“I’d like to be known for a comfortable little restaurant that really cares about its product.” That’s what Chef Johnny Monis told the Washington Business Journal in 2004 shortly after opening the now uber-popular Komi restaurant at 17th and P streets in Northwest Washington, D.C. at the ripe old age of 24. Given that since then, Monis has won the prestigious James Beard Award, the restaurant has consistently been ranked among the city’s best, and that there is rarely less than a one-month wait to get a table, it would seem that he has far surpassed those humble goals. But Komi has a special place in my heart for other reasons.
When I first moved to Washington D.C. from Paris in 2004, I lived a few blocks from the restaurant. My youngest son was an infant at the time, and I remember many dinners at Komi with him at the table sleeping in his little portable car seat.
Although I rarely saw the Chef (apparently he prefers to stay in the kitchen), his wife and business partner Anne Marler and the entire staff were kind, welcoming hosts. I remember being very impressed with the originality of the menu, and the way that Monis incorporated his Greek roots into his recipes (Komi is actually the name of a taverna-lined beach on the Greek island of Chios where his parents were born and where he vacationed as a child).
A few things have changed since then, like the decor (which is minimal – spartan, even) and the menu (now a prix fixe formula rather than à la carte), but the essential remains the same. The dining room can still be described as a “comfortable little place” (seating 40 people at most), the staff is attentive and affable as ever, and the service is so well choreographed that you probably won’t notice the subtle nods among them that are cues to clear, serve, and so on.
The food (a “leisurely tasting dinner” according to the restaurant’s website) is served in multiple courses (mezzethakia – we counted twelve, mostly seafood-based and Greek-inspired). As the meal progresses, so do the portions, from bite-size to one large family-style dish (goat, lamb, or fish with pita and traditional Greek condiments) to be shared by the table, followed by a light sweet course.
The best way to describe the experience is just that: “an experience.” Best to sit back, relax, and let the capable staff guide you on a culinary voyage with each course to places that your taste buds might associate with food not only from Greece, but Italy and France, for example. An optional wine pairing is offered for an additional charge, or the friendly and knowledgeable sommelier Meghan McNamara will help you choose a bottle from their extensive list of “primarily Old-World wine and beer” (they don’t serve cocktails).
Tips: This is a “no choices, no substitutions” situation (other than for food allergies, which the wait staff will ask about at the beginning of the meal), so don’t bother asking for the sauce on the side. Also, once the dinner starts, pace yourself, especially when it comes to whatever you are drinking. Chances are you will be there for at least three hours (assuming you are in good company), so think about how you want to look when you finally stand up. Finally, there is a strict no-photo policy in the dining room. My sincere thanks to the Chef for making an exception for me…I’d like to think he did that old times’ sake.
Komi – 1509 17th St. NW – WDC 20010 – (202) 332-9200 – firstname.lastname@example.org