Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 2 in D.C.

Our 2nd day in Washington was devoted to restaurants that Washington Post had deemed in the top ten 'very best' restaurants in D.C., Maryland and Virginia for 2013. The list of ten was whittled down to two using the criteria of our budget, distance from the hotel, and available to be booked, and as a result found ourselves at Fiola (#4), and Zaytinya (#9 )(Zaytinya's shish taouk below).


Fiola's lunch menu is incredibly reasonably priced. As an Aussie diner looking at the website menu, I saw prices that correlated to a Sydney cafe, and so was surprised at the upmarket decor, waitstaff, and customers. In smart casual clothing I felt underdressed. Luckily, unlike our hotel, the treatment we received at Fiola was exactly the same as better dressed customers, and Andrew (Andy), our waiter, was fabulous.

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.

In comparison, the cannoli was disappointing. For us, who prefer cannoli with a plain filling, the additions found in this sicilian style cannoli weren't welcome, and as a result, we made sure that the bombolini was our last mouthful of the meal. I cannot state this strongly enough. Get the bombolini! Do it!

Fiola on Urbanspoon*It looks like prices have changed since we dined


In comparison to Fiola, Zaytinya has a more casual vibe. Arriving at 6:30pm on a Thursday night, the inside was almost full, and outside's courtyard was heading in a similar direction. It's easy to see why Zaytinya is so popular - with share plates that are of a consistently high quality, a bustling ambience, and dishes that manage to be tied to their Mediterranean roots while being taken for a spin by chef Michael Costa, under the direction of Jose Andres.

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.

Following the dolmades was a string of equally high quality dishes such as greek meatballs - keftedes ($9), chicken skewers - shish taouk ($9.50), and seared haloumi ($9.50). The only dish that didn't quite live up to the others was the Greek fries - patates tiganites me yiaourti (5.50). The haloumi, in particular, was a brilliant dish that combined, beautifully, haloumi with complementary tones of pistachio, medjool dates, mint and sone fruit, and was a nice change to the usual haloumi offering with lemon and olive oil.

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!

Zaytinya on Urbanspoon

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