An evening at Komi is everything you expect a four-course, $135-per-person, James-Beard-awarded, impossible-to-get-into restaurant to be. My husband and I went recently to celebrate our anniversary, and the service and the food captured the essence of a “special occasion.” The only thing I wished for was a dance break between the courses (more on that below). You can’t take pictures at Komi, so you’ll just have to read about our experience at this magical restaurant:
Eleven-year-old Komi is located in a row house on stretch of 17th Street ripe with bars and restaurants, almost directly between Dupont Circle and Logan Circle. The dining room is simple, low-lit and intimate, which made for a fun contrast with what was going on outside its large front window on the night we were there: The High Heel Drag Race. Inside, we were couples and foursomes (you can’t make reservations for more than four) enjoying candlelit meals; outside decked-out beauties in heels paraded down the street. Komi’s small dining room provides a simple jewel box for a special occasion; it also provides plenty of room to feel urban, youthful and fun.
Komi’s announcement on its website – “No pictures, please” – had me concerned that a certain level of pretension would accompany our meal. I was 100 percent wrong. The wait staff was warm, funny and friendly. Even their “uniform” was approachable – the women wore 50s-style shirtdresses and the men wear sharp suits and colorful ties. Nothing could have tested the pretension factor better than my friend who wandered in looking for me: He’d participated in the High Heel Drag Race and was in full regalia, wearing a wig, spooky contacts, a dress and heels. And then he whipped out a camera. What did a passing waiter do when he saw us grinning into the phone for a selfie? Offer to take our picture for us.
When I made reservations, the hostess asked if we had any food allergies or preferences. Komi is a no-menu restaurant, and I knew their contemporary Greek-inspired offerings were sometimes exotic, so I specified that my husband was not a fan of raw fish or meats. At our table, a waitress asked for more specifics about his likes and dislikes and then discussed substitutes. Although the hubby was a little self-conscious, she asked questions with kindness and a complete lack of judgment. I really respected their willingness to make sure us both of us enjoyed our meals.
The meal began with three one-bite plates served one at a time: a brioche topped with roe; a tiny, delicate scallop; and fried, crispy sweet breads. Next we were served two pastas. The main was pork served with bread and sides. I think we had two desserts. I’m sorry I don’t have more details -- I couldn’t take pictures, we had no menu, and, most importantly, I was actually spending the evening enjoying my husband’s company. I am NOT a trained food critic, so I won’t even attempt to go into the intricacies of the food we were served. What I can tell you is this:
- Each bite caused us to stop, savor and think. Not one plate was boring or even just plain good.
- The presentations of the food were beautiful but not overwrought. The simplicity of the plating, décor and staff shines the light on the food.
- Each serving was small. We were still stuffed by the end of the night. Come to Komi starving.
Because it was a special occasion (and because my parents had provided a gift certificate for the meal as a birthday present – thanks Mom and Clay!!), we decided to splurge and get the $70-per-person wine pairing to go with our meal. And while the meal without the wine pairing would have been wonderful, the variety and uniqueness of the wines we were introduced to put it over the top.
Our sommelier was the best sommelier I have ever encountered. With every new wine he brought, he painted a picture. Rather than focusing on “notes of this, that and the other” (I can find my own notes, thank you), he told a story: an interesting tale about the French grower, a bit of history about a Countess, what makes the grapes of Lebanon unique. We had wine from France, Germany, Spain, Lebanon, a sour beer from I can’t remember where, a cider from Vermont. Some were great on their own, but all were perfect with the food they were paired with.
The wine pairing and the storytelling truly transformed the meal into an experience. We were shocked when, near the end of our meal, we realized three hours had passed. I mentioned to my husband that all the night was missing was an activity. What if they took a break after the first course, had a live band play beginning-of-the-night music you could dance to, a little Donny Hathaway or young Stevie Wonder? Then another break after the main course, slow music to help you digest progressing into a stuff a little harder, maybe a little James Brown? And then at the end of the night, the band breaks out into a full-on Prince-Aretha-Marvin "Let's Get It On" dance party?
I'm sorry. Dinner at Komi makes me wax rhapsodic. I've had some wonderful meals, but it's rare that a meal turns into such a transportive event.
1509 17th Street NW (between P & Q Streets)Washington DC 20036
Open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner; Call (202) 332-9200 for reservations.
In-Between Tip: The only difficult part of the Komi experience is getting the chance to step through the door. You have to call to make reservations, the reservation line is only open from 12-4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, and you can only call a month in advance. I was on hold for at least 30 minutes each time I called. I called at noon on the dot in an attempt to get a Saturday reservation a month away -- forget about it. Folks wiser than me had already filled the spots by the time they answered my call. So how did we get in? We chose the path of least resistance and went on a Tuesday.