Komali, the heritage-inspired Mexican restaurant in Uptown Dallas has established itself as one of the best, maybe the best, example of Mexican cuisine in Dallas during its five-year life. But, recently sold, with a new executive chef, how is it in its second life?
I have dined twice at Komali in the last three weeks. Once at a media event and, on an earlier occasion, anonymously. It is clear that the restaurant has kept the best of the old Komali but benefitted from an injection of new life. The chef Geovanny Arredondo (Geo, to the cognoscenti) is gradually stretching out of the familiarity of the inherited menu, as well as sweating the details with dishes like a pork belly preparation that requires one and a half days to prepare.
Owners John Broady and Emanuel Salinas endeavor to bring in new guests through a series of regional special menus on Wednesday nights. An annual ideas trip by the team to Gio’s home town of Mexico City may be on the cards. That would be a sign of the long-term commitment to the genre as Mexico City, one of the global culinary capitals, is a ferment of new ideas and reinvention.
Check out the best Mexican restaurants in America.
With most of the menu under my belt, here is my perfect dinner at Komali, beverages and all.
On arrival, chips and salsa will appear. Don’t distain these. The homemade chips are fresh, earthy, with a golden corn patina, and have a saline tang to round out the flavors. They are made from corn tortillas cut up and deep fried. The icing on the cake though is the homemade salsa roja imbued with a vegetal smokiness from roasted jalapeño pieces.
Order a cocktail. Mixologist Leanne Berry is one of the best in town and it is worth asking if she has a moment to come over and discuss what flavors and temperatures you enjoy. That was how I got a custom Serrano Mora (above) made with serrano chilies, black berries, fresh lime, Cointreau, El Mayor Reposado tequila and a spray of Green Chartreuse on top. On the 100o day on which I dined, it was awfully refreshing.
My favorite appetizer is, hands down, ceviche mixto. White prawns, mahi-mahi, and scallops (‘cooked’ in lime juice and tequila) with tomato, red onions, avocado, cucumber, and cilantro. All neatly packaged in a circular disk in a bowl that lets the guajillo oil drizzled on top permeate through the body of the dish.
Look at the delicate dicing of the onions in the picture to see what a compelling image it is sat in front of the diner. On the palate, the tequila and guajillo oil yield exotic smoky nuances to the flavors. Gio smokes guajillo chilies and then liquidizes them in the blender with olive oil, turning the oil red. Komali and Oak Cliff’s Mesa currently vie for ceviche supremacy in town. May the battle continue.
Try the ceviche with a flight of añejo tequilas. I selected Dobel, Herradura, and my favorite (on account of its aging in French oak), Casa Noble.
If you are lucky enough to be in a group of four (or pay homage to the doggy bag God) order a selection of additional appetizers. Among my favorites were the pork belly tacos, made from mole tortillas (hence the deep brown color and umami-rich flavors), topped with pork belly and dappled with avocado purée topped with finely diced radishes (the fineness of the dice was really important here, it rendered the topping so much richer flavored in the mouth). The pork belly is marinated, then slow-roasted, compressed under a heavy weight while it cools. The whole noble vednture takes a day and a half.
Cilantro quesadilla differs from just about every other quesadilla in town with its cilantro masa, oaxaca cheese and serrano peppers. Since the latter are four times as hot as a jalapeño this is one piquant mouthfill!
Komali P.L.T. is a small pambazo (Mexican sandwich) with pork belly, sour cream, and guajillo sauce. Chicken Tinga Sopes look like little mini quiches but are homemade masa filled with chicken and black beans.
For these three appetizers I paired a couple of mezcals (Mestizo and El Señorio), tequila’s smoky cousin. Komali has five on offer but I would not be surprised if this number increased as mezcal sales are on a roll.
Main courses are split between ‘From the Land…’ and ‘From the Sea…’. I have a thing for good mole and Komali offers a chocolate-laden one served with chicken: chicken in Oaxacan black mole. The sauce was given distinction by the bitter chocolate but how did the chicken retain that delicious succulence? Sous vide!
The chef cooks the leg and thigh for three hours under sous vide with just a little onion and garlic in the bag. It results in a meat that is juicy beyond comprehension with an almost creamy fibre to the texture and a bald white color (since searing is absent).
The dark-sauced main course gave me the chance to try something that is hard to find on Dallas wine lists -- Mexican wine. Part of Baja California have a Mediterranean microclimate, and have been quietly upping their game over the last decade. The 2011 Villa Montefiori Cabernet Sauvignon from the area is a step in the right direction.
If you have room for dessert the churras, or the Mexican flan, are sweet indulgences.
That is all. A memorable meal and one that I will have to repeat in the near future.
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