This restaurant is in Tom Sietsema’s inaugural Hall of Fame.
Not all four-star restaurants are chips off the same block. The long and narrow dining room at Komi, for instance, comes simply dressed with bare wood tables and walls of brick alternating with white paint. The spare packaging hardly matters, though, because Johnny Monis is in the kitchen and the Greek-inspired food he sends out is nothing short of wondrous. A bite of watermelon edged in sesame seeds is my favorite way to eat the fruit, knots of ethereal pasta floating in a bowl of corn broth put you right in the field, and a little pillow of sourdough bread topped with various onions and a sliver of bottarga makes a genius hors d’oeuvre. Although food likes are taken into account, there’s no printed menu. Instead, diners are encouraged to sit back and let the good times come to them via a seemingly endless succession of dishes small (a bite of steamed brioche capped with glinting orange roe); large (lamb neck with fluffy pita, harissa and yogurt to temper it); and sweet (the most elegant blueberry tart of my summer). Wines are introduced as if the sommelier made them himself, with pride, and the lack of flourishes in the room, watched over by strangers who feel like friends, lets you focus on what matters: Great ingredients, treated with care, by a chef who has quietly made Washington a capital of good taste.
Komi: 1509 17th St. NW. 202-332-9200. komirestaurant.com.
Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Prices: Prix fixe $165.
Sound check:75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Fall Dining Guide.
There’s one word for Komi: Impeccable
Unlike 99 percent of restaurants that tell you the chef’s intentions in epic detail, this model of efficiency puts the frequent diner at ease. “This is going to be a short conversation,” says our waiter. “We’re going to cook for you tonight.” At Komi, where James Beard Award winner Johnny Monis rules the kitchen, that’s like saying Meryl Streep is going to do some impersonations. The first flight of courses borders on the precious, but there’s no denying the sublime taste and beauty behind a slip of sea bass anointed with “olive oil from Johnny’s parent’s electrician” back in Greece, or a tiny corn custard gilded with uni and caviar that puts you on the edge of an ocean. A tendril of grilled octopus accented with tomato yogurt and a bit of sourdough topped with sauteed mushrooms might precede a couple of glorious pastas, including downy sheep’s-milk dumplings set off with summery tomato. If you began dinner thinking you’d be stopping off at McDonald’s before the night was over, you’ll be hoisting a white flag after a platter of crisp lamb ribs and rosy chops and two desserts have convinced you otherwise. Seated anywhere other than at the prized window table, you may require an extra votive or two to see the chef’s handiwork. (Let there be light, pretty please?) That said, a little facelift over the summer leaves the dining room looking more the part of a fine-dining lair; the sponged yellow walls have been replaced by white paint or red brick. By all means, splurge on the wine pairings. Few sommeliers rhapsodize about their wares with the flair of wine and service director Kyle Wilson, who makes us feel like we’re right where he has been, digging in the vineyards and drinking with the people responsible for the life in your glass.
The following review appeared as No. 10 on Tom’s Top 10 restaurants in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
A lot of four-star dinners pile on the creature comforts. Komi, a spare yellow dining room that simply covers its tables with linens, impresses visitors instead with uncommon consideration and food that looks exactly like its billing but, in the hands of chef Johnny Monis, tastes as if fairy dust had been sprinkled over it. Scripts and preparations change, although I’d be thrilled to repeat the most tender octopus in memory, gyro-seasoned lamb sausage with fried potatoes and foie gras that summons summer with pickled chanterelles, wild blueberries and sweet corn. The constants: a button of warm seaweed brioche capped with trout roe to start, a couple of perfect pastas, perhaps a rustic chunk of meat that trumpets the chef’s Greek heritage and, with the check, house-made lollipops in such fascinating flavors as rhubarb with sumac. To splurge on the wine pairings is to meander around France and Italy, and Germany and Spain, under the wing of a knowledgeable storyteller. Monis, one of the finest chefs of his generation, has always marched to his own beat. Komi, his modern Greek temple, makes an ample case for doing it his way.
The Top 10 of 2016:
The following review was originally published as part of The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide. Komi was No. 9 on Tom’s top 10 in 2015.
Hate surprises? Consider a restaurant other than Komi, the modern Greek restaurant from Johnny Monis and his wife, Anne Marler, in Dupont Circle. All you’ll be asked at the outset is if you have allergies or restrictions (the kitchen can handle them) and whether you want wine pairings for an extra $70 a person (just nod yes). Beyond that, you’re simply told to expect some little bites followed by bigger ones and invited to relax and let the restaurant take care of you.
That Komi does — exquisitely — for the next several hours. One-bite wonders, many involving fish, swim to the table: warm seaweed brioche capped with shimmering caviar; rosy sea trout garnished with its roe, crisp skin and a sliver of tangy cucamelon; a soft coin of carrot gilded with sea urchin; perhaps grilled Spanish octopus poised on a puddle of pureed golden raisins. A tiny block of panisse (chickpea cake) topped with a quenelle of smoked vegetables proves that the kitchen doesn’t need flesh to impress, although the centerpiece of a recent dinner — roasted lamb neck escorted by house-baked pita and hummus — brought Greece to Washington. Smart and engaging, the servers are the sort you want to invite to your next cookout. “We drank oceans of this on our beach vacation,” a sommelier says as he pours my new favorite sauvignon blanc blend, Nico Lazaridi, from Drama, Greece.
Louder than I remember it at peak hours, the spare, sponge-yellow dining room hasn’t changed much since Komi opened in 2003; the restaurant pours all its effort into feeding you, body and soul — a four-star priority.