Location: 701 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. 202.638.0800
Date: November 27, 2011
Rating: Great flavors!
Zaytinya, which means “olive oil” in Turkish is part of José Andrés’ little culinary empire — which started first here in Washington D.C. and then spread to various other outpsts in the country including LA and vegas.
For those who don’t know, José Andrés is perhaps America’s leading practitioner of my favorite culinary style: Spanish Molecular Gastronomy. This school of cooking, a radical interpretation of the preparation of food, was begun at El Bulli outside of Barcellona. Andrés cooked and studied there with master chef Ferran Adrià. I first encountered Andrés’s cooking in Washington DC at Cafe Atlantico, and it’s own restaurant within a restaurant, Minibar.
Zaytinya, however, is neither Spanish or particularly molecular. It focuses on the Eastern Mediterranean cuisine of Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. These are all former Ottoman zones and despite their political animosity toward each other share much in common — foodwise.
We ordered this “ASHTA. traditional Lebanese-style French toast, bananas, orange blossom honey” for our son. It was more like Pane Dulce I’ve had at other Andres restaurants crossed with Tres Leches cake. He devoured it.
And one of my all time favorites: “TZATZIKI. Greek yogurt with diced cucumbers, dill.” This wasn’t nearly as garlicky as in Greece and Turkey, but was more akin to the Lebanese variant. It did have a nice thick Greek yoghurt consistency and a pleasant crunch from the cucumber.
“BEET SALATA. crimson and yellow beets, shaved fennel, upland cress, spiced walnuts.” I doubt this was exactly a traditional dish (even if the ingredients are) but it’s pretty much obligatory on modern menus.
“BANTIJAN BIL LABAN. crispy eggplant, roasted garlic-yogurt sauce.” This was a nice treatment of eggplant — in no small part because it was seriously fried! This was a very crispy coating with hot eggplant inside.
“SPANAKOPITA. house-made phyllo, spinach, feta cheese.” Not your typical version of this dish which is usually triangular in shape. The insides were similar enough though, so more a cheese and spinach taquito than a puff pastry!
“ROASTED CAULIFLOWER. sultans, caper berries, pine nuts.” This is a brighter less fried version of this traditional Lebanese dish (you can see the original here). Good stuff though.
“GARIDES ME ANITHO. sautéed shrimp, dill, shallots, mustard, lemon juice.” This was a pretty awesome variant on Andres’ normal “Gambas Pil Pil” (photos here in this Jaleo review).
FRIED SQUID. crispy squid, garlic-yogurt sauce.” Nicely done classic calimari.
“STRIPED BASS PLAKI. tomato, fresh chickpeas, onion, mint.” This is a local fish, but the prep is very Eastern med. Strong flavors of tomato.
“AGLAIA KREMEZI STYLE CRAB CAKES. mini jumbo lump crab cakes, roasted garlic yogurt.” They can pretend this is Eastern Med — but no, it’s all Eastern Shore. Still, no one was complaining. These little patties were essentially crab imperial balls lightly fried on the griddle. There was a light taragon flavor too.
“KEFTEDES KAPAMA. beef and lamb meatballs, feta cheese, rustic tomato sauce, cinnamon, allspice.” Tasty meatballs in classic Eastern style. Similar to typical “spicy kefta” preparations.
“ADANA KEBAB. skewered ground lamb, house-made harissa, grilled tomatoes, sumac, onions.” Typical ground lamb kabob. This wasn’t my absolute favorite dish here. It was a bit salty and the grill flavor too strong. Not that it was bad by any means.
“URFA BIFTEK. grilled sirloin, Urfa pepper, cumin, heirloom lettuces, caramelized sesame.” And this was even saltier, although the meat did have a lot of flavor.
“LOUKANIKO ME AGINARES. grilled Greek pork sausage, marinated artichokes.” The sausage was good and I liked the onion and pepper (pimento in Spanish) salad on top.
“Turkish delight. Walnut Ice Cream, yogurt mousse, orange caramel sauce.” This was very yummy, but from the name I hoped for something closer to real Turkish delight — which is a favorite of mine, particularly the rosewater flavor.
“Greek yogurt and apricots.” Very yummy. The thick yogurt paired very nicely with the sweet fruit. In Greece they eat the purest variant of this: very very sour and thick goat yogurt with drizzled honey.
Overall, Zaytinya was pretty fantastic. It’s neither totally traditional or ultra modern, but instead what one might call a modernized or modestly updated classic. Most of the dishes have their roots in traditional Eastern Med dishes, and they retain — even emphasize — those bright flavors. The form of them is a lighter and slightly more playful, adapted to American tastes. In any case, highly successful.