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.

Bantam King

Rating: ★★★★★

14483467_10154585777733011_1766006009_nBantam King is a Japanese place that specializes in chicken ramen and Japanese-style fried chicken located at 501 G St NW. Bantam King is owned by the same people as Izakaya/Daikaya, but while Izakaya/Daikaya is sleek and a bit dim inside, Bantam King looks a bit like a fast food restaurant that has been whimsically decorated with Asian lanterns, plastic trays, Christmas lights and Japanese cartoons.

14459028_10154585777718011_306218487_n14459127_10154585777683011_1097157646_nNo wonder, given the fact there apparently used to be a Burger King in that spot. It is bright and fun and the friendly staff adds to the atmosphere. I started with one of the specials, a monkfish tartare on toast, which was delicious and a bit like foie gras. I had never had fish liver before, but it really does taste like liver from other animals. My chicken ramen was also delicious, filling and hearty. Overall, this place is great. The menu is inventive, the decor is fun, and the people are friendly. Check it out!

Co Co. Sala

Rating: ★★★★★13937061_10154441595413011_704978322_n

Co Co. Sala is a restaurant, dessert bar and chocolate shop located at 929 F St NW. As the name would suggest, chocolate is the main focus here, so I went for dessert. This is a chic and fairly pricey spot to go for a fancy dessert and drinks date. It is an excellent spot to take someone special to. They offer both three-course and five-course dessert experiences, but we opted to split three desserts: the Latin Love Affair (dulcey chocolate mousse, cinnamon caramel, chocolate pecan cake, butter pecan

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The Some More Co Co.

dulcey ice cream and passion fruit cajeta bon bon), the Some More Co Co. (chocolate crème brulee, toasted marshmallow, graham crumble, chocolate brownie, and chocolate malted shooter) and the Chef’s Plate of Artisanal Chocolates. It was all absolutely delicious and is a bit of a blur since I tried a little of everything. I would have appreciated some guidance as to what was in each of the chocolates, but each one that I tried was really delicious anyway. I would love to go back and try their savory food sometime, but this is an excellent spot if you’re looking for a dessert experience that’s something special.

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The Latin Love Affair

 

Rasika

Rating: ★★★★★

13639903_10154355382133011_775334834_o (1)Rasika  is a fancy, haute-cuisine Indian restaurant located at 633 D St. NW,  with an additional location at 1190 New Hampshire Ave, NW. Among certain types, Rasika is known as one of the hottest restaurants in DC for its innovative and chic take on Indian food. It’s the only place where you’re likely to find truffle naan and goat cheese kulcha (both of which are excellent). Among others, it’s thought of as overrated because there is far more authentic Indian food to be found in DC. I’m sympathetic to the second point of view because I do appreciate authenticity. But I 13639503_10154355382128011_150725802_oultimately agree with the first point of view because I don’t go to a place like Rasika for traditional, authentic fare. I go there to sample innovative cuisine and Rasika does that very well.

For appetizers, we ordered the palak chaat (crispy spinach) and the Chesapeake Bay crab masala. The crab was delicious, but the palak chaat was a true gem. The spinach barely tasted like spinach because of the wonderfully crispy way it was cooked, combined with the sauce and spices they used. For my main, I ordered the duck vindaloo, which was not all that spicy for a vindaloo (that’s 13621565_10154355382118011_602605681_oone of the criticisms that people tend to level at Rasika). It was tasty, though less of a stand-out than the palak chaat. The gulab jamun with cardamom ice cream was awesome for dessert, though. I love Afghan ice cream, which is typically made with cardamom and rosewater. This ice cream just had cardamom, but when paired with the heavy dose of rosewater in the gulab jamun, it was a perfect finish to the meal.

 

 

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Sushi AOI

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

 

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The Lycheetini was a winner.

 

Sushi AOI is a Japanese restaurant located at 1100 New York Ave NW. This is truly a tale of two reviews, which average out to three stars. The drinks would get four or five stars while the sushi itself would get one or two. This place is a favorite of my colleagues for the excellent happy hour drink specials, including cheap prices on Asahi and $7 “Happy Tinis,” which are a selection of sweet martini cocktails. Since I am secure in my manhood, I ordered a delightfully pink and Lycheetini, which was delicious, beautiful and flavorful. The sushi was a totally different story. I ordered a white tuna roll, which was cheap during happy

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The white tuna roll was every bit as bad as it looks. I’m sure Hanaya Yohei would be rolling in his grave.

hour at $5, but apparently you get what you pay for. It was clearly bad quality fish and definitely ranks among the worst tuna rolls I’ve ever had (I’ve had white tuna before and enjoyed it in the past). In fact, most supermarket sushi I’ve had has been significantly better than this was. So in summary, come here for the drinks (especially if you can sit outside on a nice day) but give the sushi a miss.

 

Elephant and Castle

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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Butter chicken poutine is genius.

Elephant and Castle is a pub located at 1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW, with an additional location at 900 19th St. NW. It is a British Empire-themed spot with classic pubby decor and nightly specials. When I went with my softball team “tins” aka cans of beer were 25%. A $4 Brooklyn Lager or Sierra Nevada made for a decent deal. Alongside traditional British food, they have a couple of Britishized Indian options, including the ever-popular butter chicken, as well as Carribean jerk chicken. What I found most interesting, however, is that they serve poutine, that delightfully caloric Quebecois specialty of French fries topped with cheese curds and doused in gravy. In some stroke of genius, someone at Elephant and Castle decided to create a butter chicken poutine, which was absolutely delicious and I’m sure extremely fattening. Since we were a large group, we had a whole back room to ourselves. It was nice because it was quiet, but in contrast to the rest of the place, it had an atmosphere more reminiscent of IHOP than a pub. Most casual visitors would have no reason to be seated back there, though.

 

Oyamel

Rating: 

 

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The raspberry and apple mimosa.

Oyamel is a Mexican restaurant located at 401 7th St NW. It is run by celebrity chef José Andres, which immediately sets a high bar for quality (China Chilcano, another José Andres restaurant across the street, is one of my favorites in the city. The menu is certainly special, and I appreciate the fact that it is not Tex-Mex but instead seeks to bring the full complexity of authentic Mexican cuisine to the capital. I also appreciate the fact that the brunch menu (I went for brunch) includes real Mexican breakfast items that go far beyond huevos rancheros, though they, of course, have that too. The menu is, however, frustratingly tricky to read.

 

We started the meal with a pitcher of raspberry and apple flavored mimosas, which were delicious (I wanted to try the blood orange and

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The Pozole Rojo soup.

chile pequin ones, but I was out-voted). I began my meal with the Pozole Rojo, which is a hominy soup with pork and chiles, garnished with onion, lettuce and sliced radishes. The soup was good and had a nice kick, but it wasn’t my kind of dish; I’m not a big soup eater unless it’s matzoh ball soup or clam chowder and I should know that by now.

 

Next, I had chapulines, which are grasshopper tacos. Yes, they are tacos filled with actual
grasshoppers. And there’s no mistaking them for anything else; you can see the legs and antennae and they’re definitely crunchy. They come in a spicy sauce, so it’s hard to tell what the actual grasshoppers taste like, but this is not for the faint of heart; you remain acutely aware that you’re eating grasshoppers and this was made worse by the fact that my friend kept saying “Jiminy Cricket” to me while I was eating them.

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There’s no mistaking these for anything but grasshoppers.

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The Carne Machaca con huevos revueltos

I finished with the meal with the Carne Machaca con huevos revueltos, which is scrambled organic eggs served on a tortilla with dried shredded beef, potatoes, poblano chile, tomato and a smoky sauce of chile pasilla de Oaxaca. It ended up being way too much food, which is an example of Oyamel’s main drawback: the service. For starters, the server (who was very nice) described the menu as small plates and suggested we get two or three dishes. I could easily have had one dish and something small (like the chapulines) and we all felt a bit led astray by that.

 

In addition, and unlike China Chilcano, the service was so slow and the waitress forgot half of one of my friends’ food. The food was brought out rather haphazardly all at different times, and service quality was simply lost in the shuffle. Unlike China Chilcano, which has airy and spacious ambience, Oyamel feels tight and constricting. Overall, you can see some of the José Andres magic in this place, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges.

 

China Chilcano

Rating: 

 

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The Tortilla China

China Chilcano (China rhymes with Tina in this case) is a Peruvian-Chinese-Japanese fusion restaurant located at 418 7th Street NW. China Chilcano‘s food is based on the immigration of Chinese and Japanese people to Peru; they brought their culinary traditions with them but adapted them to suit the ingredients that were available. The food is absolutely delicious and innovative. I once went for a business lunch and we ordered one of the tasting menus, which provided an amazing overview of a large portion of the menu items. Last time I went, I had brunch which was also great. The brunch menu itself is small, but involves cool fusion options as well. The regular menu is also available at

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The Ceviche Clásico La Mar

lunch. I ordered the Tortilla China (Egg foo yung, Edwards smoked ham, fresh crab, scallion, jicama, bean sprout, oyster sauce), which was like a tasty Asian-influenced Spanish omelette. I also had the Ceviche Clásico La Mar, which is made with a daily selection of fresh fish- it was great. My friends ordered the Lucky 12 dim sum tower, which is an awesome combo of three different types of Peruvian-accented dumplings. China Chilcano is a bit of an off-the-beaten track choice for brunch and doesn’t have the standard chicken and waffles fare. While there were a good number of people there, it wasn’t packed, making it a great choice for a unique brunch that isn’t especially hard to 12790229_10153985411073011_1432101274_o (1)get a table at. Cool, minimalist decor and super friendly staff add to the experience. Our server, a Peruvian, took great care of us and was enthusiastic about explaining the menu and offering suggestions. At the end of the meal, he gave us all samples of chicha morada, a deliciously sweet sangria-like beverage (though alcohol-free) made from purple corn and spices.

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Chicha Morada

 

 

Grand Trunk

Rating: 

12772933_10153979096513011_2113412797_oGrand Trunk is an Indian-inspired fast food restaurant located at 641 Indiana Avenue NW, right next to the Navy Memorial. This place serves a mixture of South Asian dishes, such as chicken tikka and dal, alongside Indian-American fast food fusion dishes, like the Grand Trunk Naan Burger, which is probably their signature item. The Naan Burger is a delicious kebab-flavored patty, topped with Indian accoutrements like cilantro and different chutneys and served in naan. My only gripe

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The naan burger.

about it is that cheese is $1.50 extra (though it really doesn’t need cheese on it since there are so many other flavors in play). They also have a wide selection of dessert naans, including the cinnamon sugar naan with cardamom (my favorite spice). The cinnamon sugar naan was delicious and huge, but the amount of filling in it was inconsistent; a portion of it was loaded with filling, whereas in the rest it was just brushed on. Overall, this place gets major points for innovation and for making things that you don’t see elsewhere. The decor is also pretty cool and Disney-esque (if a little tacky). There was, however, a weird pile of cushions stacked on the side of the restaurant, which was a bit haphazard for what was otherwise

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Cinnamon sugar naan.

a sleek and cool space. In addition, their website has very little information and says “coming soon.” I think this reflects their intention to grow the business as a chain, but it could confuse some into thinking that the Penn Quarter location isn’t open yet. It was also weirdly quiet when I went around 7 pm, perhaps because it’s not in a very lively evening location; one wonders why they didn’t set up shop in Adams Morgan or U Street instead. This place has lots of potential and I’ll definitely be back; it just has a bit of fine-tuning to do.