It’s already been a week, but I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to discuss the wonderful dinner Kirios and I had at Zaytinya in Chinatown last week in honor of his birthday. Zaytinya is Kirios’ favorite restaurant, though he had only been twice before. They serve Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese food mezze style (the Mediterranean equivalent of tapas – small plates) which of course features flavors near and dear to his heart since he is Greek. I had never been to Zaytinya before, but have wanted to try it for quite some time. Zaytinya is owned by José Andrés, who is quite the chef and restaurateur. His Think Food Group’s restaurant include the popular Jaleo (with locations in DC, Bethesda, & CrystalCity), and Oyamel – which Kirios and I enjoyed this summer when my New York cousins came to visit.
I was also eager to try Zaytinya because its former executive chef Mike Isabella was a contestant on both Top Chef Season 6 (Las Vegas) and the runner-up during the show’s All-Star season which aired most recently. Top Chef is one of my favorite TV shows, and I have many memories gathering with great friends to watch it in college. Including watching when Mike Isabella got kicked off for a poor vegetarian dish – which embarrassed him terribly because Zaytinya (which he was still the executive chef for at the time) is known for their delicious vegetarian-friendly offerings.
Now, something you should know about me is that I keep kosher – meaning I only eat meat that has been certified kosher via rabbinic supervision. And I don’t eat any pork or shellfish, nor do I mix meat and dairy. While I enjoy and frequently eat meat (beef and lamb) and poultry, I will only order it at a restaurant that is kosher, and most aren’t. So for all intensive purposes, when I eat out, I’m a vegetarian. Kirios is very understanding of this, and frequently orders kosher-friendly meals when we go out to eat so we can share or I can at least taste his food. This is especially the case when we go out to fancier restaurants. That being said, he was raised to appreciate several inherently non-kosher food items and they rank among his most favorite meals. When we go out to eat, I don’t discourage him from ordering the ever popular bacon cheeseburger – after all, I’m sure as hell not going to make him one.
I’ve already mentioned that Zaytinya is Kirios’ favorite restaurant. His favorite dish there is the Garides Me Anitho, sautéed shrimp with dill, shallots, mustard, and lemon juice. He loves this dish so much, he could not imagine going there and not ordering it, and since he likes to order things he can share with me, he had never agreed to take me to Zaytinya before. When it we began planning for his birthday, I insisted. I told him he should order whatever he wanted – after all, it’s his day, and that I would take care of myself and order dishes he could try in large enough quantities to satiate me. He accepted, so I guess that did the trick.
Our meal started freshly baked pita served with an olive oil dip which included pomegranate molasses. The piping hot pitas continued to be replenished throughout the evening. Kirios and I decided to skip drinks that evening and focus on food. So in addition to his shrimp dish, Kirios also ordered Loukaniko Me Aginares, grilled Greek pork sausage with marinated artichokes and roasted peppers; and a special – Lamb Afelia, based off a traditional Cypriot dish usually prepared with work. He enjoyed all of his food, but the shrimp is still his favorite by far.
I ordered the Santorini Fava & Squash Soup, a “puree of yellow split peas and butternut squash, sultans, [and] beech mushrooms.” The Turkish raisins were surprisingly pleasant in the hearty dish. I also enjoyed Kolokithokeftedes, zucchini and cheese patties served over a caper-yogurt sauce, and Crispy Brussel Afelia – wonderfully crisped brussel sprouts topped with coriander seed, barberries and a rich garlic yogurt. Despite Mario’s amply sized “tastes” of my dishes, I struggled to finish all of the food. The brussel sprouts were my favorite, but garlic yogurt made the dish quite heavier than I expected.
When Kirios and I finished all of our mezze plates, we were surprised that we had only been seated for 45 minutes. In fact, we realized, we were enjoying our food so much we had ceased all conversation that didn’t focus on the food itself. We were already so full when the waiter handed us the dessert menu, but we weren’t willing to throw in the towel just yet. In May, we had the opportunity to taste an apricot pistachio tapioca dessert that Zaytinya was passing out at the Greek Embassy during the EU Open House day and let’s just say it was good enough we got back in-line. So we took advantage of the small-plate approach and shared a mezze portion (read: half portion) of the Turkish chocolate coffee cake. Along with the Turkish coffee Kirios ordered, it was the perfect end to a delicious meal. And as an extra bonus, we finished early enough to stop into the National Portrait Gallery across the street see some great art and take a couple of pictures in its beautiful courtyard before driving home.
Happy Birthday, Kirios!