My college roommate, Joanna, moved to the DC area last year, so the three of us had lunch at Zaytinya, Jose Andres’ Greek/Turkish/Mediterranean inspired restaurant. The space was beautiful with soaring ceilings and everything in the clean white/cool blue color palette of the Mediterranean. There were brunch offerings, but we chose to share a selection of mezzes:
Hommus – The reviews I read used phrases like “to die for,” and “like no hommus I’ve ever had.” So now I had to order it to try this extraordinary hommus. It was good, but certainly nothing to die over.
Taramosalata – it’s a traditional spread with potato and carp roe. This was light, fluffy and briny; it was definitely the best version I’ve ever had.
Falafel – 6 adorable mini falafel balls. They were crispy and not too oily, but for $8.50, I’ll take a falafel sandwich from Amsterdam Falafelshop (see below).
Fries – Delicious fries with a yogurt caper sauce.
Snail kibbeh - Crispy potato crusted snails. I love snails and these were plump and juicy. The potato crust did not want to stay on the snail.
Moshari souvlaki – This was easily the best mezze of the meal. The grilled veal breast was so tender and bursting with flavor. It came in a lettuce wrap, topped with tzatziki. I wished I had a whole mezze to myself
Lamb bahar – It was a lamb kebab, a good, uninteresting lamb kabob.
I love that you can order mezze sized ($4) or full sized ($8) desserts. I wished more places did that. The menu is small and we got 4 of the 5 offerings.
Turkish Delight – this was a “reimagining” of the classic dessert with yogurt mousse, walnut ice cream and a honey gelee. It was a failure.
Chocolate Rose – chocolate and rose flavored ice cream. Meh. I think it’s hard to add floral elements to dessert. It’s a fine line between unique and soap.
Turkish coffee chocolate – It was a delicious little molten chocolate cake. Was it innovative? Nope. Was it tasty? Yup.
Selection of ice creams – the walnut ice cream was gritty, the olive oil ice cream was different, but not great but the last ice cream, baklava was awesome.
One of my favorite things about Zaytinya was the freshly baked pita bread. They just kept it coming and it was the perfect accompaniment to the spreads and mezzes. Our server was polite and attentive. The spreads run $6-$7 and the seafood and meat mezzes are between $8 - $14, so once you add in dessert and drinks, the meal can get pricey, but I think it was worth it.
Captain Pell’s, Fairfax VA
Fast forward to dinner that night…
I love blue crab. I really, really love blue crab. In my youth, we would get bushels and sit, pick and eat for hours. When I made my plans for the trip, I made one request of Christine: We had to go for crabs. I’ve been watching the Wire and every time they ate crabs, I’d get so excited, knowing that it would be me soon.
We called several places (Mike’s in MD, and Quarterdeck in VA) to make sure there was good crab availability, before we settled on Captain Pell’s in Fairfax. They have an all-you-can-eat crab deal for $39. Now, in contrast to Zaytinya’s impeccably designed space, Captain Pell’s was a large open space with huge ads adorning the walls, including, not one, but two ads for bail bondsmen. That’s classy. The tables are covered in heavy brown paper, there is a large stack of napkins and mallets. What else do you need? Our waiter was a nice guy, but had to be flagged down every time we needed a water/beer/crab refill. We are pretty sure he was completely stoned.
But how much does all that matter? Not much, it was really about the crabs. They brought them a tray at a time. The first tray came out too quickly and the crabs were only warm. They also came covered in Old Bay seasoning, which is traditional, but I found to be too salty. So, when we finished the tray, we flagged down the waiter and asked for a hot tray and half seasoned, half plain. Now, the first tray was good, but the second was excellent. I think it was important to be specific in exactly what we wanted. I ate an impressive 21 crabs and Christine was close behind with 20. Her boyfriend ate a merger 15. We had 5 trays total. There was a mountain of carcasses that needed to be cleared with each new tray. By the end, we were covered in crab meat, bits and guts, had war wounds (those shells can be sharp) and immediately needed to shower and wash our clothing (the smell of old crab is gross), but we were happily sated.
Amsterdam Falafelshop, DC
I’ve only heard about this place because they are about to open a second location in Boston and everyone on the food boards is atwitter about it. It’s a simple enough concept; you get a pita with 3 (reg) or 5 (large) falafel balls in a white or whole wheat pita, then the fun begins! The toppings bar includes 21 different sauces, spreads, pickles and veggies. There are too many to list but I stuffed mine with beets, red cabbage slaw, hommus, roasted eggplant, cucumbers, garlic cream and garlic parsley. The falafel was easily the best I’ve ever had, probably because they were freshly fried. I watched the guy scoop the chickpea batter in to the hot oil. They were crunchy, earthy, flavorful and not at all greasy. The fries were also excellent; ketchup, Dutch mayo and peanut sauce were offered, but I discovered that the garlic cream was an even better dipping sauce for the fries. The large sandwich was $6. No wonder it’s such a hit – I can’t wait till they open up the David square location.