Monday, August 6, 2007

Nicoise-Inspired Salad

The 90+ degree temperatures in DC have made me reluctant to use the stove or, God forbid, the oven that without fail causes my smoke alarm to go off every time I turn it on. I'm not a big fan of cold salads with just lettuce and raw veg, so a little stove-action is necessary. This variation of a Nicoise salad requires very little time spent standing in front of the stove, and it leaves a minimum of dishes to wash - perfect for a hot summer night when all I want to do is sit on the couch in front of the air conditioner, watching Anthony Bourdain eat exotic cuisine on the Travel Channel.

Nicoise-Inspired Salad

1 handful new potatoes
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
a few small radishes, thinly sliced
1 can tuna in water, drained
1-2 eggs
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Place eggs in a small pot, cover with cold water, set over med-high flame until water boils. Remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. Remove eggs and rinse in cold water, then place in ice water for two minutes. Peel, slice into wedges, and set aside.
2. While eggs are cooking, place potatoes in a separate pot, cover with cold salted water, set over med-high flame, and boil until potatoes are easily pierced with a small knife. Remove potatoes, rinse in cold water, and place in ice water until cool. Slice in half if necessary and set aside.
3. While eggs and potatoes are cooking, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Mix potatoes, tuna, tomatoes, and radishes with vinaigrette. Top with egg slices. Enjoy.

This is a very forgiving recipe which can be added to, subtracted from, or otherwise altered. Next time I'll try some chopped parsley and steamed green beans (in classic Nicoise salad style). Canneloni (white) beans would also be good and add some more substance. Whatever you choose, just make sure the ingredients are fresh - that makes all the difference.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Komi (Washington, DC)

1509 17th St. NW
Washington, DC

Johnny Monis, chef/owner of the acclaimed restaurant Komi, was recently named one of the best new chefs of the year by Food and Wine magazine. Following this accolade, the menu became prix fixe only with no ala carte items, raising the cost to a cool $78/person (more for the extended prix fixe with wine pairings). So I was thrilled to be able to experience the magic without paying the price when the sb took me there for my birthday last weekend.

The dining room reminds me of Obelisk with its single, small, narrow dining room which holds at most 20 tables (although that may be overestimating). The decor is simple yet elegant - but one knows that one's surroundings will no longer matter once the food appears. At the far end of the room, an open doorway allows a tantalizing glimpse into the kitchen and occasional chef sightings. (By the way, Chef Monis is not at all bad looking and the sb had to glare at me on more than one occasion as I stared longingly at the door.)

We opted for the normal prix fixe menu which includes a parade of tasting appetizers called mezzethakia, a pasta course, entree, and dessert. We chose a bottle of red Greek wine, with the help of the waiter who was generous enough to pour us tastings of our two choices before we made our decision. It ended up being truly helpful as our first choice was good but nothing special, while the second choice was something to be savored - fruity, complex, with a lingering taste on the tongue.

The mezzethakia began arriving, one by one, spaced rather far between (a little too far for our ravenous appetites). With the succession of each one, the puddle of drool by my plate grew larger. Just kidding, but they really were exceptional and each one was more innovative than the last. We had:
  • house Greek olives
  • a single French Breakfast radish, sliced in half, topped with butter and salmon roe
  • amberjack sashimi with olive oil, sea salt, and chives
  • caramelized dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese
  • grape gazpacho topped with mustard greens and almonds
  • a tiny, adorable gyro with oxtail croquette, tzatzkiki sauce, and pomegranate molasses
  • an octopus tentacle with avocado and quail egg over pork-braised lentils
  • a skewer of feta croquette, tomato, basil, and watermelon with corn vinaigrette
We were also provided with a small pot of homemade crackers in savory flavors of sesame, paprika, and thyme and asiago. We quickly devoured these and received a second pot which we consumed at a more sedate pace throughout the meal. If they sold these in a market, I would keep an unlimited supply in my pantry. They are just THAT good!

The rest of the meal was unfortunately not as exciting as the mezzethakia. For the pasta course, I ordered pappardelle with milk roasted baby goat ragu, which was good but rather oversalted. Tom's tagliatelle with blueberries and guanciale (like bits of bacon) was unique and tasty, but like my dish, the serving size was tiny - three bits, max? Our entrees were also disappointingly small. My suckling pig confit came with the pig served three ways - regular confit, with black truffle moussaka, and third way which now escapes my memory - and was accompanied by two stringy looking lengths of grilled spring onion and two types of pistachio sauce. The confit, especially the one with moussaka, was mouthwatering and perhaps it was intentionally small as a larger portion of the rather fatty meat would have made me feel quite sick. Tom ordered the Colombia River sturgeon with pineapple and fennel which was only average.

However, dessert came and once again, the puddle of drool appeared. Tom had mentioned by birthday when making the reservation, and to our surprise and pleasure, the server brought out a complimentary dessert tasting from the pastry chef. I'm not exactly sure what it was but it included something like candied lemon and was a one-bite delight. I especially liked the words "Happy Birthday" written in beautiful chocolate script on the side of the dish. My dessert was even better - Greek donuts with lavender honey, served with a cup of the most decadent chocolate mascarpone mousse. The unique taste of the honey made the donuts truly spectacular, and I followed each bite with a spoonful of the mousse, feeling utterly spoiled through it all. I didn't pay much attention to Tom's dessert, a coconut panna cotta with apricot sorbet, but the one small bite I had was pretty good.

I can't finish this review without raving about the service. I've already mentioned the wine tasting and the birthday treat, but service went above and beyond in the tiniest details. Tom excused himself to the restroom twice - on each occasion, a server rushed to replace his napkin with a fresh one, folded and placed next to his plate. The second time, Tom attempted to be helpful by folding his own napkin and placing it next to his plate so that the server wouldn't feel the need to replace it. It almost fooled them - almost, but not quite! Right before he got back to the table, not one but TWO servers rushed to replace the "soiled" napkin. Water refills were prompt and our cups were never empty. The bottle of wine we ordered was placed on a nearby table instead of taking up space on ours, and our server refilled our glasses frequently so we never ran out of the vino. The icing on the cake was the adorable homemade sassafras-lime lollipops that accompanied our check to "sweeten the deal", as our server said.

Would I return to Komi? Without a doubt. Unfortunately, the price makes it a special-occasions-only kind of place and my birthday is only once a year...