Author’s Note: At Borderstan.com you’ll always get food news from writers who actually eat in our neighborhood. They know where to find the newest rooftop bars, the brunch with unlimited Mimosas, and the best vegetarian options in the city. That’s why we’re giving you a chance to get to know the writers who bring you the best eats Borderstan has to offer. So, grab your fork and take a seat at our table.
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Dan Segal is a Food Writer for Borderstan.
What’s the best resto in DC? Why?
Segal: If we’re talking best, my spot of the moment is Little Serrow. Johnny Monis turns out traditional yet exciting Thai food and is by far the best chef in our city right now.
However, my favorite spot to eat is Great Wall Szechuan House. This place has been my go-to on lazy nights and rainy days ever since I first moved to DC. The regular Chinese is just fine, but their ma la items (Szechuan style and extremely spicy) are truly special.
Describe your food writing style; what kind of story are you looking to tell?
Segal: My food writing style has always been a bit light-hearted and off the cuff, with (hopefully) a touch of insight. Cooking has been a passion of mine since I was a little kid, so I like to think that I have a commendable understanding of good ingredients and good taste. I like to find the uniqueness of a certain place or food and really touch on that. At the end of the day, I’m really just trying to express how good food impacts my life and to share these experiences with our readers.
Which food writers are inspiring you right now? Who do you look to for food news?
Segal: My most oft-read food blogs are The Amateur Gourmet (I just really like Adam Roberts’ recipes), Serious Eats (the best source ever for food geeks) and Eater DC (the go-to for hot news on DC restaurants). The food writers that really inspire me are Marco Pierre White and Jonathan Gold, both of whom are amazing writers who also happen to talk about great food.
What is your version of comfort food?
Segal: I want to say a juicy, medium-rare cheeseburger with a side of chips or a piping-hot bowl of Pho. But, when it comes down to it, I’d have to say my ultimate comfort food is a cheesesteak sub from Dino’s sub shop in Margate, NJ (right next to Atlantic City). Not only is this the single best sandwich I have ever eaten, but both of my parents were born and raised in this small town (and I still visit my grandmother there all the time), so it is always close to my heart.
What is the cooking tool you can’t live without?
Segal: My hands. I know it’s not technically a “tool,” but I use my hands for everything in the kitchen. Mixing spoon, spatula, fork, you name it. I love the tactile part of cooking and to be able to feel my food. Cooking is definitely a contact sport.
Borderstan welcomes a new food writer to the team, Kim Vu. A DC resident since 2005, he works in international development by day. He also has his own food blog, DC Wrapped Dates. Follow him at @dcwrappeddates or email him at kim[AT]borderstan.com.
The best meals are the ones you relive over and over again, year after year; Komi remains that way for me. Still, with the opening of Little Serow and its accompanying hype, it’s fairly easy to forget Johnny Monis’s old place in favor of his new baby, what with the restaurant’s “no reservations” rule and its relatively low price point at Little Serow.
And beyond that, the now four straight No. 1’s in the Washingtonian Top 100 means that the Greek-Mediterranean spot needs no further plaudits. Still, here are three quick reasons on why you need to grab a table at Dupont Circle’s Komi for your next special occasion:
All the Perks of an Upscale Restaurant; None of the Pretention
Unlike most of its “Best Restaurant in DC” contemporaries, which sometimes make you feel uncomfortable if you’re sans blazer, Komi is casual and low-key, its clean rustic country atmosphere building a level of comfort over pretention. What’s more, it features some of the best service in the city, led by gregarious sommelier Kat Bangs; on our trip, she not only nailed the pairings, but was friendly and engaging. For a dinner that needs to be just right, it’s these little things that cinch up a great night.
A Tasting Menu Designed for Interaction
Perhaps no other kitchen in the city seamlessly combines innovation with clean, traditional flavors better than Komi. On our trip, a classic and delicate kingfish duo of loin with chives and belly with juniper came right before a dish that blended burrata and sea urchin. Moreover, the latter courses are entirely family style, capped by a shared suckling goat or lamb or Wagyu beef filet.
Wandering through this menu with friends or dates means constantly asking the other person, “What do you think about this combination?” or sharing a delicious bite between the table. Then again, the conversation really might just end up being, “Mmmmm.”
Two Words: Spanakopita, Half-Smoke
That being said, two of my favorite dishes of the night – and two of the recurring ones on Chef Monis’s constantly shifting menu — were plays on time-honored classics (and delicious ones at that). Komi’s spanakopita is a one-bite breaded ball, with liquid spinach inside the crust. Beautifully creamy and just the right amount of hot, it’s a brilliant bite that for me recalled Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the restaurant’s take on DC’s signature dish is just as sharp, an entirely housemade sausage on a brioche bun with a flavor and texture pattern that tasted more like high-end steak than Ben’s Chili Bowl.
It takes a lot for a restaurant to live up to its hyperbole, but amazingly Komi lives up to it, and often exceeds it.
For a play-by-play of the meal, visit DC Wrapped Dates.
Sometimes a gift isn’t about getting a toy that will sit on a shelf, but rather an experience, an adventure, or in this case a taste of something special. I had a chance to visit Little Serow, the “little sister” of Johnny Monis’ Komi on 17th Street NW. Like its sibling, Little Serow is a prix fixe menu and at $45 it is definitely reserved for a special occasion.
Finding the restaurant requires knowing where to find Komi — Serow is tucked underneath the formidable restaurant, a couple of doors north — and is in need of a blue light, a la PX Lounge. The mood of Monis’ second location is sparse — it is sea foam green underground with hushed lighting and industrial place settings. The all-female waitstaff has precise uniforms — vintage small-print dresses with tights and oxfords. And the open kitchen is situated in the back of the long room like a bartender keeping watch over its regulars.
The Isaan-style Thai menu changes weekly and is served family style on small plates. Accompanying the dishes are basic vegetables like cabbage, radicchio and cucumbers, plus truly sticky rice to act as utensils for the meal. As for drinks, the menu has beer (traditional Thai beer, as well as German offerings), red, white and sparkling wines, and the rather lesser known ice wine, which is offered as the pairing recommendation to the meal.
During my trip to Little Serow we tasted seven dishes, in addition to a small dessert bite. We started with crispy pork rinds with a duck liver pate — a flavorful kick of heat from the pork rinds sets the tone for the meal. If you’ve been to a Thai restaurant you will know that the spicy entrees typically served to Americans have been quietly toned down. Opinions differed at our tables as to the level of heat in the dishes at Little Serow, particularly the catfish dish; some thought it was mouth-searing in its chili flavor, others thought it only mildly spicy.
Our second and third dishes were served simultaneously — two salads: eggplant and pickled garlic, and ground catfish, shallots and chilies. The fourth dish brought a pleasant coolness — a lemongrass shrimp salad with lime leaf — only to raise the stakes again with a heavily herb-infused pork sausage as the fifth dish.
Perhaps the singularly most appreciated portion of the meal was a charred and hammered beef — sweet in its flavor. And finally, a moist, on-the-bone pork rib — listed on the menu as having tamarind and ginger flavors, but ultimately rather bland.
The waitress brought a final dish — a cube of sticky rice and coconut paste with toasted sesame. A simple conclusion to an uncomplicated meal.
The meal is meant to be a celebration of Thai cuisine, but that seems secondary here in its very American setting. Little Serow is, as one of my tablemates noted, a bit like an underground playground for Monis, a place for him to practice and enjoy doing daring things he can no longer do at his established Komi. It is adult dining, but contains a mischievous nod towards the kids’ table. I look forward to seeing Little Serow in its evolution.
Bottom line: Any meal that is $45 per person should be wrapped ceremoniously and enjoyed with much appreciation. Since Monis’ plating and location are both devoid of ceremony, you can be glad that the flavor of his food is not.
- Where Am I Going? 1511 17th Street NW (beneath Komi, two doors north).
- When Am I Going? Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 pm.
- Delivery? Haha.
- Paycheck Pain? $45 per person.
- Say What? Quite loud for a space that only holds about 20 people.
- What You’ll Be Eating: Isaan-style Thai family meal on tapas-sized plates.