You Please the IFA: Komi.

By Ezra Klein

According to her twitter, Ruth Reichl has spent the last 12 hours reliving her dinner at Komi. “Still thinking about last night’s dinner,” she tweets. “Cromesquis of Caesar salad. Extraordinary!” I can beat that: I’ve spent the last 36 hours thinking about my dinner at Komi. And I’m with Reichl: Extraordinary fits.

I should begin by saying two things. The first is that I really didn’t like the Cromesquis of Caesar salad. It’s a fried cube with a burst of Caesar-tasting liquid inside. Technically very impressive. I thought them gross. Big bites of batter invaded by a warm and heavy cream soup. My dinner companions disagreed. Either way, it was the only bite of 17 courses that wasn’t an utter delight.

Thing the second: I hate writing about restaurants I enjoyed. In the hands of an amateur, it’s a dangerous genre. A hunt for synonyms for “good.” But Komi deserves the praise. It’s not just good. And it’s not just extraordinary. It’s thoughtful. There’s a theory to your meal. The degustation menu builds with each bite:  Translucent slivers of yellowtail give way to a small brioche topped with creme fraich and uni.  Both are small. But one bite is larger than the next. It’s a bit more satisfying than the last, a bit bolder and more tangible. Soon enough you’re spooning a fatty salmon ceviche and being served a mound of steak tartare alongside a scoop of black truffle ice cream. Unctuous dates filled with mascapone and accented with crunchy sea salt give way to a hearty sea urchin and crab pasta that pummels anything I tasted at Babbo.

And if this were all there was to the meal, dayenu. But what elevates Komi from a refined procession of small plates into a genuinely innovative experience is the main course.  Depending on how you count, you’ve now had 11-15 small plates. Fragile wisps of fish and light spoonfuls of sorbet. A cube of red pepper gelatin and a puff of fois gras. An animal cracker alongside a goat cheese s’more. They’re bites you savor. You stop. You think through what you’re tasting. You try to hold fast to the experience. But even as you appreciate the dazzling flavors and ingenious combinations, you want their opposite: You want to tear into a burger or bite into a pizza. You want a steak sandwich or a plate of casserole. It’s the dialectic of fine dining.

Komi gives you that release. The main course on my menu was roast suckling pig. The skin was crisp and fatty. The meat was moist and plentiful. Pita bread surrounded the plate. A set of six dips came with the dish. And suddenly, you and your tablemates are reaching over each other and piling on habanero sauce and grabbing the yogurt and taking big bites and stuffing yourselves like it was Thanksgiving. It’s a catharsis of sorts. A total transformation in the feel of the dinner. And it allows Komi to combine the technical brilliance of a fussy, elegant restaurant with the soul-deep satedness of rustic, simple food. The meal doesn’t just build. It actually finishes. It gives you thesis, antithesis, and thus, synthesis. The sensation is hard to describe. But suffice to say, it’s the best meal I’ve had in DC, and one of the best I’ve had anywhere.

Update: In comments, Sam does get at a criticism I’d forgotten to make: The wait staff was, by and large, cold and unfriendly. This was particularly true for our waiter, who seemed to have given up emotional responses to external stimuli as a condition of his employment.

7 responses to “You Please the IFA: Komi.

  1. I am so very jealous. My wife is in grad school so our once-or-maybe-twice-year ability to visit Komi has declined to zero times-a-year. But I remember how amazing a place it is and we must go back.

    And I loved the fried Caesar salads.

  2. i keep hearing rumors about how difficult it is to get reservations there. is it really that impossible? or just impossible for short notice or on weekends?

  3. I really don’t mean to be a contrarian, because that’s such a boring thing to be. But I find myself (apparently) as one of very few DC food-obsessives who doesn’t love Komi.

    I do appreciate the quality and the care and the thought that goes into the food – both the procession of tiny little amuses, and the larger items.

    But as compared to other restaurants in the general range (rich American people’s food) I find it actually pretty depressing. There is no joy in the experience, anywhere other than the plate and the mouth. It’s a gloomy place. There’s no spark anywhere. The “front of the house” staff, in my experience, don’t seem to take pleasure in their jobs. The diner is an unloved king – lots of minions putting in countless hours to bring him wonderful trifles, but without any other sort of interaction or joy.

    Compare (for instance) Citronelle, where on a good day, which is most days, there is a sense of fun in the air as well as on the plate.

  4. Nice use of dayenu this far from Passover!

  5. Pingback: You Sadden The IFA: Per Se « The Internet Food Association

  6. Pingback: So, I went to Komi « The Internet Food Association

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