Friday, March 9, 2012

I imitated Komi, and was mildly successful

Komi has been on of DC's best restaurants for the last few years.  Situated on top of a dry cleaner's off Dupont Circle, it's easy to overlook if you're just walking by.  For years, I thought it was a sushi place.  The chef, Johnny Monis, has no formal training, which is shocking when you see his food. Last month, I put myself on their wait list and finally got to go last weekend.  One of small hot bites that was served before our main dish was a plate of roasted dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese and topped with fleur de sel. These were amazing.  The dates were soft but not mushy.  The cheese was slightly tart and somehow remained solid inside the dates, and the salt added a depth to the dish.  It was strange how just a sprinkling of salt could make a dish amazing.  I had to try to make these!  Although my dates did not taste exactly like Komi's, they were definitely similar.  There are lots of things I could do better, but this is a great stepping off point!

First, I acquired some medjool dates.  The waiter at Komi told me theirs were specially imported from Israel.  Mine were imported from the produce section of Wegman's.  Knowing full well that I might turn my dates into something resembling burnt rocks, I didn't splurge on the organic ones.  Next, I needed to figure out what was in the cheese mixture.  Mascarpone is pretty mild and it melts easily.  The Komi dates were kind of tart and so I figured there might be Greek yogurt involved since the chef is big into Mediterranean ingredients.  I didn't really measure how much I was adding, I mixed yogurt and cheese until it tasted right.  In the end, It was 3 Tbsp yogurt and 4 Tbsp cheese. I put it in the fridge to firm up, which didn't really work so well.

When I opened my container of dates, I realized I needed to pit them.  I grabbed a small knife, cut a slit down the center of one and popped out the pit.  Then I realized that stuffing this date was not going to work very well.  To the internet!  Someone on the internet suggested using a chopstick to push the pits out.  It worked!  I roasted the dates first without the cheese in them because I didn't want it to melt and spill out.  I don't own a piping bag, so I used the technique of people everywhere who are too lazy to buy piping bags. I put the cheese mixture into the corner of a small ziplock bag and then cut the tip of a corner off. After I took the dates of of the oven and let them sit for a few minutes, I used my piping bag to squirt the cheese mixture into each date.  My plan was to then roast the dates for 2 additional minutes.  But, my cheese mixture started to melt almost immediately!  So I threw the dates on a plate and sprinkled them with a mixture of fleur del sel and some crushed black sea salt (it looks cool and tastes good).

Clearly Chef Monis puts something else in his cheese mixture to prevent it from melting. Something more solid than Greek yogurt. My cheese mixture started getting melty almost immediately after I put it into the dates.  There is absolutely no way it could have survived in an oven.  The heated dates warmed the cheese through, so it least it wasn't cold.  He could have used another food ingredient or it could be some kind of secret technique that I could never guess.  Maybe it was full fat Greek yogurt instead of nonfat, which is what I used. Or maybe it was feta cheese.  It's tangy similar to Greek yogurt and it doesn't melt as easily.  Or maybe he let the mixture firm up in the freezer for a bit.  I can't remember, but my husband thinks the dates were only open on one end, which may have prevented some cheese leakage.

The verdict: overall I would call this a success because even though they didn't taste exactly like Komi's dates and didn't capture the texture, they were really good! And it was clear that I was attempting to imitate Komi. I would serve these to my friends.

Komi-inspired Roasted Dates
Serves 2 as an appetizer

8 Medjool dates
4 Tbsp mascarpone cheese
3 Tbsp Greek yogurt
A few pinches fleur de sel
A few pinches of crushed black sea salt

1) Preheat oven to 450. Get out a roasting dish and line with foil.  If' you're paranoid like me, spray the dish with cooking spray too. Use a chopstick to push the pits out of the dates.  Make sure to remove the stem bits. Roast the dates for 10 minutes.
2) While the dates are roasting, mix the yogurt and mascarpone together.  Put it in the fridge or freezer.
3) When the dates are ready, remove them from the oven.  While they are cooling, spoon the cheese and yogurt mixture into a small ziplock back and squish it down into one corner.  Cut a small portion of the corner off the bag.
4) Carefully squeeze cheese mixture into each date.
5) To plate the dates, squeeze a dot of cheese mixture onto each spot of the plate where you want to place a date.  Then place the date on top of the dot.  This will stop the date from rolling around.
6) Sprinkle each date with a little of the salt mixture and serve!

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