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Zaytinya


Steve Klc
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Well, the only savory we had that he mentions was the octopus -- and ours was dense, yes, but very tender. So I disagree with him there.

But he is 100% right about Steve K's semolina cake. Fireworks, indeed! :biggrin:

I only wish when we ate there that we had room for more; everything was excellent.

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Steve, it sounds great to me. I'm a big fan of the mezze/tapas approach to dining.

It's also nice to see a pastry chef's contribution fully acknowledged in a review. I can't wait to try the dates in vin santo with olive oil ice cream.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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Try to PM me when you plan to come. Lately I've been spending most of my time and mental energy down the street at one of Jose's other restaurants, Cafe Atlantico, creating a dynamic dessert program there to complement the contemporary Latin savory stylings of Jose and Kats (Katsuya Fukushima--who most recently cooked at Verbena in NYC and before that, El Bulli.) So I'm knee deep in plaintain powder and masa instead of phyllo and semolina.

At Zaytinya, that date dessert is my personal favorite--and the most "creative," most labor-intensive dessert on the menu. We have cases of these beautiful jumbo Medjool dates flown in just for us from a farm in California, who otherwise sends most of their product to Japan. No one else in the city uses Jumbo grade--the largest, texturally most select, sweetest dates--presumably because they are too expensive. $55 a case for jumbo Medjools versus $46 for "large"--the next quality grade down--and none of the regular channel produce vendors even carry jumbos. We get them direct from the farm because even the "larges" from the produce wholesalers tended to be old, dried and dessicated. A real bitch to peel.

We briefly roast these fat meaty dates in a Greek vin santo with muscovado sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, orange zest--to loosen the skins--then peel them--a real chore--and reduce the liquid to a sauce consistency. Three of these dates are arranged on top of some crumbled shortbread, which is on top of a thin layer of pistachio cream poured into a shallow bowl. A drizzle of the date reduction, the olive oil ice cream (made in the PacoJet) a drizzle of the unfiltered Greek evoo itself and a sprinkle of ground pistachio, candied orange rind and fleur de sel completes the dish.

That we're even trying to do a dessert like this in volume--and at that price point of $6 is really a testament to my team and the support of a chef-owner-visionary like Jose Andres (and his partners Roberto Alvarez and Rob Wilder.) But that was also before this review came out, so we'll see how we do when volume increases. I'll change it if the prep or plating consistency slips in any way.

And yes, Tom was very generous to me and Jose and the whole team behind the project.

(By the way, Michel Richard was in Cafe for lunch yesterday and unbeknownst to me Kats served him the test version of one of the new desserts--a jiggly coconut panna cotta with mango salad in a vanilla-lime jus. The glasses came back scraped clean so we're off to a good start.)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Incredible review, Special K. I don't read much of Sietsema's work, but I know that if I lived in DC I would. Every time I do happen to stumble across something he's done, I like it, and I especially appreciate that he's one of the few newspaper columnists in America to take the online component of his paper seriously by participating in frequent chat sessions. Other papers with serious food sections should be ashamed of themselves for not following suit.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This comment struck the eGulleteer in me, though:

"You're out of luck, though, if you hope to book a table after 6:30 p.m.; Zaytinya doesn't take reservations for any later, a policy I find inhospitable in this otherwise gracious dining room."

I'm not sure I view this policy as any more or less inhospitable than other options. What say the rest of you?

It's interesting you mention the weekly online chats Tom sits down for--he really walks a tightrope with those, at times exposing himself more than any other restaurant critic I'm aware of. He's nice, sincere and actually reads and responds to viewer e-mails. Phyllis Richman, Tom's predecessor, inaugurated this interaction. It's one thing they--and the Washington Post group--have done right for some time.

Here's the link to Tom's chat archive if anyone is interested:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/liveo...od/sietsema.htm

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I'm not sure I view this policy as any more or less inhospitable than other options.  What say the rest of you?

I don't see it as a question of hospitality at all. The hospitality issue, for me, is the fair, predictable, and reasonable application of policies, and the clear announcement of such policies. There are arguments in favor of a restaurant taking reservations, arguments in favor of walk-in-only policies, and arguments in favor of hybrid policies -- and they're all reasonable arguments that are ultimately going to satisfy a percentage of customers at the expense of others.

My preference -- and this is just me -- is for more-or-less casual restaurants to offer some reservations at all times, but to combine that with walk-in seating for most tables. That way, if I have a business engagement or specific plans that require precise timing, I can call far enough ahead to get one of the few reservations. Otherwise, that restaurant becomes a non-option for me on any evening when my schedule isn't open-ended. I think it's fair to say you have a 20-minute hold policy -- if the party with the reservation is later than that, the table gets given up and the party with the reservation goes into the walk-in queue if those folks ever appear. It's also worth bearing in mind that the types of customers who order expensive wine and such tend to be older and don't like waiting in lines -- they want reservations. But, again, I don't see it as a hospitality question at all.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You said something interesting my friend "Steve, just tell us eGulleteers how the owner of Zaytinya had to pay for this review?"

I know you are being a bit impish with this, since the review was so good, but I will answer this seriously because it is important--the ownership group--Jose plus Rob and Roberto as I mentioned--are all honest and experienced restaurateurs with other successful restaurants under their belt that have stood the test of time and remained both popular and relevant. That's no easy feat--plus, more than anything else, they hired passionate talented people to be a part of their team--and then let them do their thing. I am lucky to be part of that team, but just to give you an example--they hired the chef from Lebanese Taverna--a warm, gregarious, bear of a man named Abdoul--to come over and teach us how to make phyllo by hand--the way Abdoul's father's father did--the old-fashioned "artisanal" labor-intensive way. It would have made much more economic and practical sense to simply use commercial frozen phyllo--as even the lauded "best" restaurant in town--Michel Richard at Citronelle--does when he makes his creme brulee napoleon.

But no, the Zaytinya phyllo had to be made by hand in-house. And part of that resulted from Jose Andres travelling around Greece and Turkey and seeing that phyllo there was many different textures and thicknesses, many different subtle styles and variations than just that ubiquitous frozen phyllo you and I and Michel Richard defrost. The owners knew who to turn to, secured the proper permissions, invested in the labor costs for training and voila--the spanikopita at Zaytinya impresses like no other.

The owners paid for that good review by making good decisions like that all throughout the process--managing and motivating design, labor and creativity--and I'm sure countless other things I haven't even been privy to yet.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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We went to Zaytinya for the first time last night and had a lovely time.

The front room very striking, surrounded by a towering wall of windows. Unfortunately, the ceiling in the bar is much lower, and this makes it feel a little cramped, even though it is otherwise a large space. The bar crowd was a good mix of after work types and the young and hip--in some cases too hip. The woman next to us at the bar, for example, wore her leather pants in a style more commonly associated with plumbers' Levis. But enough about the atmosphere--on to the food.

We knew in advance that this dinner was going to be all about mezze. If we hadn't known that before, the menu, which features dozens of mezze, and just three or four entrees tucked away in the lower right corner, was a dead giveaway. We really wanted to try everything, but after some debate we settled on the following seven:

Baba ghannouche We debated between this old standby and a whole roasted eggplant stuffed with onions and tomatoes. In the end, we decided that we should stick to what we knew for a couple of dishes, like this one, and branch out with the rest. We were rewrded with a creamy smoky dip, topped with olive oil and studded with pomegranite seeds.

Greek olives with thyme The selection of olives presented were meaty and flavorful, with good texture. All were excellent examples of their style. The range of styles presented could have been a bit broader, but again, all the olives that were served were of excellent quality.

Fava beans These were presented in dip form, covered layers of diced onions, capers, and olive oil. The onion and caper flavor combination is one I associate with fish, but it worked very well here with the rich fava paste.

Cabbage dolmades These were my star pick for the evening. The cabbage leaf wrappers were soft and tender, more like a good crepe than the thick veiny stuffed cabbage wrappers one sees elsewhere. The filling was rice and mushrooms. What put this dish over the top for me was the topping of lemony foam and olive oil. Everything about this dish was fresh and flavorful. Next time I vistit, it will be hard not to order two servings.

Taramosalata This is a dish of creamed cod roe. I've had this elsewhere and enjoyed it. It can be fishy at times, but a good one is light and airy enough to offer balance. Here, unfortunately, it was so oppressively salty that the other flavors could not come through. It was the only dish of the seven that we did not finish.

Yumurtali This was wife's favorite. A soft-cooked egg atop a semi-sweet vegetable ragou with strips of air-dried beef. Breaking the yolk self-sauced the dish, giving it a lovely creamy counterpoint to the crispy beef. A great combination of salty and sweet flavors, executed masterfully.

Shish taouk This was a grilled boneless chicken leg with onions and tomato. Far more flavorful than any white meat kebab could ever be, with thin tender rings of onion and a perfect blend of spices. It was extremely well executed and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

We knew essentially nothing about the Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish wines on offer, but our waiter was extremely helpful in describing them. He admitted that since they had not been open long he had not had a chance to try them all. But he was confident in his descriptions of those he had tried. He even went so far as to warn us away from one bottle he said was so stronly vanilla flavored that it could be likened to cookie dough. We settled on a 99 Voyatzi blend of Xinomavro, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a light red wine, slightly acidic, but otherwise well balanced and a nice accompanyment to our food.

And now, it was time for dessert. Having read Klc's posts here on eGullet and seen his pastryarts.com site, I knew he was both talented and passionate about his pastry creations. Now, I would taste them for the first time.

I was particularly excited about the Medjool dates, as described by Steve in this thread. They were everything I had hoped for. The dates themselves were plump and silky. I would not have guessed that their creamy texture could be achieved in a whole fruit. I also loved how the crumbled orange shortbread set off not only the dates, but also the pistachio cream and rich olive oil ice cream.

We also had the semolina cake. It was excellent, and beautifully plated. But next to the dates, I don't know of any dessert that would stand much of a chance.

Semisweet Turkish coffee was a fine finish.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening, and one I hope to repeat soon. Next time, we will try to go with a group of at least four, so as to increase the number of different mezze we can try.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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Steve,

I forgot to ask this earlier. When the menu was being developed, do you know if any thought given to a dish based on halloumi, the waxy white sheep's milk cheese from Cyprus? I love the smooth smoky flavor it develops when grilled. I've seen blocks of it for sale in shops in New York, but never on a restaurant menu in this country.

Thanks!

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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I had a late lunch at the bar today.

Started with the Ksara Ksarak, which was a bit sweet when neat but very nice at 1:1 with cold water.

Spanakopita was very good, although the filling was a tad shy of pepper. The pastry was a real triumph and shows the value of handcrafting it.

The Kibbeh Nayeh was well seasoned, although I wish it was chopped a bit coarser.

Garides Saganaki, shrimp in a tomato broth gratineed with cheese, was incredible. The cheese served more as a dumpling in the stew than anything else, and served it well. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and sweet as candy. A triumph.

Mavrofassoula Me Loucaniko--perfect sausage, perfect beans. Nice dish, a good accompaniment to the lighter, lither reds offered by the glass.

The dates in the Medjool date dessert were a bit sticky, and the shortbread crumbs were not quite enough of a textural contrast.

Okay, okay, I've now said everything I can say negative.

Zaytinya is the most engaging, best value restaurant within 200 miles of Washington. The food is subtle without being precious, full-flavored without being cloying, wine-friendly without being subservient. The servers, especially the barkeeps, are knowledgeable, have good palates and appreciate customers who engage them. The room is stunning, without being beaten down by loud music or stifled by poor lighting, day or night. You can feast and drink like a king for less than 50 bucks. The barstools are comfy. The Metro is right outside the door. Do I need to go on?

I'd like to get a straight answer on the corkage policy, though. :-)

Jake

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Jake--have you called the restaurant and asked to speak with Christopher Vasquez as far as the corkage policy yet? He is the GM and if you don't get a "straight" answer out of him I'd be very surprised.

And as far as the limoncello is concerned, I've only tried a handful of the drinks at the bar--and I'm not a hard liquor/liqueur kind of guy. My palate doesn't go there. I will try to remember to ask Jose, I'm cooking with him in Cleveland this week at the MOCA. You might want to ask Christopher as well--he oversaw the development of those drinks and the bar and if you feel it could be done well, I'm sure they'd be interested in hearing from a satisfied customer. Just how do you go about making your own limoncello?

(By the way, I hear there is a "50/50 leaning toward the negative" review of Zaytinya in the Washington magazine this month. I haven't read it yet, but since I mentioned the Sietsema/Washington Post review above it is only fair that I mention it--you all can decide whether it is valid or not.)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Haven't talked to Chris yet...which one is he? I know manager Brian (and bartender Jorge) from Colvin Run Tavern, but don't know Chris.

Limoncello can be either distilled (hard) or infused (easy). There are plenty of recipes for it on other boards, but all of them require good vodka, lemon zest, sugar and water. You infuse the vodka for a month, then sweeten it w/sugar syrup. It seems like some trouble, but it might also be a neat touch alongside the homemade phyllo and other time-consuming quality measures at the restaurant.

If the Washingtonian reviewer went on Friday or Saturday night, I can definitely see how they might have issues. Not with the food, but with the whole cacophony. Not a bad problem to have, eh?

Jake

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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I'm anxious to try this place out. I spent a couple of months in Greece and a month in Turkey. What would be the chances of finding seating Friday night at 6 for 6 people?

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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I'm anxious to try this place out. I spent a couple of months in Greece and a month in Turkey. What would be the chances of finding seating Friday night at 6 for 6 people?

They get a big after-work crowd, but a lot of that is in the bar. The dining area is quite large, and tables seem to turn pretty quickly, so it might not be too long of a wait.

If there is a game at the MCI center on the particular Friday, shoot for just a little later when the wave of pre-game diners clears out.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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Mr. Klc-I think your friend was only kidding when he asked how you"paid' for your good review. However, your touchy response made me think that perhaps you don't feel anyone should be able to joke with you. When you take yourself that seriously, you really sound like a whiner. I also feel that it isn't really necessary to kiss Tom Seitsema's ass so blatantly. Perhaps you don't know this, but many people who live in DC (not the suburbs), don't pay much attention to him-in fact, I hate to say this, but my friends and I almost miss Phyllis Richman!

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Of course he was kidding, I used it as an opportunity to give credit where credit was due. And taking myself seriously, well, that's nothing new.

Readers bitching about Sietsema as New Yorkers bitch about Grimes--it comes with their territory no matter what they write. Around DC it is like longing for Joe Gibbs as coach of the Redskins. You're new to the forum, but I've been very open and critical here (especially for a chef) regarding the job I feel the Post, Sietsema and Richman have done covering the food scene in our area. I've also tried to be fair and reasonable. In my case and in theirs, the work, not the resume, speaks for itself--what's on the plate and what's written. No amount of perceived ass-kissing can overcome deficiencies in one or the other.

Unlike most other chefs, I've also had a few articles published. So I've been on both sides of the media fence. Maybe it helps me see things a little more clearly, maybe not. But as a result of my writing and my cooking I've tried to respect the people on both sides who I feel are trying to do good work and I hope there is nothing wrong with discussing that frankly and openly.

Tom didn't like my chocolate-cardamom-espresso dessert at Zaytinya. I still think it's fantastic and I don't hold it against him. I've done it for a few chef-type events in NYC and when I was a guest of Disneyworld and cooked at the California Grill, that was one of three desserts I chose to do. All raves. I think Tom may have a thing with chocolate, and he definitely has a thing for liquid center chocolate cakes--he's said he doesn't like them, that they're too ubiquitous. He may not "get" chocolate the way I get it. I make that cake a different way than probably anyone else in DC--technique-wise something I adapted from Philippe Conticini--and I use a blend of chocolate that no one else in DC does. Now, maybe on this a diner will agree more with Tom, maybe with me. Either way, I'll get over it, so will he. It's the nature of our jobs. So is being on the receiving end of snide comments and cheapshots. It happens.

It's his job to tell his readers how he sees things--and he's doing a great job staying on top of the food scene in DC, as well as in the burbs. Could he do even better? I'm sure some chefs feel he could. But who among us couldn't do an even better job? His approach to his job is impeccably professional--and his fact-checking is impressive. (And I've been reviewed by William Grimes as well and I thought his fact-checking was very good.) None of that has prevented me from discussing why we disagree at times.

I've also read the Washingtonian for years--long before I even became a chef--and have met and dined with a few of their editors. For example--in the tepid Washingtonian magazine review of Zaytinya--which I have now just read--though they seemed to really like my desserts, moved to use the word "ethereal" in connection with one, there were two errors in just the two sentences about the desserts: that one used an "Italian" wine and that a cardamom "ice cream" was served. I wasn't mentioned by name and I wasn't contacted to check any facts prior to publication. The two wonderful wines I use there in the desserts are both Greek and mentioned on the menu (yes, I realize I used Greek, wine and wonderful in the same sentence) and the cardamom is either an espuma or sauce, not ever spun into an ice cream in the Pacojet. All of that is perfectly fine. That review, as any review, stands on its own merit. Neither review, and no amount of perceived ass-kissing, will have any effect on the quality or value or consistency of the $5.95 desserts being sent out each day to the average diner. That was nailed before the first critic even showed up.

I do think your comment about missing Phyllis is an interesting one--one that comes up in DC foodie circles still--and one worth discussing if you'd like to start a new thread on it. I'd like to hear why.

Could I be even more critical? Perhaps, but then that would be taking myself way too seriously.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I'm anxious to try this place out. I spent a couple of months in Greece and a month in Turkey. What would be the chances of finding seating Friday night at 6 for 6 people?

At 6, it shouldn't be a problem. Much after that, however, and it gets dicey...I don't think they get a huge pre-game hit on Friday and Saturday nights compared to the normal Friday and Saturday nights....

Jake

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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Perhaps you don't know this, but many people who live in DC (not the suburbs), don't pay much attention to him-in fact, I hate to say this, but my friends and I almost miss Phyllis Richman!

Do you mean to say that those of us who live in the suburbs don't know any better? :rolleyes:

As for missing Phyllis Richman - it's kinda nice to have a restaurant reviewer that doesn't include the word "buttery" in every write-up.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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