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As a poor grad student living off of sautéed chicken breasts and frozen veggies, it’s extremely exciting when a new opportunity arises to try one of DC’s finest chefs, José Andrés. This opportunity was my birthday, and the boy decided to take me somewhere special – I grew up near Jaleo, so its Greek sister was our choice.

I had heard about Zaytinya, a Greek Mediterranean fusion of mezzes, and how popular it was, so we reserved 2 weeks in advance. Luckily we did, as there were only two time slots available. We took the metro and got off at Metro Center – not a bad walk to the restaurant, but I do recommend Gallery Place if it’s cold, rainy, you have heels on, or you give a second thought to where the restaurant is – oops.

Zaytinya is hard to miss with its huge windows showcasing the crowd of couples, a sprinkling of families, and the large amount of trendy 20-30-somethings that frequent DC. To be honest, I’ve never really eaten somewhere crafted for the trendy crowd in DC before – luckily we dressed the part that night.

Upon arrival, we waited about 15 minutes for our table to be ready as it was very busy. We were sat by the window to the right of the doors, a seemingly “couples” section since many other 2-person tables surrounded us. I enjoyed being able to people watch both outside and at the bar. The chirpy, quick waiter came to take our drink orders right away – I had a Greek cabernet sauvignon while the boy decided to give Rocky try. The wine was perfect, very smooth, and the Rocky had its usual vodka, licorice-y taste. It came with a glass of water to decide how strong you wanted it, and seemed to be the drink of choice around us.

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Olive oil mixed with a black sauce (I sadly was too overcome with hunger to remember the waiter’s eloquent description of the olive oil mixture’s origin) was brought to the table, along with an endless supply of pita. Oh, the pita. We must have eaten 5 baskets of the 3 puffed-out, warm, floury pitas that night. It tasted wonderful and was constantly refilled – probably on purpose, but we didn’t care. The olive oil mix was to die for – tangy with a hint of wine flavor, perfect with the pita.

For our shared tapas, we decided to try the grilled octopus, lamb bahar and steak, as well as hummus for while we waited for the meats. The first to come out was the octopus – by far the best mezze of the night. Each piece was very dense and tender, drenched in a savory sauce and sprinkling of spices. Each bite was heaven, and we were instantly obsessed. The steak and lamb came next, both of them tasting wonderful – but not as great as the octopus. The steak was cooked perfectly, pinkish red in the middle and charred on the outside, while the lamb was tasty but a bit chewy. The marinades, however, were new to me and I definitely recommend trying them as they mixed perfectly with the meat.

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Our last mezze was the fried squid. This was delicious as well; you could tell it was hand-breaded and light. Unfortunately my stomach can only handle so much fried food, but it was fun to try. By this time, we were both stuffed. But, since it was my birthday after all, we decided to try the Turkish Delight for dessert. It was served with two scoops of walnut ice cream sliced with a thin wafer and topped with honey, yogurt mousse, orange-caramel sauce and caramelized pine nuts. Each bite was the perfect combination of sweet and savory, and our glutinous instincts wished it were larger.

I loved Zaytinya. The ambiance and crowd was very exciting to be around – even the bathrooms were snazzy. The food was amazing as well, and we left more than satisfied. Next time, we’ll know not to devour 5+ baskets of pita and maybe try some more tapas. Or, I’ll go with the girls and try their veggie ones since we didn’t even order from that page. As a Mediterranean food lover, I’d say Zaytinya hits the spot. José Andrés hasn’t failed me yet.

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