There are several things for which my heart beats fondly. Guacamole, vanilla coffee, the color purple. But somewhere up there near my affinity for avocados is my love of Mediterranean cuisine. Though I have mentioned it on the blog in the past, I spent a great deal of time in Istanbul, Turkey, and it was there that my passion for the place and the food was born.
The beautiful part of living in a city like DC is the access you have to every culture and cuisine in the world. Last year, Scott took me out for my 29th birthday to one of this city’s Mediterranean gems – Zaytinya. Knowing how much I miss Istanbul and the authenticity of the food, Scott surprised me and whisked me off on what is one of our most memorable dates. I’d like to say that it was the conversation or the chemistry – but truly guys, it was the food.
Zaytinya, under the expertise and vision of Chef José Andrés, is a modern and innovation Turkish, Lebanese, and Greek restaurant situated in Penn Quarter/Chinatown DC. Though Scott and I have discussed our love of a cozy, brick inspired atmosphere, Zaytinya wows with it’s modern design and sleek, chic appearance. It’s light, open, and the clean lines of the interior allow the dishes to impress all on their own without interference from the decor.
The entire menu is impressive, and though we have sampled much of it I am on a mission to try it all. The cocktails are brilliantly mixed to pay tribute to the places that inspire the restaurant, and when I saw the name “3 PM in Istanbul” – I was sold. I know what 3 PM in Istanbul actually feels like, and sipping it put me back on the Bosphorus with the wind in my hair. If you haven’t been to Turkey, settle on Zaytinya’s cocktails – they’ll make you feel just as good.
The food is a religious experience, and each time we go I try to impress Scott with my knowledge of the Turkish language and the familiar ingredients in some of the more exotic dishes. He feigns impressed (good man) and allows me to order as many small dishes as my heart desires. Two that I encourage you to try above the rest are the Crispy Brussels (which will change your entire opinion on brussel sprouts) and a very special dish called Merçimek Köftesi (red lentil patties). The kofte reminds me of çig kofte in Turkey, my favorite food while living abroad. I actually once found a place in NYC who I convinced to send me $200 of çig kofte so I could freeze it and enjoy it for months after I returned from my time in Istanbul. And you guessed it – guacamole met çig kofte and it was my version of heaven.
Back to heaven here in DC – Zaytinya. The brussels are drizzled with an amazing garlic yogurt sauce which I tried to emulate last night and failed miserably, and so I am content ordering theirs from here on out. You can’t go wrong with any of the appetizers, and a night without hummus, tzatziki, or baba ghannouge isn’t quite complete.
Most recently, we made it back to Zaytinya for my 30th birthday while my best friend was in town from L.A. This time, we tried the Octopus Santorini as well as the Shrimp dish which took me out of my comfort zone while convincing me that Zaytinya can do no wrong. If I had my choice, I’d be back in weekly to sample yet another exquisite item off of their menu.
Though I’m on the hunt for DC’s best guacamole, I’m fairly certain I have already found DC’s best Mediterranean. Zaytinya will continue to be named one of Washington’s Best Restaurants year after year, and I’ll settle on having a little piece of Istanbul right here at home.