The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2018 Spring Dining Guide.
Kith and Kin
The problem with some hotel restaurants is that they feel like hotel restaurants — a bit too by-the-book for their own good. That’s the case with one of the first dining rooms to open at the Wharf, from a young chef, Kwame Onwuachi, whose debut restaurant in Shaw flamed out after less than three months and who needed a hit to redeem himself. Kith and Kin showed promise at launch (dessert “peppers” over snowy granita were especially imaginative), but it has morphed into a restaurant that, frankly, tastes like your fifth or sixth choice on the waterfront. Not bad, given the stiff competition there, and if you were to eat only jerk chicken with thyme-freckled coconut rice or curry goat roti — dishes that tell the chef’s story thus far — you might question my lack of enthusiasm. But salt bombs in a salad, tough beef satays and scripted service leave me wishing I were eating just about anywhere else nearby.
1 1/2 stars
Kith and Kin: 801 Wharf St. SW. 202-878-8600. kithandkindc.com.
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Prices: reakfast mains $14 to $24, lunch mains $12 to $24, dinner mains $16 to $65.
Sound check: 71 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review was originally published Oct. 27, 2017.
Sorry to bring it up, chef, but what’s the difference between your new place and your last?
“Everything,” says 27-year-old Kwame Onwuachi of, Kith and Kin, the first major dining destination to debut in the 25-acre District Wharf on the Southwest waterfront. “The concept, the look, the accessibility — my whole approach is different.”
It almost had to be. Even infrequent restaurant followers know the story about how the “Top Chef” alumnus took forever to open Shaw Bijou only to see one of Washington’s highly anticipated restaurants shutter after just three months, a victim of tough love and tabs that mirrored those of the area’s priciest culinary attractions.
As at Shaw Bijou, Kith and Kin still tells the story of the Bronx-born chef’s life, but the narrative is shared via the printed menu rather than the lips of overly earnest waiters. Sprinkled throughout the list, and present in most dishes, are markers of where he’s been and what he’s done. Childhood in Nigeria with his grandparents. Later years aboard a ship off the coast of Louisiana, where he cooked Creole dishes. A family tree whose branches embrace Trinidad and Jamaica. Knowing this explains the fluffy, lightly sweet coco bread brought to the table.
So much sunlight pours into the window-fronted, 96-seat dining room ensconced in the InterContinental hotel that I leave my sunglasses on for the first part of a recent early dinner. The drinks, created by veteran barman Zachary Hoffman, are delicious (as they ought to be, considering their $17 average price). Given the theme of the restaurant, Gin & Reggae feels like an appropriate launch. A glass act, the fetching cocktail brings together Plymouth gin, Jamaican rum, mango tea and garnishes including star fruit.
The interior, awash in soothing sand and coffee colors, is interesting yet understated. Eyes are drawn to wine displays and rippled, brushed brass walls, but only until the food starts showing up. Crudités arranged on a platter of crushed ice — daikon hit with stinging peri-peri, charred broccoli lit up with jerk seasonings, lime-kissed avocado mousse — steers attention from the setting, as do a trio of elegant, turmeric-tinted turnovers, whose flaky wrappers hide centers of zesty ground beef. Just as swell: Silvery fingers of singed mackerel, staged around orange jollof rice with petals of vinegary pearl onion and dots of Nigerian red sauce coaxed from habanero, ginger and palm oil.
African and Caribbean outposts are few around the city; Onwuachi helps fill the gap with refined versions of gutsy fare, presentations no doubt influenced by his time at restaurants including the esteemed Eleven Madison Park in New York. Allspice-seasoned oxtail, braised in chicken stock so the meat falls from the bones, picks up welcome color via tender carrots glossed with butter and orange juice. The entree that found me most excited to be at Kith and Kin was a bowl of goat and fried potatoes in a cloak of green curry seasoned with culantro, thyme and garlic, and destined to disappear with the help of the accompanying warm roti. If the looks of his dishes are citified, the flavors are true to the source.
The most dramatic dessert — a trio of what appears to be habanero peppers on ice — resembles an appetizer. But a bite of the confection reveals (surprise!) sweet instead of heat. To create the illusion, Onwuachi cooks the fire-free pepper known as habanada down to a paste, which he turns into a mousse with the aid of white grapes and sudachi, a Japanese lime. The mousse is then glazed with colored gelatin and presented as “peppers” over snowy granita sweetened with elderflower.
It’s early in the restaurant’s life, but this much is already true: Kith and Kin represents a promising development in an evolving slice of town and a compelling new chapter for its chef.
The elephant, you should know, has left the building.