With only a few days and nights in Washington, DC, it was not easy to choose which restaurants to visit. D.C. has a very impressive food scene and there is no shortage of highly rated restaurants in the area. After reading through some reviews and checking out a few menus, I settled on Zaytinya for dinner on Saturday night.
Zaytinya is a “mezze restaurant”, mezze referring to the small plate style they serve. At all of our family holidays you can bet you’ll find my uncle in the kitchen before dinner asking my aunts for a little “mezze”, meaning he wants a small taste of the lamb or whatever else is hot out of the oven. Mike recently picked up on this word and has started using it on a regular basis, so I thought this might be a sign that Zaytinya was the perfect choice. Plus, Zaytinya’s menu is a mouth-watering compilation of Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish-inspired dishes created by José Andrés…pretty hard to go wrong!
The restaurant itself is gorgeous – the high ceilings and windows make it feel bright and open, they have large tables that are perfect for bigger groups, and they also have a great outdoor patio if you’re in the mood for al fresco dining. We had an early reservation on Saturday night and the restaurant was already busy when we arrived. We were led to our table right away and quickly perused the cocktail menu to find our first drink of choice. I went with the Turkish Storm which is made with aged rum, lime juice, cardamom syrup, and house-made ginger beer. This was a great drink, but I took a sip of the 3:00 p.m. in Istanbul and it was definitely my favorite. Its combination of lemon lavender mint tea-infused vodka, rhubarb liqueur, vanilla syrup, lime juice, and grapefruit juice made for a very unique cocktail. We also ordered a few dips too go along with their warm, pillowy pita bread – the Tzatziki, Baba Ghannouge, and Htipiti. All were great but the roasted red pepper and feta cheese combination of the Htipiti was the winner in my book.
After this small but delicious taste of what Zaytinya had to offer, we were ready for more. We had a group of 6 which was great for trying a wide variety of dishes, however most of the dishes were probably better sized for 4 people to share. We were all stuffed at the end but we were each only able to get a very small bite of a few of the dishes, and I know there were definitely some that I wanted more of. This could easily be remedied by ordering 2 orders of these dishes, which we ended up doing in a couple instances!
The first few dishes out of the kitchen were the Ramp Pide, the Garides me Antho, and the Trout Skordalia. The ramp dish was from the Specials menu and was basically a flatbread topped with Shepherds Manor Dairy ewe creme fresh sheep’s milk cheese, grilled ramps, and pastirma. The crust was a little thick around the edges, I would’ve preferred a thinner crust to let the ingredients shine, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the grilled ramps.
The Garides me Antho is a shrimp dish that is very popular here and I can see why – the shrimp were very well prepared and the dill, shallots, mustard, and lemon juice imparted a wonderfully bright flavor.
The trout was ouzo-battered and sat on top of the potato garlic spread. This traditional Greek spread is usually extremely potent from the garlic, but this was an incredibly mild version. While it was still very good, I was just a bit disappointed as I was looking forward to all of that in-your-face garlic flavor.
Next up was the Kotopoulo Youvetsi, Lamb Kleftico, and the Crispy Brussels Afelia – all straight up amazing dishes that I would order over and over again. The Kotopoulo Youvetsi is an orzo pasta dish with chicken, a tomato-based sauce, and kefalograviera cheese. I loved this dish as it reminded me of one of my favorite dishes made by my grandmother.
The Lamb Kleftico is a fixture on their Specials menu but I really think it should have a spot on the main menu. As soon as I took my first bite I frantically waved down our waiter and asked that he bring another! This was probably my favorite dish of the night – tender, spit-roasted lamb wrapped in house-made buttery phyllo served over a dill yogurt sauce – amazing!
The last dish in this group was the Brussels Sprouts and holy cow were these some ridiculous Brussels Sprouts! Hands down the best I’ve ever had, and loved even by those at the table who didn’t really care for Brussels Sprouts – luckily we were given 2 orders of these as well!
Our three final savory dishes for the night were the Keftedes Kapama, Local Goat Moussaka, and Octopus Santorini. We had 2 orders of the keftedes, or meatballs, because only 4 come in each order. These meatballs were made of beef and lamb and were swimming in the delicious kapama sauce made with a little cinnamon and allspice to deliver a nice punch of flavor.
The moussaka was probably my 2nd favorite dish of the night after the lamb. Unlike traditional moussaka, Zaytinya’s version used big chunks of tender goat meat rather than ground meat and their version of béchamel sauce was underneath the eggplant and meat. This is another special that they should really consider making a permanent fixture on the menu!
Finally we had the octopus, one of the restaurant’s more well-known dishes but unfortunately one of my least favorite. It was beautifully plated and the octopus was very tender but the combination of the peas and octopus just didn’t do it for me.
At this point we were contemplating another dish or two but decided that we needed to save a little bit of room for dessert. We had the Turkish Delight and the Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake and both were fantastic! The chocolate cake was warm with a soft center – and who doesn’t love a warm, perfectly moist piece of chocolate cake?! The Turkish Delight was a delicious combination of walnut ice cream, yogurt mousse, honey gelée, orange-caramel sauce, and caramelized pine nuts – paired with a cup of Turkish coffee it was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal!
We had such a great meal at Zaytinya that I’ve been thinking about their food ever since we left – and writing this post and looking at all the photos certainly hasn’t helped! If you’re in D.C. I definitely recommend checking them out; they also offer a great 4-course lunch for only $25 if you can’t get in for dinner! Also, can someone please start a petition to get chef Andrés to open a restaurant in Chicago?!
Zaytinya is located at 701 9th St NW in Washington D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.