THERE'S AN ELEPHANT in the room at Kith and Kin. No, not a literal one. All eyes are on executive chef Kwame Onwuachi, who earned breakout fame on Top Chef before opening the Shaw Bijou. The hyperexpensive tasting-menu restaurant flamed in and out of existence in spectacular fashion only a year ago. His latest venture, situated inside the InterContinental Washington, DC, at The Wharf, is his shot at redemption. It’s also a chance for him to let his Afro-Caribbean heritage shine. He succeeds on both counts.
Floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the promenade when the weather permits, but always give a good view of the foot traffic and the marina. The dining room is dressed up in rich browns and brushed gold, its walls mostly unadorned. A striking exception is a black-and-white Keith Haring-inspired painting of abstract figures dancing among quotes from chefs who Onwuachi has cooked under or admires, as well as one from his mother. Mostly though, this is a sleek, serious venture. The warmth and intimacy happen on the plate.
Shareable platters are a natural starting point. A collection of crudité—baby radishes, carrots, turnips and more—is pleasingly presented on crushed ice, alongside a cooling avocado dip, jerk broccoli and crunchy cubes of daikon radish in a fiery peri-peri sauce dotted with bits of plantain granola. Meats and cheeses arrive under a glass teardrop clouded with pimento smoke. When the cloche is whisked away, there’s a well spiced pâté featuring Calabrian chiles and smoked paprika, duck prosciutto and a pair of goat cheeses—all boasting unctuous undertones.
The main menu is listed in the order of the smallest and lightest dishes to those that are larger and more satiating. A trio of dainty beef patties, their yellowy crust so flaky that it seems to melt in your mouth, come with scotch bonnet-flavored calypso sauce. Pepper is plentiful throughout the meal, and that’s a good thing.
he Brussels sprouts arrive decked out with little roasted tomatoes, epaulets of onion, a wedge of lime and foam spiced with suya (a Nigerian seasoning traditionally featuring peppers, ginger and peanutlike groundnuts). The server instructs, “Squeeze the lime on the dish and mix up everything.” The results are beguiling—acidic, earthy and sweet with a pleasant aftershock.
A three-bite sliver of crispy skinned mackerel sits on jollof rice, a West African specialty made by mixing a red stew of tomatoes, ginger, garlic and habanero with the grains. Pickled onions add a little pop to the proposition.
The must-order item is the roti, an Indian-inspired roadside favorite throughout the Caribbean. Goat is marinated in a wealth of culantro, garlic and ginger, and then slow braised until tender. By the time the curry is ladled into the bowl with roasted potatoes and celery streamers, the meat retains none of its usual hallmark gaminess. Envelope a spoonful of the components in a torn-off patch of springy, stretchy roti bread and eat it by hand. It’s impossible not to sop up every last bit.
Pastry chef Michael Brown presides over a compact dessert menu. Puff puff—think of them as Nigerian beignet—sit atop sorghum-sweetened creme anglaise. Ovaltine-like Milo—a malty, chocolate-y powder—flavors soft-serve ice cream that’s decked out with brown-butter sable crumbles and candied nuts.
The most whimsical option comes courtesy of habanero peppers with their capsaicin (the source of their spiciness) removed, so their underlying floral qualities shine. They’re whipped into a mousse, molded into their original shapes and served on a bed of elderflower granita. It’s a fun way to finish a stirring journey to the roots of Onwuachi’s culinary heritage.
KITH & KIN
801 Wharf St. SW, 202.878.8566
PRICES Opening platters, $18-$39; shared plates, $9-$21; desserts, $10-$12
TIMES Mon.-Thu., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-10:30pm; Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm, 5-11pm; Sat., 11:30am-3pm, 5-11pm; Sun., 11:30am-3pm, 5-10:30pm
A good burger is mandatory at any hotel restaurant, and this one is exemplary. The supersatisfying two-patty proposition comes topped with yellow and white American cheeses and sweet caramelized onions. Onwuachi slips in a few rashers of jerk bacon and tosses the waffle fries in a tongue-tingling Ethiopian berbere spice mix.
Life’s a Beach
Cocktails by lead bartender Zachary Hoffman echo the cuisine, so African and tropical touches abound. Take the savory Creole martini, accented with jerk spice and garnished with a spear of pickled mango. Meanwhile, the Jost Van Dyke features African rooibos tea and mango sorbet, and the Papa Bois gets an island twist from coconut water and pineapple shrub highlighted with pimento bitters.