by Amanda Mattos
Last night, after ages of anticipation and a month of staring at the reservation date on my calendar, I finally went to Komi — the vaunted be all, end all experience in D.C. dining. Our own Ezra called it the best meal he’s had in D.C., and one of the best he’s had anywhere. I was expecting great things.
I got a really good meal. Not a great dining experience. My dining companion and I went all out, with the degustazione service (the chef’s selection of 15 or so courses) and the wine pairings. Expecting a thoughtful arc of increasing innovation and things I’d never tasted or thought about before, I was left feeling like Komi is a bit overrated. If I’d gone in expecting a high-dollar, high-value meal instead of culinary heights the likes of which I’d never seen before or since, I might have enjoyed myself more. But as it was, this just wasn’t my (almost) $250 worth.
Before I jump into discussing the food, I want to mention the setting. That’s the first thing you experience when you walk into a restaurant, and (I think at least) it’s important. There’s a distinct lack of ambiance at Komi — to call the place minimally decorated would be kind, but the few embellishments that are offered seem sort of blank and frankly, low budget. To put it simply, I expected more from the alleged leader in fine, innovative D.C. dining. While warm hues and low lighting might be trademarks of this city’s dining tradition (i.e., steakhouses), they’re not requirements. It’s a small space that would benefit from something — anything — other than walls ragged with a muted yellow color, hard dark wood furniture and candle light. Perhaps Komi’s creators wanted to create an environment where the food itself is the adornment — and all of the food was quite visually appealing. But those courses are served slowly, and over the course of three hours. I found myself craving some sort of visual stimulus to make the experience more comfortable or enthralling.
The meal had its stand outs, to be sure. The salmon cheek with candied pine nuts and shiso sorbet was superb, and unique. The kampachi sashimi with sea salt and chives was delicate and delightful. The mustard diver scallops were impressive. I adored the steamed brioche with salmon roe and meyer lemon creme fraiche (but mostly because I just really love salmon roe). The jamon and halloumi was a song. The pork belly hero bite was balanced and flavorful and impressive.
But the fluke didn’t taste fresh. The other diver scallop treatment (they were served as a duo) was incredibly over-salted and forgettable. The octopus was so over-charred that the only flavor present was burning (my dining companion had to be reminded that it was in fact seafood, not dry, overcooked chicken). (Though, the grilled baby artichokes served with it were very good.) The dates stuffed with mascarpone were overpoweringly and unappetizingly sweet — even with a generous dusting of sea salt. I agree with Ezra that the cromequis of cesar were clever but unpleasantly gooey. The pastas were decent but unremarkable (one stuffed with spinach and topped with fried bits of filo, one a quail pappardelle in tomato sauce).
The entree was a drastic shift from everything that came before it — both in bulk and taste. Ezra found this to be a sort of release, I found it jarring. The roasted goat shoulder was very well prepared, but frankly, I have had better goat. I loved the habanero sauce and the oregano salt, so much so that I spent most of the main course dipping the pita (which was incredible and perfect) into them, foregoing additional servings of meat. But the other sauces didn’t strike my fancy, and the roasted root vegetables added little.
The entree was followed by a cheese course (where I wish the meal had ended). A tiny dessert bite arrived next — oatmeal cream pies that were, while very sweet, flavorful and clever and very good. And the absolute last thing I could possibly think about putting in my body. But! One more course remained. They brought out two final full-sized desserts, and neither stood out. Both were sickeningly sweet — I couldn’t really give you an honest review of their other characteristics, because I couldn’t take more than one bite. Granted, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but both desserts were overwhelming — and not in a good way.
Honestly, it’s not the cost to value that left me cold. I’m actually very glad I went. Some parts of the were delicious. I got to put on a pretty dress. And now I have my own frame of reference for the place everyone talks about. But it wasn’t transcendent. About half of the dishes were lacking, in my opinion. And that doesn’t make for a great meal. Maybe I went on an off night. Maybe it’s just not the place for me. But Komi didn’t blow my mind, and that’s kind of a big bummer.