer Lemon granita with red sea salt to salty pecan gelato (this I did not order, but there it was on the menu), one could not escape the condiment. Perhaps we should not have been surprised when the farewell gift was a salted caramel lollipop. A chef whose inventions are as distinguished as Chef Monis can find other ways to enliven his plates.

Of the mezzethakia I particularly admired the exquisite, lush cauliflower panna cotta with American caviar, langoustines, and sea urchins. The braised octopus with poached quail egg, capers, pig knuckles (?), and lentil salad was memorable as well. Also successful was a poached lobster salad with bottarga. Both of our pastas were sublime. I particularly admired the tagliatelle with rabbit, snails and eggplant. Here is a chef who knows how to cook al dente. My companion’s rock shrimp risotto with Meyer lemon and sumac-braised pistachio was filled with delicious surprises. Even in my year of dining in New York, I never was treated to such a pair of pastas.

As our main course, we selected the spit-roasted katsikaki – as moist a goat as can be imagined with a delightful crunchy skin. Had the salt been halved this would have been an astonishing dish. The side dishes, pickled plum, Greek oregano, eggplant puree, truffled beet tsatziki, and Habanero hot sauce added complexity to the goat and homemade pita. At first bite the salt added to the pungency of the dish, but soon I wished for pure goat. The sides could have provided the pungency.

Dessert – toasted almond cake with bananas and rum zabaglione was pleasurable – and not at all salty – flavorful but slightly dry for my taste.

I hope to return to Komi on my next visit to Washington with a doctor’s note a demand to lighten our sodium footprint on this fragile planet.

1509 Seventeenth Street (Dupont Circle)
Washington, DC

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