Transcendent is not too strong a word to describe the cavalcade of dishes that for some of us taste of pure nostalgia and also reflect the way the chef and his wife prefer to take food.
“We eat mostly vegetables in real life, so Johnny has been messing around with a lot of food behind the scenes for a while now,” Marler says of the chef in an email. “It just felt like fun to bring some of those ideas to life for a stint and show a different side of our personality. Kind of like dropping an EP or a single instead of a full album.”
Bring. It. On. The first marvel is a tiny taco whose dark filling, hidden beneath shredded lettuce, is a ringer for ground beef. Playing the meaty role, however: ground black walnuts imbued with a housemade version of Old El Paso taco seasoning. Close behind the treat is a souvlaki featuring mushrooms that have been sliced paper-thin, marinated, layered and pressed for a few days before they’re threaded on a skewer and seasoned with oregano. Along for the joyride is a dreamy mustard dip.
Ideas for the meal are mostly nods to the carryout the chef’s parents opened in the late 1970s. Other dishes seem to be taking advantage of the season. See: plump figs and watermelon cucumbers arranged atop whipped ricotta in a frame-worthy salad.
The grandest illusions are the gyro and the not-fish fillet.
The former is a magic trick coaxed from tofu skin, griddled at different temperatures and times to achieve a gyro’s signature crisp edges, then bundled in pillowy pita. Swear to God, the filling tastes just like meat. The latter could be served at McDonald’s and no one would be the wiser. What could pass for fried fish is breaded tofu. As for its soft bun and melted cheese, “some things are not worth messing with,” says Marler. The fast-food flavor is accomplished with good old potato rolls and American cheese.
For the pop-up, both the staff and the space are dressed down. The night I caught their act, Marler and crew were suited as if for a bowling alley and several of Komi’s tables had been replaced with furniture that would look right at home in a diner. I like it, I like it. And I really dig the finish, a three-bite sundae served in a tiny cup with a plastic spoon.
Will the owners host another Happy Gyro? “We might bring it back in the future. We might not. We might do something else,” says Marler. “We just want to keep having fun. That’s pretty much our mission statement.”
Cross your fingers, rub some fuzzy dice, seek out a four-leaf clover and hope Happy Gyro or “something else” occurs again. For now, get in on the merriment while you can.
1509 17th St. NW. 202-332-9200. Reservations are released every Monday at 2 p.m. for the week. To book, go to: komirestaurant.com/happyinfo.html. Seven (or so) dishes, $60; wine pairing, $50.