It isn’t enough to just have fantastic food and delicious drinks: to really elevate the gastronomic experience, the two must seamlessly complement one another. This is easier said than done, but at Dirty Habit—a new restaurant and bar at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington DC—the talented food and beverage teams effortlessly work together to create cohesive menus.
It all starts with Executive Chef Kyoo Eom, who trained under Andrew Carmellini at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne and Cafe Boulud. The South Korean native’s globally-inspired menu includes many of his family’s recipes.
Kyoo’s counterpart on the beverage side is Head Bartender Sarah Ruiz, who started her career at the Michelin-star-awarded Fifth Floor in San Francisco. “I don’t sit down and try to pair my drinks with his dishes; it’s more about the understanding of flavor combinations,” Sarah says. “I’ll look through his menu and see the ingredients that come in, and I’ll ask about his thought process behind things. He’ll tell me stories about his family and traditional dishes in Korea, and how the flavors come together.”
We Go Together
That continual conversation leads to lots of opportunity for innovation. When Sarah is interested in trying new flavors, Chef Kyoo has many connections around town to procure hard-to-find ingredients. That includes his own backyard, where he has a garden that grows everything from shiso to sesame leaves.
When persimmons were recently coming into season, Sarah asked Chef Kyoo if there was a Korean technique for using them. He told her about drying them for a month so that the sugars become preserved, and the next day, he brought her a version someone else had already made so she could experiment with creating something new.
“Sarah is very open-minded about working with me,” Chef Kyoo says. “It’s been very helpful because she understands the wine and food together as well as cocktails. It’s not like she makes awesome cocktails only; they’re well balanced.”
While the bites and libations are equally impressive, neither is trying to upstage the other. For example, Rice ’n Roses, one of the best-selling cocktails, is a nigori sake with lychee rose, almond, and vodka. The drink is a great standalone option for vodka fans who don’t want something overly sweet, and it also pairs well with many appetizers and entrees, thanks to the sake. “It complements Kyoo’s food because there’s a lot of punch in heat, and flavor in what he does,” Sarah says. “The light-style drink and the floral aspect complement some of the more flavorful dishes on the menu.”
On the spirit-forward side, Prescription Sazerac is a twist on the classic sazerac, but the sugar syrup is infused with sansho peppercorns imported from Japan. This leads to a numbing effect in the mouth similar to a Sichuan pepper. The citrusy flavor profile pairs well with some of the heartier dishes on the menu, but it’s also plenty interesting to sip on its own.
Try These Combos
Although nothing on the menu is specifically made to pair together, there are some great dish/drink duos worth tasting. Here are a few Chef Kyoo recommends:
Combo #1: Scallops & Shiso
- Scallop a La Plancha (cauliflower puree, radish, apple-celery espuma)
- Shiso Twisted (Bombay sapphire gin, oystervit, ginger, lemon, shiso)
Combo #2: Sea Bass & Sotol
- Smoked Chilean Sea Bass (shrimp rice cake, spinach, sesame oil, shallot, scallion)
- Prickly Position (Por Siempre Sotol, mezcal, pineapple gomme, nopal, lime, serrano ice)
Calamari & Miso Gin
- Crispy Calamari (jalapeño, pickles, spicy remoulade)
- Migroni (Miso-washed Beefeater gin, Campari, Yzaguirre Rojo Vermouth)
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong at Dirty Habit, given the organic collaboration that runs through the restaurant. “Sometimes bartenders and chefs think they do their own jobs and don’t work together,” Chef Kyoo says. “The very important thing is we both respect each other for our backgrounds.”