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Emily got me Mike Isabella from Top Chef for my birthday!

November 11, 2009

So this Saturday will mark the 26th anniversary of my birth (ahem), and as such I felt the need to celebrate. Living in D.C. is great, because you get random holidays like Veteran’s Day off from work, which makes it possible to do things like have 8PM dinner reservations at Zaytinya followed by drinks at Lucky Bar on a Tuesday night!

Dinner at Zaytinya was fan-freaking-tastic. If you’ve never heard of it, Zaytinya’s a mezze-style restaurant, sortof like a tapas restaurant, where you order several small plates for the group to share. We were 8, so we had many items to share, and our table had a cute lazy suzan to make sure all the dishes made it around the table. They were having a Lebanese food festival, so we ordered several Lebanese specialties, and some really tasty Lebanese wines (which they don’t normally serve by the glass, holla!). Sorry for the picture quality, it was fairly dark in the restaurant.

We ordered:

— baby beet salad with goat cheese

Baby beet salad

— htipiti (creamy mix of red peppers and goat cheese)

— dolmada (grape leaves filled with stuff)

— chicken kibbeh (sortof like chicken nuggets)

— snails (served in a great garlicky sauce)


— braised lamb shank

— hummus (traditional, and tasty)

— lamb chops (grilled – I didn’t have any of these)

— cauliflower (mixed with fruits and some nice spices, it was delicious)

— mushrooms (sauteed and salty – yum!)

— crispy brussels sprouts (see below)

— grilled baby octopus (springy, with a good bite, definitely the best octopus I’ve had)

Tasty little suckers

— sea scallops (sauteed in a pan with phenomenal sauce)

— pan-fried zuchinni fritters

— chicken kebabs

and THEN, for DESSERT…Top Chef contestant Mike Isabella, who’s the head chef at Zaytinya, came out to see us!!!

Mike from Top Chef

It was fun – he’s a total ham, and 110% cocky, but it was so cool to talk to someone that you watch on TV (and yes, I did actually touch him on the back for this picture).

We basked in his glory.

Emily and I were like kids in a candy store, talking recipes (his signature dish was the baby octopus) and trying to find out who’s going to win this season of Top Chef. He wasn’t talking, but he did say that it’s never the good chefs who win. Whether that was a comment on his own talent, or on the talent of the remaining contestants, we’ll never know, but bottom line, it was so cool to meet him! Thanks go to Emily for demanding to see him, and to our server Andrew for asking him to visit us!

All in all the dishes were phenomenal – my favorites were the braised lamb shank, which was served in a cute little bowl and was soooo creamy and tender, the brussels sprouts, which were crisped and served with a creamy sauce (sortof like a hollandaise but not at all, if that makes sense), and the sea scallops, which were prepared perfectly and served with a nice sauce.

The sauces at Zaytinya were most definitely the highlight, though the execution of the meats and seafood was flawless as well. I would highly recommend going in, and in case you’re wondering, for 8 people the total bill was $286, plus tip. Ask for Andrew – he’s a great server, and spent a very long time working with us to get a nicely balanced meal.

And yet another restaurant I have to recommend: Founding Farmers.

Buttermilk fried chicken salad

We went there for a work lunch, and the food was so great. The restaurant is focused on minimizing their impact on the enironment, and supporting local and sustainable agriculture (holla holla).

And oh yeah. The food’s SO GOOD.

Tasty tasty

The chicken was tasty, and the honey-mustard ranch dressing had a definite kick. Other things which were sampled were the sirloin chili (excellent), flatbread (heard it was good, didn’t try any), homemade pumpkin pie (unfortunately not as good as grandma’s) and homemade vanilla bean ice cream:


The ice cream was really tasty – you could taste the freshness of the beans, and it was super creamy.

There were some  slight hiccups, like the fact that there was some giant mixup in the kitchen and half our table’s food took way longer than the other half, and their credit card machine was broken, but their approach to local and sustainable really made up for it to me. Very pleased, and will definitely be going back!

That’s all for today. I also made some delish gnocchi this week, with an interesting parsley-lemon-sunflower pesto, but the pictures were only moderately good.

Lemon parsley sunflower pesto


The gnocchi were from this post, and I finally got a chance to make them. The review is: tasty, but I undercooked the potatoes which made them chunky, and I should have made them smaller – they were definitely overpoweringly potato-y. Good standby, though, and I froze 2/3 of the batch for future use with a ragout. The pesto was OK, nothing to write home about, but now that I’ve just received my shiny new FOOD PROCESSOR (bday gift from my roommate!) I think I’ll give the real deal another shot. I replaced the pine nuts in a traditional pesto with sunflower seeds because pine nuts are expensive, and honestly the sunflower seeds were really good. I just didn’t particularly like the parsley base, so we’ll have to try sunflower + basil next time. Oh, and I forgot to get parmesan, so that will help too.

Enough for me, today I’m macaron-ing, and will hopefully have a nice post about them tomorrow!

THANK YOU to my friends for my wonderfully scrumptious birthday dinner – you guys really made me feel loved, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! And thanks to those of you who came out to Lucky Bar for drinks – I had a great time, and I really appreciated it, particularly from those of you who had to work today. Love you guys!

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