Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Johnny Monis is my favorite.1

I really, really wish that I were better about blogging the delicious meals that I've eaten.  (I less emphatically wish that I were better about blogging my own kitchen experiments.)  It's a big time investment to catalog each dish over the course of a long meal -- forget a food-oriented vacation, as most of ours are -- and my account is littered with barely started-to-half finished posts going back almost a decade, including one on Komi from June 2007.  (Also, wow: I apparently started this blog more than nine years ago.)  Enough time passes and I have a hard time recalling details without the memory trigger of posts and/or photos.  But an anomalous three Monis meals in two weeks2 is just what I need to excite me out of my blogging dormancy.

Starting in the middle of these two weeks:  I've only been to Little Serow twice; the no-substitutions menu isn't often pescatarian-friendly enough to be worth it.  The first time, back in November, the only dish we couldn't eat was the pork ribs; Josh has never been so happy to be our friend as he was on that night.  But after months of three-plus meat dishes, we jumped at last week's comparatively pesca two-dish menu (not counting the pork rinds to start; the dip can be slathered on vegetables, so we don't count that).  The weather was finally beautiful, sunny and in the 60s when I got on line around 4:20.  We got the second seating (around 7:30), because the group of four immediately ahead of us in line got the last 5:30 p.m. four-top.

I can't say enough good things about the staff at both Little Serow and Komi (especially Bill, Arjav, and co-owner/wife-of-Johnny Anne3).  They are all just so friendly, enthusiastic/knowledgeable about their restaurants, and freakishly good about remembering people (at least in our experience).  As soon as we walked in, the hostess remembered that Adam and I are both pescatarian (and Beth said that she wrote down our names as Adam and Jessica -- close enough) without our saying a thing.  We always get numerous "welcome back"s.  (While remembering those details is a nice touch, I have no doubt that anyone would receive equally warm treatment.)

At most restaurants (including even Komi or other favorites), there are at least a dish or two where I would have edits, but Little Serow deploys spice, acid, and herbs so well, and is so different from any other Thai food with which I am familiar, that I don't have any critique to offer (notwithstanding that it pushes the limits of my wussy spice tolerance!).

I hear good things about the pork rinds, but I like how crisp raw vegetables tempered the spice and funk of  the dip of eggplant, shrimp paste, and khi nu chilies (nam prik makhuea).  Loved the gingery, Riesling-based housemade vermouth that accompanied it.  (Little Serow and Komi do great, interesting pairings; I always appreciate the inclusion of non-wine rounds, like the interestingly sour hard cider that came later.)

The tom kha pla chorn soup with snakehead fish balls, galangal, and lime leaf is where the spice really started to hit me, but balling up bits of the sticky rice helped, and I kept going back for more.  Basically the platonic ideal of a coconut milk-based Thai soup (even as my nose started to run and my mouth burned).

The noodle-like fresh rice crepe dish with pea shoots and crispy garlic (khao soi song chan) was one one of my favorites of the night for its novelty -- unlike anything on our previous trip (and a bit of a break from the heat of the meal).  Definitely felt like more of a spring-y dish than most.

The dishes started to pile up as we held on to any plate that wasn't scraped clean.  Soon we're scooping up spicy minced catfish, shallots, and lanna spices (laap pla duk chiang mai) with slices of green cabbage.  (They're great about keeping the drinks, vegetables, and rice coming!)

My other favorite dish was the tofu, cilantro root, and peanut (tow hu thouk), which we'd had before -- a satisfyingly toothsome mix of fried tofu and crunchy peanuts, red onions and liberal cilantro, the spiciness of the former contrasted by freshness of the latter.

Because we wouldn't eat either the duck or the pork ribs, Anne delivered a lovely off-menu dish of fish (snapper, I think?), bright with lime juice.  (Caleb loved both meat dishes; Beth griped about the yolky soft egg on the duck.)  We were given both a Lambrusco and a beer to accompany the snapper; enjoyed both, but Adam and I agreed that the Lambrusco was the better pairing.

The last bite of coconut custard and sweet sticky rice makes me wish they did more dessert!


With our two Komi meals two weeks apart, we had assumed that much of the meal would be the same, and while there was a lot of (understandable) overlap, I was surprised by the number of things that were at least slightly different.  (Differences noted as I recall them.  Attempting to remember details makes me long for the early days of a printed menu and permitted photography.  I'm likely forgetting things; I'm definitely recounting out of order.  I have a lot of strong but unspecific memories of "that was great.")

My memory of the first bite -- a roe-laden cracker -- from our first dinner is fuzzy beyond "not bad, I like roe," was totally eclipsed by the fantastic revision to a chickpea cracker and bright pea puree, which held their own against the salty bubbles on top.  I wanted to eat a bag of those chips, Adam wanted a vat of the pea puree to dunk them in.

My favorite of two crudo bites was surprisingly horse mackerel (not my favorite raw fish) with some sort of tiny bits of (pickled?) radish and chili oil.  Delicious.

I suspect that our mushroom cigars, while perfectly enjoyable, weren't as good at Andrew and Jay's of foie gras.

Ricotta on toast with tomatillo jam (I think?) was so amazing that I'm left with an overwhelming memory of "awesome," despite my inability to recall details.

The anchovy soup that we've loved since Jay got it as a sub for a cheese dish last October is still frothy umami awesomeness.  (Although it was described as "seafood" soup this time by the server who dropped it off, I'm not sure how it's different, if at all.)

A new dish at the second dinner of diced raw scallop and (pickled?) rhubarb with mint got mixed reviews.  Andrew and I were persuaded that it worked, so long as there was enough of the sweet scallop in the bite to stand up to the rhubarb, which could too easily overwhelm when we didn't scoop up an adequate proportion.  Maybe fewer/smaller chunks of rhubarb would have helped?  Everyone agreed that we would have edited out the mint, which highlighted the rhubarb to the scallop's detriment.

I'm not entirely persuaded that the pairing of scrambled sea urchin (whimsically served in an eggshell) and a fried garlic knot do much for each other, but they're both so good that I'm not complaining.  (The first time we were surprised that there wasn't any egg in the scramble.  Chilton's non-urchin take on the L'Arpege egg was also quite good.)  The garlic knot in particular was one of the surprise highlights of the first meal, and didn't disappoint on the second.

When gnocchi arrived during the first dinner, we were worried that the mezze were already over; luckily not.  That gnocchi may be the best that I've ever had, and again I can barely recall what was on it.  I'm going to guess butter and maybe truffle?  It would fit with my vague recollection of rich deliciousness.  Still excellent -- but maybe not quite as much, different prep? -- the second time.

Some sort of exotic grain was delicious with a bit of roasted sunchoke in place of (apparently even more delicious) duck heart; an appropriate transition out of winter.

Unfortunately, a fantastic first-meal dish of roasted carrots, yogurt, and sliced finger lime, which had an unexpectedly Middle Eastern flavor profile, wasn't quite as good with the substitution of radishes (some roasted, some raw) for the carrots, whose sweetness I missed.

The Komi date never disappoints (although home experimentation still makes me skeptical of the claim that it only contains mascarpone), except insofar as it signals the end of the mezze.

Both times I enjoyed the cheese agnolotti, but it was much less memorable than the gnocchi.  The second time, there were leeks on either the gnocchi or the agnolotti?  Queue the refrain of "can't remember" . . .

Komi #1 had the red snapper with crisped scales that we've enjoyed before, accompanied by a fantastically smoky beet puree.  Of course we reordered round after round of the pita and condiments.  Komi #2 saw the return of their classic salt-baked sea bass; for the first time ever, I said I'd filet it myself, and I did a totally respectable job.  (Unfortunately, no one else seemed as impressed with me as I was with myself.)  As moist as ever, only enhanced by accompaniments of some sort of brilliantly green herb sauce, delicious escarole (Adam asked for seconds), and roasted alliums (garlic and cipollinis!).  After not having had it for a few trips, we were nostalgically happy to eat it again.  Arjav gets high marks for bringing us more of the ricotta toast that we had loved so much earlier, and it successfully prevented us from reordering quite as much pita this time.

A rich chocolate and olive oil pre-dessert was fantastic both times.  Honey-drenched doughnuts and ice cream were good but not stand-out.  I don't love the olive white chocolate -- not a huge white chocolate fan -- but the lollipops are reliably delightful.

The pairings were as fun as always, including Duchesse de Bourgogne sour ale (apparently available at Whole Foods?), a not-too-funky orange wine that smelled of roses (not our favorite orange wine, but I give it points for being a different example of the style), and an effervescent-but-not-too-sweet dessert wine that I then stole from Jay when he didn't finish his.  Unfortunately, a bottle of '79 Haut Brion Blanc that Adam had brought was more heavily oxidized than we'd have liked (although it opened into a bit of a longer finish as it sat).  (As much as we like oxidized wines, it drowned out the white Bordeauxness that we'd wanted; wasn't like we'd planned to open a (much younger) white Rioja.)

We need more friends to visit from out of town with special occasions to celebrate so that we have an excuse to go back soon.

1 chef in D.C.  (See, Adam, sometimes I can cabin my favoritism.  :))
2 Okay, technicality: I've started this post on Thursday, before our second Komi dinner tomorrow. Anticipation as inspiration.
3 And she has the best dresses.  It was a highlight of the night when she complimented the dress I was wearing (which was inherited from Melissa), as did two other staff members -- quite the sartorial victory.
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