Words by Marcus Dowling
Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Chef Kwame Onwuachi has made a name for himself as a daring tastemaker willing to expand palates and expectations. The Top Chef star’s juggernaut career now finds him at the expansive new SW Waterfront Wharf’s Intercontinental Hotel, presenting the Afro-Caribbean inspired Kith and Kin. A 96-seat venue specializing in highlighting Onwuachi’s Nigerian and New Orleans familial roots, its menu spotlights unique-to-many flavor combinations that oftentimes meet their delicious expectation.
Wednesday evening’s soft opening showcased what may be the most enticing notion about the restaurant, its convivial atmosphere. There is a restaurant space, as well as full bar, and an area at the front meant for lounging. The lounge area is luxuriously appointed and will have a menu of light bites and drinks from the bar. The bar itself, as expected given the theme of the menu, is heavy on delivering rum-based beverages. Of the offerings presented by lead bartender Zac Hoffman, the La Diblesse, which features Grand Marnier Rum, Bombay Sapphire East gin, hibiscus tea rose water, uziza, honey, and sparkling rose that was a true highlight. The blend of well aged organic flavors with premium liquors is one of the specialties of the bar’s diverse presentation.
The classy, yet familial notes continue with the food menu, which offers a significant swath of flavors. The moments of most significant note are when the triangle trade of African and Caribbean flavors commingle and excite. The Mushroom Forest spread that combines eggplant dip, roasted mushrooms, and mushroom spread combines an earthy flavor and hearty feel that’s distinctly African, and also has the appeal of “secret family recipe exposed.” Also, the jollof rice combo with either torched mackerel or dry aged beef is outstanding in that, if a fan of traditional New Orleans offerings, the the roasted garlic and spring onion notes are prominent and familiar. The hint of ginger, as well as the Nigerian red sauce are unexpected, yet ultimately pleasant additions. Combined with the mackerel, it’s a dish that feels very much in the Nigerian tradition. With the aged beef, it’s solid, yet more Midwestern and further up the Mississippi River than the bayous of Louisiana.
Insofar as lighter appetizer offerings, the jerk broccoli on the five item crudite platter and the leek duck prosciutto on the meat and cheese plate are delicious. Their respective spice and salt deliver as standout flavors. Furthermore, the delivery of a hot and cold “seafood plateau” that features outstanding salmon belly escovitch among the six small plates offered was an impressive delivery.
If looking for the true standout reason to add Kith and Kin to your night out at the Wharf, it’s either the “Mom Dukes Peel and Eat Shrimp” or the curried goat that accompanies the roti platter. If Kith and Kin is Onwuachi’s homage to his family, it’s the idea of sucking the brains out of well seasoned and head-on jumbo Gulf shrimp that really drives it home. Not often in the Nation’s Capital are you to find dishes that so seamlessly combine class and comfort. Similar is the curried goat, which for those foreign to eating it, has what can be best described as a not so much peppery, but sweet taste and very much “home cooked” appeal.
Opening up one’s true personality to one’s personal kitchen is a personal choice. However, opening up one’s true personality and familial kitchen to an entire world of curious onlookers is a that requires a bold, yet curious belief that popular culture can withstand and appreciate culinary diversity. At Kith and Kin, Onwuachi, Zac Hoffman and crew excel at delivering a slice of his home that resonates universally.