Fiola's speciality is its pasta. Freshly made, the chef manages to transform perfectly everyday ingredients into fabulousness. My cavatelli ($18*) with guanciale, roasted tomatoes and pecorino was food perfection. Served straight from the pan at the table, this dish had a sauce that slid over the tongue and set tastebuds humming.
In my mind, boy's ragu ($22*) with tajarin (a ribbony pasta made from egg dough) didn't hit the heights that the cavatelli reached. The tajarin itself was another dose of pasta perfection and the dish was tasty, but not over-the-top amazing like my closely guarded dish.
Dessert, again, had us in fits of ecstasy, as well as slightly disappointed. Andy beamed as we ordered the bombolini ($12*), and strongly suggested we have the bombolini and gelato together. Later we understood why. The perfect spheres of doughnutty goodness, slightly smeared with gelato and filled with ricotta were food heaven. Somehow, they even manage to taste healthy, as the slight hint of lemon in the ricotta filling gives a freshness to the dish.
*It looks like prices have changed since we dined
As well as Zaytinya, Andres heads up ThinkFoodGroup, that has in its stable a bunch of other restaurants both in D.C. and elsewhere, including the popular Spanish (Jaleo) and Mexican (Oyamel) restaurants. With so many cuisines under Andres' belt, and knowing his reputation for innovation, I was wondering how authentic our Mediterranean experience would be, but our first dish of dolmades ($8.50) eased my concerns.
The labne with the dolmades was brilliant, and the stuffed vine leaves themselves were all that you'd want them to be, including a strong hit of acidity, and so the only non-authentic element, in my eyes, was the lack of a generous serving size.
While we appreciated the consistently good food at Zaytina, there seemed to be a lack of wow factor in the dishes we ate, and we missed the garlic and salt hit that we've experienced at Mediterranean restaurants elsewhere. The garlic tuom with the shish taouk, in particular, highlighted this, as it was a subtler and creamier tuom than I've had, and the lack of the in-your-face garlic meant that for me, the dish missed something.
Our search for 'wow' was satisfied as we somehow made room for dessert. I am so glad we ordered the Turkish Delight. With walnut ice cream, yogurt mousse, honey gelee, orange-caramel sauce and caramelised pine nuts, this dessert left you in awe and wanting more. The not-particularly-sweet ice cream was the perfect substantial element to let the sweetness of the honey, yogurt and caramel shine. I would be tempted to drop back into Washington D.C. (as you do) just to have that dessert again.... and perhaps some bombolini from Fiola while I'm there!
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