Zach and I wanted to have a special dinner -- no special occasion, just a really nice dinner at a place where we knew the food was good. So, we chose Zaytinya, a restaurant that serves Turkish, Lebanese, and Greek tapas. This is one of the many restaurants run by Executive Chef, Jose Andres, one of the most well-known chefs in DC. It is by far one of my favorite restaurants in DC.
The restaurant is massive, but not in a nasty chain restaurant sort of way. It is absolutely beautiful, spacious, and classy. In the middle of the restaurant on a raised platform is a large bar, which is surrounded by the two-level dining area. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of sparkling wine - Perelada Brut Reserva from Cava, Spain.
Zach showed up shortly thereafter and we made our way to the table. Having dined here many times before, I had an idea of what I wanted. No matter how many times I dine at a restaurant, I always ask what the vegan options are on the menu for three reasons -- (1) cooking methods and ingredients can change, (2) chefs will change, and (3) some waitstaff just know more than others. So, as usual, I inquired as to what was vegan. I was very impressed with the woman who served me...in a good and bad way. In a good way, she really knew her stuff, but for me, that wasn't necessarily good as she told me more about the cooking methods than I had ever known before. For example, she informed me that some of my favorite dishes such as the Crispy Brussel Afelia were flash fried in the same oil that all the meat was cooked in, therefore rendering it not vegan. Ugh.
After getting over the devastation, we placed our orders. All of the food is served tapas-style on small plates so you usually order 2-3 per person. The food is always served as soon it is prepared so the dishes comes out one by one. While we waited, we ordered drinks, Zach had a special drink that I didn't really like, even though it looked pretty cool, so I ordered a Tempranillo instead. I really like their wine selection.
The first dish to come out was the hummus. I like to get the hummus just to snack on while I am waiting for the dishes to be served. Zach ate it with the bread they serve everyone when you first sit down. As it has a touch of milk in it, I always order sliced cucumbers for my hummus instead. It isn't on the menu, but they can always prepare them for you. I love how they put fresh pomegranate seeds in the hummus.
The next dish served was the Roasted Cauliflower. This has always been one of my favorite dishes or at least it was. The cauliflower is roasted and served with sultans and pine nuts in a light sauce. It may not sound exciting, but it is incredibly good. The most disappointing part of this dish is finding out the capers that are usually served on the cauliflower are also flash fried so they weren't served with this dish. The capers were one of my favorite parts of this dish. That did not make me happy.
Next, was a dish off of the specials list called the "Spanakorizo." It was a rice pilaf with wilted spinach and tomato served over spinach puree with preserved cherry tomatoes. The dish was supposed to have feta cheese and, of course, we had it served without it, but it was really missing something. Perhaps soy feta would have brightened it up. That said, it was still very good.
Next, we ordered the Bamya. I love, love, love this dish! It is carmelized, crispy okra with fresh, crispy chickpeas in cardamom tomato stew. I have no idea how they cooked this dish to perfection, but that is exactly what it was.
Lastly, we had another one of my faves, the Seasonal Mushrooms. The wild mushrooms were sauteed in oil with dates and tossed with toasted almonds. Words can't express how delicious this dish is.
All in all, it was a good, but slightly disappointing experience. The food was good and the service was attentive. The noise level was a bit loud, but I don't think anything can be done about that. The disappointing part was finding out how many of the items in dishes I had once thought were vegan are actually not as anything that is flash fried is fried in the same oil as the meat. I really hope they can separate the vegetables from the meat in the future as I know a lot of vegans who love this restaurant and probably do not know this. That said, there are still tons of vegan options....they'd just be better if they included all of the components that are flash fried as well.
Click here to read my 1st review of Zaytinya from June 27, 2011.
701 9th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001