all photos: Stephanie Breijo
Let me start this out by (sort of) dating myself. I moved to DC in 2003, bright eyed, bushy tailed and with 1.75 friends to my name in town. After work, we mostly did things like cut our own bangs or try out new lipstick colors, and then drove around town in a red jeep, singing along to Prince and trying to figure out where we belonged. Brief but unfortunate (but hilarious!) detours on this quest included one happy hour too many at Cafe Citron, crashing assorted Georgetown Law School socials and 80s nights at Heaven & Hell. Eventually though, we got invited to some random alumni happy hour for my (art) school at Saint-Ex (Fun fact: owner Mike Benson studied Photography at the same school I studied Architecture, which I, at the time took as a sign of sorts) and the second I walked into that basement, and started sweating, I knew I’d found a home away from home.
Over the next ten years, Saint-Ex has served as a great place to make friends, catch up with friends, sweat/dance with friends (only on workday nights! #protip) and yes, EAT WITH FRIENDS. For a while there, while BYT was officeless, they even let us have their wi-fi password and I just took meetings there all afternoon, at least 2-3 days a week. Half of my body weight comes from their sweet potato fries (the other half comes probably that Bees in the Beer cocktail that I drank exclusively for about 13 months in a row).
Now, fast forward to 2013 and going out on 14th street is VERY different than what it was like going out on it on 2003. I mean, if these days, someone tried to set their chest hair on fire on the corner of 14th and S NW, I think someone would actually try and stop them in the process. Still, Saint-Ex is still here and still a true favorite and we are always looking forward to finding out what new things they have up their capable sleeve.
So when we heard a little while back that Chef Billy Klein was leaving and Chef Jesse Miller was stepping in AND redoing the WHOLE MENU, we figured it was time to stop by and check out what we can expect these days. We did submit ourselves to a 18 course situation here (for research!), and while we will try and touch up on most favorites – we figured we’d also break 3 major points for you:
- EVERYTHING was very delicious and very impressive
- DON’T WORRY-this is still very much a neighborhood place, it is just a little more ambitious now, and that is a good thing.
- the sweet potato fries are still there.
The menu, still as seasonal as ever, is separated into categories: VEGETABLES, KING SALMON, LAMB, PIG FOR TWO and naturally, desserts, and while the meat dishes were plentiful and fast flowing (more on those later), it should be noted that our vegetarian (and mushroom allergic, to boot) dining companion was very happy at all times as well.
Currently, the vegetable portion is ramp intensive, but the Butter-Braised Porcinis with Ramp Soubise are perfectly rich and an unexpected use of the seemingly omnipresent ingredient. The ramp cuts through the earthiness of the porcinis perfectly. Also, the Cafe’s classic beet salad has been updated and is lighter than the previous version, with a fresh coriander and ginger emulsion dressing.
We are huge seafood fans at BYT, and the general attitude tends to be: the rawer the better, so the King Salmon Sashimi was something we personally really looked forward to on the KING SALMON section, and while the sweet-and-spicy play of Thai Chiles and Daikon Radishes in the mix was everything we hoped it would be, we were VERY pleasantly surprised by the Grilled Salmon as well.
Perfectly prepared and served on top of an English pea risotto and with a side taramosalata inspired sauce (a Greek fish roe spread that is a savory, seasonal favorite of ours) it emerged as the surprise favorite of the overall dinner.
Also, a pro tip: the toro in mushroom dashi is not listed on the regular menu, but if you ask for it-they will make it, and you SHOULD ask for it.
The Lamb Saddle, I will admit, had us a teeny bit suspicious, since most of the dishes seemed hearty and intense with Lamb Belly and Gnocchi in the mix and with the temperatures outside reaching a soon-to-be-unbearable-high we felt like maybe sticking to all that delicious seafood would be enough.
Still, the dishes were delicious, and while sturdy, not overwhelmingly rich, with a strong play on Mediterranean flavors that go so well with lamb: grilled spring onions and asparagus tips, country olives and plenty of creamy, white cheeses make for welcome guest stars on the menu.
Pretty full, we dived into the pork for two features some seriously indulgent dishes. Namely: the slow roasted shoulder with house pita and jalapeno jam is probably the best suckling pig you’ll have in town that is not part of your tasting menu experience at Komi. And I take my roasted pork shoulder very seriously.
In perfect opposition of it is the pickled tenderloin, served with sriracha and ginger aioli, a tangy, delicious cut, but the downhome favorite is definitely going to be the scrapple with a richly fried egg on it. I’ve been dreaming about it every Sunday.
Saint-ex has always had a strong dessert program and the new dishes are no exception: there is a coffee cake served with warm goat cheese stuffed dates and mocha anglaise that is a great after-dinner pick me up, the Warm Dulce de leche brownie comes with candied ginger pecans, and there is a Madeleine Cake with Grand Marnier soaked Rhubarb and spearmint garnish that is as light and airy as the previous two are sticky and gooey.
Our only complaint? That we almost ate too much beforehand to truly be able to dive into desserts. Lessons learned, though we’re not quite sure which of the savory dishes we’d want to give up for more belly room.
To sum up- it has only been a few weeks but Chef Miller has already found a strong footing of his own. In a sea of new restaurants on 14th, it is great to stop by someplace that feels home and STILL be surprised. Go, eat, and don’t be afraid to try a little something different every time. There’s plenty to play around with.