With my 30th birthday coming up, I knew Rachel had something up her sleeve. I just didn’t know when, and importantly, where we would go.
We started this tradition of surprising each other back in ’09 when we got engaged with a dinner at CityZen which was unbeknownst to Rachel until we literally arrived at the Mandarin Oriental. From there, we took turns at who could one-up the other with surprise meals at Volt’s Table 21, Restaurant Eve, and Sushi Taro.
This time, however, I had let my guard down.
Considering that my birthday is May 19, I had no idea that Rachel’s plan would be executed a little more than two weeks prior to my 30th. As it turns out, she secretly collaborated with our friend Casey as her husband Keith also recently turned 30 in order to surprise us both.
Essentially, everyone was in on the plans except the husbands.
Coincidentally, I had asked Rachel what I should wear Friday morning since she had mentioned about going to Hank’s Oyster Bar for happy hour later that evening. Considering that I typically dress down on casual Fridays, it fortunately turned out that my wardrobe choice was optimal for where we were eventually going to go for dinner.
Once we had met up with our friends at the Dupont Circle Metro, we made our way towards Hank’s. And then we passed it. Confused, and with the girls staying silent, I thought that maybe we were going to Agora instead. Once again, everyone continued walking until we reached the steps of Komi. And then we stopped.
Needless to say, I was completely taken aback. And then really, really excited.
Rachel and Casey just pulled one of the greatest coups by not only securing a reservation for four at one of the best restaurants in all of DC, but by keeping it a secret for well over a month! My wife and friends are so awesome.
Now that I’m already 300+ words deep without going into the food, I suppose I should talk about our absolutely wonderful meal…
Komi isn’t like most restaurants. They don’t even have a menu. Diners simply take a seat and are taken on a whimsical journey of some of the best food you’ll ever have in the District.
Considering that Komi disallows its patrons from taking pictures of its food, I apologize in advance for the lack of images as some of the plates they served were visually stunning. I also want to apologize if I don’t go into full detail about each of our many courses as there was simply too much to remember and, well, I didn’t write everything down.
Anyway, our meal started off with several amuse-bouches, or small bites.
The first was a brioche bun with Greek yogurt, sea beans, and salmon roe. With one bite, I could tell that this was going to be an exceptional evening. It was only going to get better from here.
There were two other crudo dishes that followed, but I honestly can’t remember all of the details. I do recall that they paired one of the crudo with the freshest beets we have ever tried.
The scallop two ways was up next – one served in a shell, and one on a spoon. I preferred the one on the spoon over the shell in terms of taste, but they were both great.
The next course featured burrata cheese with asparagus. It’s hard to explain this dish given the complexity of the flavors, but somehow, it just worked. Chef Johnny Monis is obviously a master of his craft.
After that we were served salmon with crème fraiche and a toasted chip. Now we’re talking! It was like a deconstructed version of bagels and lox. An abundance of flavor found in such a small package.
The small, savory plate of smoked foie gras (served chilled) was terrific. Served with black trumpet mushrooms, pea shoots, and strawberries, it wasn’t a generous portion by any stretch, but it literally melted in your mouth. The foie gras that was atop the tuna at the Inn at Little Washington, however, holds a dear place in my heart.
Their take on Spanikopita was so creative – the ingredients were liquidly infused inside a crispy ball while rightfully acknowledging the original Greek dish.
The portions began to increase at this point. Up first was one of Komi’s legendary dishes – their take on a DC staple: the half-smoke. I have long heard about how Chef Monis’ recipe is an ode to the District, but let me tell you, this one knocked it out of the park. Using sausage, grounded in-house no less, tucked inside a housemade toasted bun, and then topped with tomato marmalade, the half-smoke was exceptional. But wait, along with a homemade pork rind seasoned with Old Bay, Komi paired the dish with a Lagunitas IPA! Just brilliant all around. It was at this point that we spotted the chef himself serving dishes in the dining room. Let’s just say, Rachel was swooning about as much as she did over Mr. Voltaggio at Volt.
The roasted dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese. Wow, just wow. Unanimously one of our favorite plates of the night. The sweet and salty combination was flawlessly executed with this dish. I could have eaten a table’s worth myself.
The egg yolk ravioli with shaved tuna kicked off the pasta course. My word was this delicious. While watching others cut theirs in half where the egg yolk drained out of the pasta, I instead ate the entire piece of ravioli whole. Granted I wanted to ration it, but this way I was able to enjoy every last drop of yolk stuffed inside.
Our waiter then served us tagliatelle with seafood ragu and fried caper berries. The pasta, prepared in-house of course, was fine and delicate while the cod added some nice flavor to the dish. It might have been lost in the shuffle coming off the high that was the half-smoke and ravioli, but the excellent pasta, as well as the ragu, stole the show.
Then, it was time for our main course. The table received two massive plates of meat: one was Katsikki, or roasted goat shoulder, while the other was suckling pig. It also came with four pieces of wonderfully prepared warm pita bread that were so fluffy that they nearly resembled the texture of pancakes. Additionally, we received two plates of “condiments” which included the best tzatziki we have ever tasted (and we’ve been to Greece!), picked radishes, olive horseradish spread, roasted red peppers, and lemon salt.
The four of us then concocted our own gyros using some of the finest quality ingredients courtesy of Komi and their kitchen. Based on Keith and Casey’s recommendation (they had been to Komi before), they suggested that I try the suckling pig skin first. Crispy, salty, and savory is all I can say. Meanwhile the actual meats, both pig and goat, were incredibly tender and so full of flavor that I almost felt bad adding any toppings. All four of us were in heaven while going to town on the two plates. They even provided an additional set of pita and condiments so we wouldn’t have to waste the small amount of goat that was still on the serving dish.
With the entrée being a hard act to follow, the cheese course featured a miniature biscuit stuffed with housemade Mizithra cheese. The cheese was light and mild and was a nice way to bring us down from the highs that we incurred from the previous course.
After the cheese course, our waiter presented a cardboard box (adorned with me and Keith’s names) which contained, as our waiter described, a homemade take on ROLOS. If only the real ROLOS tasted this good. I popped one of these cardamom-scented treats in my mouth and the caramel contained inside was of a caliber you typically do not find in Hershey assortments. On top of that, the chocolate used made Komi’s version all the more memorable.
What followed next was a dish composed of olive oil gelato, balsamic-glazed strawberries, and a lemon shortbread cookie that each couple shared. So refreshing and refined.
The next dessert, which was our favorite of the night, was the chocolate square infused with peanut butter, caramel, and sea salt. Holy moly, words alone cannot do this dessert justice. It was just that good. The crunchy, salty texture of the square was one of the best flavor combinations for a dessert I have ever come across. Simply heavenly. This alone would have been amazing, but accompanying the sinful dessert on the same plate was caramelized banana with coconut sorbet. While also delightful, it just didn’t compare to the chocolate/peanut butter/caramel/salty goodness.
Our final course, which was more of a take-home treat, was their elderberry lollipops – one for each of us.
We skipped on the wine pairings and instead got a bottle of white, red, and dessert wines throughout the evening. Komi even had Grande Reserve Naoussa by Boutari, a winery we visited while in Santorini during our honeymoon last year.
It goes without saying, but we have to mention how amazing the service was throughout the meal. The way Komi works is that there is no set waiter, but instead we were graced with several different staff members tending to us throughout the night. We seemed to have a main server who started off the evening, as well as a sommelier, but at one point we looked like we wanted another bottle of wine and within a minute someone else was on hand to take our order.
Our waters were refilled as soon as they were half empty, and a fresh napkin was brought out or refolded within seconds of someone leaving to go to the restroom. There was definitely a laid-back vibe and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing some of our favorite artists in the background during our meal.
Without a doubt, this was the best meal we have ever had in DC proper. After years of hearing about Komi being the top restaurant in the District, we finally have justification to backup that very same claim.
I am fortunate to not only have dinner at one of the most celebrated restaurants in all of Washington, but to also spend my 30th amongst my wonderful wife and close friends who conspired behind this great surprise. I cannot express my gratitude enough. Rachel’s birthday will be quite the challenge come November.