3 Komi ★★★★
1509 17th St., NW | 202-332-9200
Cuisine: Brilliant moments abound on these prix-fixe ($84) and multicourse degustazione ($104) menus that nod to Greece and Italy but are chef/owner Johnny Monis’s own thoroughly modern cuisine. Monis’s family hails from the Greek isle of Chios, but his approach to cooking is almost Spartan: pristine ingredients with minimal manipulation.
Mood: A bit austere—the former townhouse has bare-wood floors and Champagne walls with a few well-chosen antiques. As the place fills up—which doesn’t take long with only 12 tables—the room gets warmer. Sommelier Derek Brown, who has put together an original wine list, exudes charm and generosity—extra pours of Champagne, a nip of sherry just because.
Best for: Food lovers with time to spare—the three-course prix fixe (with extras) takes 2½ hours, the tasting menu more like 3½.
Best dishes: Mezzethakia such as the perfect house-cured olive, buttery amberjack sashimi with Maldon salt, crunchy slivers of breakfast radish with trout roe, and savory miniature goat gyros on house-made pita with tzatziki and pomegranate; veal-brain raviolini, both meaty- and buttery-tasting; tender spit-roasted goat served with house-made hot sauce and crunchy tzatziki slaw; salty caramel ice cream with chocolate.
Insider tips: Reserve at least a month in advance for weekends, three weeks for weekdays. Monis is fond of artisanal salt—even in dessert.
4 Restaurant Eve ★★★½
110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria | 703-706-0450
Cuisine: Irish-born chef Cathal Armstrong extols the pleasures of nose-to-tail eating—nowhere else in town will you find a chicken-fried honeycomb of tripe and a delicate crepinette of pig’s feet. Zealous about lovely produce, he spends much of his time gathering the bounty of local farms.
Mood: Three distinct dining rooms make up this brick-enclosed Old Town jewel: a firelit, no-reservations bar where neighborhood regulars hover over bowls of mussels and chat with the wine-savvy bartenders; a mirrored bistro room where couples can celebrate an anniversary or show up in jeans with the kids; and the quieter tasting room, where the mood is more serious and diners settle in for a five- or nine-course tasting menu. Wherever you sit, the service is crisp—show up in the bistro in dark pants, and your white napkin will be whisked away and replaced with a black one.
Best for: Destination diners, farmers-market foodies, offal lovers.
Best dishes: In the bistro, a bacon-egg-and-Parmesan salad with cured pork belly, frisée, and smoked-bacon vinaigrette; creamy crab bisque; house-made charcuterie, especially the peppery Chinese-style pork sausage and airy chicken-liver mousse; bouillabaise loaded with clams, mussels, and fingerling potatoes; sablefish, its dark-gold crust set off by bits of pancetta and swipes of paprika cream. In the tasting room, duck foie gras paired with Molly Delicious apples and a snifter of South African Chenin Blanc; buttery lobster simmered with ginger and baby cilantro; a wilted-cabbage crepinette filled with braised pied de cochon; custardy clafoutis studded with tiny, tangy Duarte plums.
Insider tips: Armstrong is a technique-obsessed craftsman—the charcuterie board boasts 14 house-made sausages and cured meats, and he’s been known to make his own cheese. Same goes for sommelier/cocktail guru Todd Thrasher, whose specialty drinks are made with freshly pressed juices and house-made sodas. Desserts are a relative weak spot. Our favorite sweet: the Eve’s Temptation cocktail, the purest liquid expression of apple we’ve tasted.
5 Minibar ★★★½
405 Eight St., NW (Cafe Atlantico) | 202-393-0812
Cuisine: A freewheeling, genre-defying banquet of 27 experimental courses—conceived by chef José Andrés and protégé Katsuya Fukushima—that play with flavors as they play with your mind. It all starts with a caipirinha gone Weird Science—rocks of cocktail-flavored sorbet that froth and melt at the pour of liquid nitrogen—and careens through hypermodern twists on chicken wings, corn on the cob, even a Philly cheesesteak. The foams-and-“airs” trend may be dying off elsewhere, but here you feel at the forefront of something that transcends fads.
Mood: This restaurant within a restaurant, housed inside Café Atlántico, is a small, six-seat bar at which three chefs prepare each dish in front of you. It’s like a master class in avant-garde cooking, with much of the course coming straight from ElBulli, Andrés mentor Ferran Adriá’s mecca of gastro-science in Spain.
Best for: Adventurous couples, chemistry buffs, foodies looking for something to talk about.
Best dishes: The lineup changes, but look for the Parmesan “Pringle”—a dough of egg whites and shredded Parmesan baked into a chiplike round—with Greek yogurt for dipping; deconstructed clam chowder with clams encased in clam aspic, bacon and caramelized-onion creams, and potato purée; cigala, a sweet, langoustinelike crustacean served with soy “air,” hijiki, and lemon marmalade; Philly cheesesteak: a baguette filled with drippy cheddar cream and topped with slices of Wagyu; a passion-fruit-flavored marshmallow.
Insider tips: Getting in is the hardest part: You have to call the reservationist at 9 am exactly one month prior to the day you want to dine. If you’re flexible, ask to be placed on the waiting list for a couple of specific dates. There are two seatings each night, at 6 and 8:30.