Our first introduction to James Beard Award-winning Chef José Andrés’ Mediterranean inspired Zaytinya happened during a preview of their 7th annual Greek Easter Festival. We immediately knew it was a place we needed to frequent again. Between the Loukamades (traditional Greek donuts with citrust thyme syrup and flower petals), and the Lobster Avgolemono (hash brown, poached lobster with lobster tomato avgolemono sauce) it was love at first bite.
We had the chance to visit Zaytinya again for brunch during the Greek Agora Market event marking the end of the festival – which admittedly at this point was a few weeks ago. Although technically no longer timely information we were introduced to local vendors with a few hailing from New York and Pennsylvania. Some of our favorites included The Mediterranean Way, a local gourmet market located in the Dupont Circle area that sells authentic Greek products; everything from marmalades, jams and tomato sauces, to Greek honey, olive oils and vinegars. Zoe’s Chocolate Co. was offering up delicious samples of their locally-sourced and natural hand-crafted chocolates, while Kaldi offered samples of their all-natural authentic Greek sauces. And we can’t forget about the gorgeous Baklava Couture pastries that appeared to have everyone drooling. We ended up missing out on a lot of sampling opportunities because we didn’t think things through and went to brunch before we hit up the market. Ooops.
- Our brunch experience at Zaytinya was phenomenal, and we were pleased to learn that some of the dish specials from the Greek Easter Festival are going to remain on the menu. Our meal began with mimosas, orange juice, house-made lemon soda, an endless bread basket, and a flight of three spreads that included Hommus (puree of chickpeas, garlic, and tahini), Baba Ghannouge (fire-roasted eggplant, tahini, lemon, and garlic), and Htipiti (marinated roasted red peppers, feta, and thyme). It was more difficult than expected to save room for the rest of the meal.
- We were asked if we had anything specific in mind we were looking to try or if we preferred that they just brought out a range of dishes. We decided to put in an order for Ashta (traditional Lebanese-style French toast, bananas and orange blossom honey), and the Turkish Pancakes (apricots, candied walnuts, Greek yogurt, and Attiki honey), just because we had young spawn tagging along that day and wanted to make sure they didn’t fill up on solely the spreads. We then let the kitchen decide the rest of our meal. Although not particularly what we would consider a “kid-friendly” restaurant (everything is WHITE) the two dishes we requested specifically for the moochers were a big hit and were affordable (less than $9). We loved how all of the staff was kind, understanding and we were all warmly welcomed without any snide looks or raised eyebrows.
- Then came the onslaught of dish after dish sampling from every portion of the menu. Our first course included our beloved Loukamades (traditional Greek donuts, citrus thyme syrup, and flower petals), Oyster Tzatziki ( Five Rappahonnock River ‘Olde Salts’ oysters, cucumber, yogurt, and barberries), and Soujouk Pide flat bread (spicy soujouk sausage, kasar cheese, and 63° egg). Out of the three the Oyster Tzatziki was our least favorite – the only reason being that they came across lacking the salty oyster flavor we love. That doesn’t mean they weren’t devoured though.
- At this time we were hitting our “comfortably satiated” part of brunch. Then our second courses arrived consisting of Sea Scallops (dill yogurt, sugar snap peas, and radish), Roasted Asparagus (bahar-spiced labneh, crushed pine nuts, and chives), and Zaytinya’s infamous Crispy Brussels Afelia (Brussels sprouts, coriander seed, barberries, and garlic yogurt). The sea scallops were cooked extremely well, and the vegetables right on point. We can now see why the Crispy Brussels Afelia is one of Zaytinya’s most popular dishes. It certainly convinced us we’ve been wrong to hold a grudge against sprouts since childhood.
- By now we were fighting the urge to unbutton our pants (kidding… kind of). We couldn’t imagine what else the sizable menu had in store for us. In fact, we thought we’d be saying our thank you’s and goodbye’s…until more food arrived at the table. OK. Scratch that. We suppose we could eat some more, even if that meant a greater risk of needing to be rolled out of the restaurant like the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. The last dishes to arrive at the table included a variety of Lamb, Chicken and Beef Kebabs, and the Lamb Tongue Souvlaki (grilled lamb’s tongue, sugar snap peas, olives, sultanas, and pickled chilis). The latter was introduced by the chef as (paraphrased), “I’m just calling this lamb. I don’t want to scare the kids away from eating it.” Even with our waistbands stretched as far as they could get, we demolished the kebabs, and each tried the lamb tongue.
It’s easy to see why Zaytinya consistently ranks as one of the top restaurants in DC. The atmosphere is beautiful with wide open spaces, white and light blue walls, and many windows creating the feeling of being on vacation in Greece. The staff is fantastic – friendly, knowledgeable, and right on top of their service. The only thing that we would have liked to see was a bottomless drink option on the menu.
Make sure you keep an eye out on Zaytinya’s website for event news. Coming up on June 3rd is their Flying Dog Brewery Dinner featuring five beers from the craft brewery and each paired with inventive dishes specially created by Zaytinya’s Head Chef Michael Costa. The dinner will highlight limited release and award winning pours, including Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale and the Easy IPA. The dinner will be held at 7pm and costs $65 per person.
701 9th Street NW
Washington DC 20001
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