As many times as I've eaten at Zaytinya (probably approaching 100), I have never been able to order (or eat) the right amount of food - I always order (and eat) too much. Each time I'm there, I order (and eat) as if it's going to be my last time ever eating at Zaytinya - or eating in general. I can't help myself - there are too many appealing choices, and too much delicious bread and too many delicious desserts that complement the small plates that make up the heart of the menu.
Zaytinya serves small plates that come to your table as they are ready, so the order of dishes you'll receive may feel a bit random. Depending on how hungry you are, 2 to 3 items per person is about right. But you need to also allot stomach space for lots of the puffy, hot pita bread pillows, whose tastiness always defeats my attempts to resist eating too much bread. They come fresh out of the oven straight to the table, so watch out for the super-hot puff of steam that will come out when you rip them open!
My favorite go-to items are the imam bayildi (stuffed eggplant), mini crab cakes (I've learned to order 2 orders of the crab cakes if I'm out with 3 other people or more - the serving is of 3 mini crab cakes, and I like to eat at least 2 of them :)), scallops, stuffed grape leaves, and any grilled fish dish. This past weekend, the grilled salmon and grilled sea bass were both excellent. Their hummus is always reliably tasty and garlicky. (I eat fish/seafood but no meat/poultry, so I won't opine on the meat items.)
Also leave room for dessert. Desserts generally are available in half or full sizes. The Greek-yogurt-with-apricots dish, topped with apricot sorbet and pistachio dust, is my favorite. The Turkish Delight and ice creams/sorbets are also reliable winners. This weekend, the ice cream flavors included a fabulous "baklava vanilla." The ice cream and sorbet servings are very generous for one person - 3 good-sized scoops - so I'd advise sharing unless you are VERY hungry for ice cream or sorbet, which you might not be after having indulged in multiple small plates!
My five-star rating for Zaytinya is based on the food - the service is not terrible, but there are some consistent shortcomings in the atmosphere and service to be aware of. The space is gorgeous and dramatic-looking - white banquettes, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling glass. But all those hard surfaces mean that this place is LOUD. I prefer to go during weekends at lunchtime, when it tends to be less crowded and thus less noisy. The service also tends to be a weird mix of hurried and slow. The front desk is always friendly and welcoming, and so, generally, are the servers. But during the same meal, your server might be hovering overattentively one minute, and the next, they've gone off somewhere and you can't find them for a long time. Sometimes the service is just slow overall. Sometimes there is a long lag time between dishes. And sometimes the service and pacing are pitch-perfect. It's hard to predict.
Overall, this is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in DC (and where I chose to celebrate my birthday this weekend). The food is consistently fantastic.
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