First-Take Review: Komali
Abraham Salum's newest Uptown venture hits and misses in equal measure.
The setup: What you expect from Komali and what you get from Komali are not so much different as muted variations of each other. You expect a solid, flavorful, and surprising menu of items that, while you might not have heard of them before, are certain to be masterfully played at the hand of Uptown restaur-entrepreneur Abraham Salum. That's not what you get. The space, while attractive and sleek, has a sort of paint-by-numbers-with-a-kitschy-fireplace-thrown-in vibe, and the menu, for all its promise, is peppered with dishes that fall short of their descriptions. And as much as we want it all to work (we really do), our experience with Komali left us underwhelmed.
Antijitos Mexicanos plate with (clockwise from top) pork tostadas, chorizo sopes, and chicken flautas.photo by Desiree Espada
When we arrived, the dinner hour was gearing up. Only one other couple had been seated before us, the ambient noise was low, and we were undistracted enough to take in the painted-sea grass wall covering, the sock monkey embedded in the fireplace grout, and the museum-white, inverted vault of the ceiling. Flash forward 15 minutes as the room began to fill. My date and I raised our voices only slightly to compensate for the rising murmur. Within 30 minutes, though, we were yelling across our two-top over the resounding din of the other diners and an especially mouthy (read: drunk) gaggle of blondes most notable for their willingness to dip into a kaleidoscopic reserve of profanities. By the time we paid the check we had given up on conversation altogether, instead resorting to a complicated series of hand gestures that, to the untrained eye, could have been mistaken for “I think my eardrums are bleeding; I’m going to the ladies’ room to check. You go get the car and meet me around back by the dumpster.” In actuality, it was simply “If we hurry, we can swing by the liquor store and make it home in time for Modern Family.”
On the Menu: We started with antojitos Mexicanos. In SAT terms: antojitos are to Mexico as tapas are to Spain. Komali's antojitos included two delightfully spicy chorizo sopes, two less-memorable pork tostadas, and two fairly forgettable chicken flautas. We followed with huatape verde de mariscos—a tomatillo, shrimp, and avocado-leaf broth chock-full of baby scallops, shrimp, and mussels. The combination could easily stand alone as an entrée, and the flavor profile’s complexity pushed this dish to the top of the heap. Tumbling tush-over-tea kettle toward the bottom of the list was the ensalada de Nopales, a one-note pile of pickled cactus that we were bored with after the first bite.
The entrées left a more positive impression. The poblano stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat—aka the chile relleno de Jaiba—offered a savory, non-greasy, and palate-elevating twist on the traditional dip-and-fry. But the overall favorite came in the form of a traditional soup, the pozole de puerco, in which braised pork and hominy floated cheek-to-jowl in a red chili broth. The side of grated cabbage, thinly sliced radish, chopped onion, a lime wedge, and oregano provided a contrasting crunch and brightness. The combination hit my spot more thoroughly than my spot’s been hit in quite some time.
Pozole de puerco brims with a spicy broth and doesn't skimp on the pork or the hominy. Crunchy sides add a welcome brightness.photo by Desiree Espada
End with the crepas de cajeta; you won’t regret the decision. The crepes have actual loft, which is difficult to maintain, especially when topped with such a dense, hot sauce. Regardless, the goat’s milk-based dulce de leche-style topping, caramelized plantains, and toasted pecans closed the experience with a high note.
What didn’t work was the service. As the restaurant filled and grew louder, the service took a sharp downturn. Our server, who had been attentive and efficient in the beginning, suffered under what appeared to be a combination of closely set tables and a too-large section. His friendliness never flagged, but his lack of availability during and after the dessert course felt frustrating, especially when all we wanted was to pay and leave.
Who was there: Everyone seems to want in on this mixed bag. Elegant gents and their equally styled wives, investors dining solo, and the aforementioned boisterous tables of perennial blondes.
Where to sit: I’d encourage you to park yourself against the banquette wall, except that I fear that, however comfortable, this may be the most acoustically brutal part of the room. Instead, opt for the front bar on a weeknight. On the weekend, go if you must, but be prepared to come away a little hoarse.
Price: Dinner for two with one appetizer ($10.50), one margarita and one fruit juice ($16), one salad ($7.50), one soup ($12), two entrées ($17/$16.50), and one dessert ($7) ran us $110.81 after tax and gratuity.
Nice detail: Komali’s computers automatically split the checks, delineating the exact amount that each diner owes. We adore this feature as splitting the check, especially when one person is ordering top shelf margaritas and the teetotalers are strong-armed into assuming equal splits of the check, is the bane of our existence.
The takeaway: Both of the stew-like soups shone brightly, but next time I might just opt for takeout. It’s easier on the eardrums.
Visit our restaurant guide for more information about Komali.