Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The End: Zaytinya.

Our final evening spent in Washington DC was a treat and an absolute delight.  The hubbs invited me to his end-of-AACR group dinner, along with about 30 of his coworkers at the popular and beloved José Andrés restaurant, Zaytinya.  The last of my three culinary conquests while visiting our nation's capitol, it certainly lived up to expectations.  Going above and beyond, we found ourselves elated and slightly overwhelmed (in a good way) by the dinner we experienced that evening.  No one could have prepared me for the sheer magnitude of food we were about to receive...
"Under the direction of celebrated chef José Andrés and his ThinkFoodGroup, Zaytinya offers an innovative mezze menu inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisines served up in a sleek and modern setting. Building on Jose’s deep knowledge of Mediterranean cooking and years of research and travel, the menu features shared small plates of authentic and innovative fare, creative cocktails, and unique Mediterranean wines, making Zaytinya one of the most exciting restaurants in Washington. Since opening in 2002, Zaytinya ranks consistently as a Top DC Dining Destination."
Zaytinya is a modern oasis in midtown DC, with cool steel and glass composing it's large structural restaurant walls.  It's open and airy, simplified, yet incredibly chic.  When we arrived, the restaurant was packed to the gills with the business happy hour crowd, power diners, professionals and large groups of friends celebrating some sort of event.  Everywhere you looked, each seat and each table was taken-- thank goodness we had reservations because I believe they were booked for the evening.  We were greeted and brought upstairs to a private loft with a view of the entire dining area and 9th street outside, still jammed with commuter traffic.

As soon as we were seated, the fun began with cocktails.  The hubbs ordered a glass of rosé, while I was way too intrigued by the Greek Gin & Tonic, a concoction of gin, black tonic, kaffir lime leaf, barberries and licorice stick.  This was no ordinary gin & tonic.  This drink was served in a pint glass, including a racquetball-sized ice orb filled with suspended juniper clippings- a fun twist on a classic cocktail, a quirky way to bring molecular gastronomy to the masses.  The table oooh'd and ahh'd at creativity of the drink.  I must say, it tasted pretty darn good as well.  My second celebratory glass was the Athena’s Punch, a vodka, cucumber, dill syrup, lemon juice & cava creation.  Both drinks were refreshing and light, a welcome change from your everyday sticky sweet bar swill.
Next, came our tasting menu.  At first glance, the majority of us assumed that we would be choosing a dish from each course to satisfy our singular preferences.  Boy, were we mistaken.  There were seventeen dishes total being served to every single diner, all in a family-style manner of sharing.  A mind-boggling array of Zaytinya's most popular and well-loved plates, all artfully arranged and presented in the same fashion they would be if we were dining on our own.  You can imagine my elation once I learned that I'd get to try all seventeen dishes, something I'd never dreamed of being able to do on my first visit.  Check out the menu:
Falafel... traditional chickpea fritters, tahini sauce.
Mini Spanakopita... house made phyllo, spinach, feta cheese.
1st Round
Hommus... puree of chickpeas, garlic, tahini.
Htipiti... marinated roasted red peppers, feta, thyme.
Fattoush... tomato, cucumber, red onion, peppers, radish, pita chips, pomegranate vinegar dressing.
Grape-Leaves Dolmades... grape leaves with rice, tomato, fennel, pine nuts, gold raisins, labneh.
Elies Tis Elladas... greek olives marinated in oregano, kalamata oil, chickpea fritters, tahini sauce.

2nd Round
Roasted Cauliflower... sultans, caper berries, pine nuts.
Crab Cakes... mini jumbo lump crab cakes, roasted garlic yogurt sauce.
Sea Scallops... seared scallops, yogurt-dill sauce, sugar snap peas.
Ottoman Pilaf... saffron rice, dates, pistachios.
3rd Round
Spit-Roasted Lamb Shoulder... lightly smoked and spit-roasted.
Grilled Fish of the Day... served boneless, Santorini style.
Piyaz... imported warm giant beans, kale, over roasted tomato, garlic.
Seasonal Mushrooms... sauteed mushrooms, dates, toasted almond.
Turkish Coffee Chocolate... warm chocolate cake, bittersweet chocolate flan, and cardamom espuma finished with espresso syrup.
Turkish Delight... walnut ice cream, yogurt mousse, honey geleé, orange-caramel sauce and caramelized pine nuts.

Dinner was amazing.  The Hommus was a favorite, along with the Fattoush, Ottoman Pilaf, and Spit-Roasted Lamb Shoulder.  Strangely, by far my personal favorite out of all seventeen dishes was the Piyaz-- imported warm giant white beans, kale, oven roasted tomato and garlic served in a deep, toasty warm bowl.  I took advantage and helped myself to a second serving of comforting, salty stew.  The taste was so original to me, like nothing I'd tried before, and I absolutely loved it.

I believe in the end dinner took about 3 hours total, from sit-down to leaving the building, but we were perfectly at ease with the lengthy meal.  The food wasn't rushed, the helpings were enormous and spirited atmosphere of the restaurant made you want to sit there all night, eating and laughing away.  The hubbs was in heaven with so much food and such a great wine list, and I was as happy as clam in this foodie paradise.

This was the perfect end to amazing trip, and I'm honored to have been invited to join in the festivities. If you are ever visiting Washington DC, make sure to grab a reservation at Zaytinya.  You won't soon forget the wonderful foods of José Andrés, or this shimmering gem of a restaurant.

Be well,

All photos courtesy of Zaytinya.

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