after meeting on a continent half way across the world, we all managed to end up in the same place for a year of magic. Despite being closer to each other than ever before, it is tough to get the five us together but we managed to get four of us rounded up for a sunday night dinner.
initially, I had planned for us to go to Rasika (soon enough!), but they were unfortunately closed on sunday. So, taking the good recommendation of BOOF buddy, Sho, I decided on Zaytinya.
Best friends of BOOF, sio, hugdoll and twinskii met me at 6:45 for a dinner at the Penn Quarter gem. Some foodies out there may know that Zaytinya is home to Top Chef star, Mike Isabella, from the most recent season of the show . The restaurant is a mediterranean mix but the menu takes most of its inspiration from greek, turkish and lebanese influences.
The restaurant sits directly across from my personal favorite Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery, and it features wonderful ceiling to floor windows throughout the L-shaped restaurant. They have both weekend and weekday happy hours which is a definite plus, and when you pair that with some fresh baked warm pita bread and an olive oil/balsamic mix to dip them in, you will be good to go. Nevertheless, we were all just drinking water and hot tea that night because despite the wonderful light from the ceiling to floor windows, we did find it to be a tad poorly insulated.
Upon ordering, they start bringing out the delicious warmed pita bread that puffs up when heated. it was perfect. i am a bread lover to begin with, but the reason why Zaytinya wins special points in this regard is because the pita bread is lite and airy; therefore, it does not fill you up too much, like most heavier breads from other restaurants. They serve it with the aforementioned olive oil and balsamic mixture, which was simple yet very tasty.
To accompany our pita bread, we opted to order the three spreads for $12.00 deal. We decided on the classic Hummus, Baba Ghannouge and the outlier, Htipiti (try saying that three times fast or once for that matter). All were quite delicious but the Htipiti was definitely a winner and I would essentially go back just for that spread. It was a mixture of marinated roasted red peppers, thyme and feta, and the flavors meshed so perfectly together to the point where you could not stop of yourself from continuing to take bite after bite after bite…The hummus was classic and the Baba Ghannouge may have been the best I have ever had (the tahini flavor was not too overpowering), but then again, I haven’t had too much Baba Ghannouge in the past to compare it to.
Zaytinya is a tapas restaurant (which is probably my favorite kind of restaurant) with all well-priced dishes. For the quality of the food that you get, it definitely feels like a steal because a majority of the prices are so reasonable. I will go person by person to talk about each tapa that was ordered.
sio ordered the Imam Bayildi which is Ottoman style roasted eggplant stuffed with onions and tomatoes. She also ordered the seared Sea Scallops with a yogurt dill sauce and the Aglaia Kremezi style Crab cakes served on top of roast garlic yogurt (i also ordered these). Unfortunately, the Iman Bayildi was lost in translation because we never received these which was really unfortunate because it sounds like it would have been delicious. The good thing is that we were not charged for the dish, so apparently, our waiter just missed the order completely. Sio said that the scallops were very delicious, as was the sauce that they were served with. I will comment that the mini crab cakes are definitely a must have at the restaurant. I never knew that people other than Marylanders knew how to do crab cakes so well, but clearly those individuals of the Mediterranean region are well versed. They were fried perfectly and packed a sizable punch for their small appearance.
Hugdoll went for the very traditional route and ordered the Falafel and a flat bread (?). Falafel is made up of smashed chickpeas which is then fried, and traditionally served with a tahini sauce. The flat bread was reminiscent of a pizza with no red sauce. Hugdoll commented that both dishes were done well and very tasty, but nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary.
twisnkii went for the Fried Squid, which was again served with a garlic-yogurt sauce ( i am beginning to notice a trend!), and she was very pleased with the dish. I also believe she ordered the Spanakopita which is another traditional Mediterranean dish which is made of house made phyllo and stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. To me, it was reminiscent of an egg roll (see picture), but twinskii was very pleased with the taste and flavors.
I ordered the Kolokithokeftedes which translates into zucchini and cheese patties and they were served with a caper-yogurt sauce. I also had the aforementioned crab cakes and with my recent found obsession with brussel sprouts, i also ordered the Crispy Brussel Afelia which were served with coriander seed, barberries and garlic yogurt. I have already talked about the deliciousness of the crab cakes and the zucchini patties and brussel sprouts were more of the same. the Zucchini patties had a nice creamy and cheesy filling and it was slightly battered and fried which gave the bite size eat the perfect texture. The brussel sprouts were cooked my favorite way, broiled, so they had the nice crispy leaves but were not too burnt as it retained its natural flavor. However, they were a little bitter for my liking, so I personally would have maybe adjusted the seasoning to bring out the natural sweetness that brussel sprouts have.
All in all, Zatinya is a wonderful restaurant that I would definitely frequent again. The setting is accommodating for everyone as you could definitely have a nice date with your significant other but you can also bring a small or large group of friends The wrap around bar is also a very nice area and it is well separated from the dining area by a very architecturally and aesthetically pleasing wall (pictured). The walls that exist are white and royal/sea blue in color which is fitting for the mediterranean theme but I would recommend that they find some better insulation options for windy days. Also, the great ceiling to floor windows have large automatic drawn shades which is nice when potentially too much light is coming through at different points of the day.The menu is diverse in its flavors and cultural influences but everything works together to make a harmonious experience. Although we all opted for either seafood or vegetarian dishes, the meat menu was also plentiful, so I may have to make an additional trip and bring some other buddies that are more likely to order off that part of the menu. However, to be expected, lamb is definitely a highlight on the meat and poultry side. Overall, Zaytinya is a must go to restaurant in the city and I recommend pairing it with a trip to the National Portrait gallery on a nice Saturday afternoon.