Zaytinya

Rating: ★★★★★

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Snail Kibbeh

I love José Andres’s China Chilcano but I was initially skeptical of Zaytinya. There has been a recent “Mediterranean food” fad in American eating, where all food from the countries around the Mediterranean is lumped together, despite the fact that Turkey, Greece and Lebanon all have distinct cuisines, to say nothing of other countries like Italy, Spain and Morocco. I feared that Zaytinya would offer a rather inauthentic and bland mix of Lebanese, Greek and Turkish food but I should have put more faith in José Andres.

While many of the dishes are an upscale take on the cuisine of their respective countries of origin, they are deeply rooted

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Adana Kebab

in those countries’ culinary traditions. For instance, the snail kibbeh is hardly traditional, but is an absolutely delicious take on the traditional Lebanese dish. Dishes like the adana kebab and the octopus santorini were far more traditional, but artfully cooked and well-presented. The Batata Maquliya (Lebanese frites with za’atar spice and garlic yogurt) are sure to please any french fry-lover. The fries themselves are Belgian-style crispy frites seasoned with za’atar and the garlic yogurt dip is a perfect accompaniment. Finally, the Peynirli Pide (a Turkish flatbread with halloumi cheese, tomato sauce, oregano and cinnamon) was a bit of a cross between a khachapuri and a pizza. It was delicious to be sure, though perhaps not quite as interesting as some of the other items. Zaytinya is a small plates restaurant, so do be aware that you’ll want to order a few things per person, which makes the cost add up.

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15000215_10154718155728011_4109147489155219819_oHowever, a major advantage of the small plates format at Zaytinya is the fact that dessert can also be ordered in a small portion. This is great if you want to sample a few desserts or just don’t have room for anything big. I was pretty stuffed so I ordered a small “chocolate rose,” consisting of rose ice cream, chocolate custard, and spiced berry puree. It was absolutely top-notch. Finally, a plus of Zaytinya is their selection of several varieties of raki, arak and ouzo- a polarizing drink but a favorite of mine. Sleek modern ambiance and friendly, attentive service round out a five-star experience.
Zaytinya is a Lebanese, Greek and Turkish restaurant located at 701 9th Street NW.

Alfa Pie House

Rating: ★★★★★
12722499_10153944836143011_1110347932_o.jpgAlfa Pie House is a Greek cafe located at1750 H Street NW. This friendly cafe serves a selection of Greek savory pies, such as spinach and cheese pies and desserts, such as cream pies and baklava. I ordered a spinach and cheese pie, which was flaky and delicious, as well as a Greek Coffee (the Greeks originally called it Turkish Coffee but now called it Greek Coffee to stick it to Turkey) which was good as well. They also serve coffee from La Colombe but I wanted to order

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Spinach and cheese pie- delicious!

something Greek. The lady working behind the counter was very sweet and motherly. I was curious about what their Greek Mountain Tea was, so she offered me a sample. It was an herbal tea and really tasty! This is not your typical Downtown spot and is a real gem in an area loaded with soulless chains. They also have good WiFi and ample space to work.

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Greek Coffee with Turkish (Greek?) Delight

 

Shemali’s

Rating: ★★★★☆

12656356_10153939551893011_12917479_oShemali’s is a Lebanese cafe and grocery store located at 3301 New Mexico Ave NW inside a small mall. The cafe itself is a friendly but rather spare place aside from the beautiful pictures of Lebanon on the walls. They have tasty Lebanese food in the cafe, like fattoush, hummus and shawerma (though I think the shawerma itself is really just ok- I used to live a couple blocks from Shawerma Reem, the best shawerma place in Amman, Jordan, so I’m pretty

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Fattoush, hummus and Turkish coffee.

spoiled). The cafe also serves pretty good Turkish Coffee. In addition to Lebanese options, the cafe has Greek food like gyros and greek salad (because people are silly and assume that all Mediterranean food is the same, so this stuff sells), as well as options for the even less adventurous sort, like deli sandwiches and half smokes.

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Shawerma platter with rice.

In some ways, I like the grocery portion even more than the cafe portion. The grocery carries a wide range of Lebanese products at generally very reasonable prices, including mamouls, ground coffee with cardamom, tea, dates, rosewater, and olive oil soap that smells amazing. The grocery also has a deli counter that has delicious hummus, labne, kibbeh, spinach pies, baba ghanoush, and baklava among other things. This is a great place to buy a bunch of food for hors d’oeuvres if you’re hosting a party.

 

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The grocery/deli section.

You might just leave this place singing a Fairouz song in your head:

Marx Cafe

Rating: ★★★★★

12695217_10153928759293011_570032040_o.jpgMarx Cafe is a small restaurant and bar located at 3203 Mount Pleasant St. NW that describes itself as having “revolutionary cuisine” (yes, it is named after Karl Marx) and “Mediterranean food.”

<rant> I absolutely hate the term  “Mediterranean food” since “Mediterranean food” encompasses several different cuisines including Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Provençal, Lebanese, Greek, and Turkish, which are all distinct. What Americans usually think of as Mediterranean food comes at places that serve a vague blend of foods meant to resemble some combination of Lebanese, Turkish, and Greek food, and it’s all pretty substandard. But I digress. </rant>

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The saganaki up in flames. This, at least, is pretty revolutionary.

Fortunately, this substandard fare is not what’s on offer at Marx Cafeat least if you know what to order. The menu is a mix of Greek, Italian and New American fare, but I went with a group who recommended a few of the Greek small plate items on the menu, which were excellent (it helps that one of those in our party was Greek). I’ve been told that a number of the other menu items are not nearly as good. We started with saganaki, which is Greek kasseri cheese flambéed with metaxa (a type of Greek brandy). It’s conceptually similar to grilled halloumi, except it tastes a bit different, and instead of being grilled it is lit up by a huge conflagration of burning metaxa table side while the waiter yells “OPA!” like in “My Big

 

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Delicious saganaki ready to be eaten.

Fat Greek Wedding.” It’s a pretty awesome sight to behold (who doesn’t love fire?). Also great were the warm dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice and seasoned with lemon), which were so much better than the cold, crappy “grape leaves” served at most “Mediterranean restaurants.” The tarama (red caviar whipped with olive oil, lemon juice and spices) was great as well. We paired our meal with Mavrodafni, a delicious sweet Greek wine (sweet in a Port way, not a Manischewitz way) that reminded me a lot of the famous Cypriot wine, Commandaria.

 

 

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Mavrodafni wine- delicious! (If you like Port)

The decor was cozy though fairly pub-like; it is also a bar and open late. The people were also very friendly (I’m an absent-minded idiot and left my backpack there, but they kept it safe for me and I returned later in the evening to pick it up). Basically, if you go and order exactly what we ordered, you will have a great meal, and could bring a date there for sure. Our Greek companion also recommended their calamari, tzatziki and spanakopita. Otherwise, you’re on your own, but we had a great experience.