Zaytinya: worth a trip to Chinatown

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Two hours after passing through Zaytinya’s double glass doors, I reclined contentedly in my seat. “I can’t eat another bite,” I say, finally resting my fork on the table.

“I was full half an hour ago,” my friend quipped.

Her eyes rove over our now empty plates, stopping to contemplate a lone piece of chicken that has not yet been devoured. She asks, half seriously, “Do you think they would wrap this up for me?”

Yes, it is fair to say that Zaytinya, a restaurant that occupies a generous corner space and serves up delectable Turkish, Greek and Lebanese fare, is definitely worth the trip to Chinatown.

Zaytinya (which means “olive oil” in Turkish) offers an impressive menu comprised mostly of Mezze: small plates of eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern origins. In fact, it is helpful to think of Mezze as the Mediterranean version of a Spanish “tapa.”

While the menu’s sheer size initially seems intimidating, this feeling disappears when you consider that there is something for everyone. Even for diners with less adventurous palates, classics like Hommus ($5.95) or Shish Taouk ($6.25; a marinated chicken dish served with garlic sauce, onions, and tomatoes) are good options.

Zaytinya caters mostly to a chic, after work clientele and it is not uncommon to wait as long as an hour for a table if you have not made a reservation. Luckily, the bar is large and bustling, and a good place to socialize while you wait. Seating is much faster if you don’t mind sitting outside on the terrace, which is made comfortable even in cooler weather with the aid of heat lamps.

Despite the size of the restaurant, expect good service once you have been seated. Waiters are knowledgeable, polite and eager to answer questions about the menu. Servers are attentive, swooping in to replenish water glasses and ask about the meal, without seeming like they are rushing you.

Knowledgeable waiters are particularly useful when ordering drinks at Zaytinya. In keeping with the Mediterranean spirit of the restaurant, many of the wines, beers and cocktails served also hail from the region.

As per the suggestions of our waiter, my friend and I ordered an Almaza Pilsner (a crisp, Lebanese beer) and a glass of Assyrtlke (a Greek white wine) and were pleased with both.

For the more daring cocktail connoisseur, Zaytinya offers inspired drink options with components like orange blossom water and pomegranate juice. For those interested in sampling traditional Anise liqueurs, Ouzo, Raki and Arak are also available.

While you sip your drink and wait for your food, try not to fill up on baskets of soft, puffy bread, ushered directly from the oven to your table and refilled regularly.

Food is whisked to the table as soon as it is ready. The Spice Rubbed Sirloin of Beef ($8.95), served with visne and pistachio sauce, is tender and flavorful. Labneh ($5.25), a Lebanese strained yogurt with zatar and extra virgin olive oil, is creamy and tangy and tastes great with the bread.

These dishes, as well as the others we tried, were presented with care and even small details are considered. Dull golden platters mingle with funky ceramic bowls on the table- a blend that feels authentically Mediterranean and cleanly modern at the same time.

The restaurant’s décor too reflects the menu, while also embodying a sense of modernity and style: vaulted ceilings complement dark woods and soaring glass walls. Low, warm lights vitalize shades of ivory and deep blue.

As a complete culinary experience, Zaytinya really delivers on all counts. An extensive menu, bold flavors and inventive twists on traditional dishes mean that there is always something new to try. The lively atmosphere and great service assures that patrons return often.

Zaytinya (701 9th St. NW) is located on the corner of 9th and G streets, between Metro Center and Chinatown.

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