I’ve probably been a hundred times and can’t recall having a bad experience. For me, dining isn’t just about the food or the presentation. It’s about the experience. The vibe. Personally, Zaytinya is the benchmark by which I compare everything else. But let me begin by saying Zaytinya has some sentimental meaning to me. My sister (sadly she’s now in the burbs but will always be the alpha city-chick to me) took me there 7 or 8 years ago. She knows her way around any city and that was her recommendation to me. It was my first dining experience in DC and the first time I ever thought of a restaurant as a place where you could go to hang out and not just eat.
Now considering I haven’t been on a date in about 6 or 7 months, I’m not sure why I’m even qualified to write this. But once upon a time I knew some things, so I’m going to drop some knowledge. There’s two rules I swear by when I’m on a date that has prompted me to write this article:
First dates (or even 50th dates for you poor married folk) should be fun. Sitting at a table is not fun. If you’re on a first date, then drinks and good conversation should be the first order of business. The food is secondary. A date has to be casual and comfortable or else it’s not going to go well. Sitting at a table is too conservative and feels too business-like for me. I’m not into that whole interview process vibe. And if you’re married, chances are you’re eating at a dinner table with your significant other 5 days a week. So stop being lame, get your ass to the city and switch it up.
Long story short – stake out a seat and post up at the bar.
Yeah, Zaytinya can get crowded, so it might take you a good 30-45 minutes to get that seat. But who cares. That’s all part of the experience. And Zaytinya has one of the best restaurant bars in Washington, DC. It has a NYC vibe and its decor is unique to any of the other cookie-cutter restaurant lounges in the city. So if you have to wait 30-45 minutes, order a bottle of wine from the bartender. He’ll hold it for you and serve it to you while you wait. During this time you can get all of those cliche Washington, DC, first-date questions we all know and love (Where do you work, where you do you live, where are you from originally?) out of the way. If you crash and burn, she’ll be out of there before you eat anyway, and you’ll save yourself some money and embarrassment. If things go well, you’ll be on your second bottle and much more interesting questions by the time you eat.
And scene. Small plates.
Note: Jose Andres (it’s his restaurant), for those of you that don’t know, is actually partially responsible for bringing small plates to the states, which has spurred tons of tapas restaurants in the United States.
So when in Rome, right?
To my earlier point, dates should be about the conversation and spending time with the person you’re with. Not the food. Small plates work beautifully into that, because you can just get after it while your talking. I might order a 3,000-calorie meal when I’m at a man-dinner, but not on a date. I advise everyone else to do the same. Dates are about getting to know one another, not an opportunity to put on a manimal-display of your eating abilities. Save that for marriage. You don’t want a big-ass plate of spaghetti and meatballs when you’re at the bar anyway. You want something you can share. And more importantly, you want something that doesn’t make you look like a cow-chewing cud when you’re talking to her.
First order of business after you order that second bottle is get the roasted red pepper and feta appetizer to go along with the bread and Greek olive oil they give you. It sounds simple, but it’s also amazing, and I guarantee there’s no man, woman or child in the world who won’t fall in love with it. Even lactose-intolerants will eat that shit up. I’d suggest grabbing 1-2 dishes from each offering: Vegetable Dish (seasonal mushrooms w/ dates and almonds or Brussel sprouts with garlic yogurt); Seafood Dish (sea scallops or sauteed shrimp w/ mustard and dill); and, of course, Meat Dish (grilled lamb chops). Four or five plates would probably be more than enough for two people. Unless you’re like me, then just go ahead and order the whole kitchen sink.
So that’s me vouching for Zaytinya. Sharing a restuarant or a favorite dish is a personal thing for me, so I won’t take just anyone there. I’m taking someone I know is going to enjoy it and someone that I know I can spend some time talking to for a few hours.
Whether it’s a first date, husband, wife, mother or father, go get yourself some small plates. And make a big impression.
|Address:||701 Ninth St., NW (G St.) Washington, DC 20001|
|Parking:||Street and Valet|
|Metro:||Gallery Place/Chinatown and Metro Center|
|Serves:||Brunch (Saturday and Sunday); Lunch (Monday-Friday); Dinner (Daily)|
|Specials:||Sunday-Friday (4:30-6:30 PM) and Tuesday-Thursday (10:30-11:30 PM): $4 selected mezze; pomfili, Yuengling draft and Almaza bottles; selected red and white wines by the glass|
|Go for:||Htipiti; fried eggplant; maroulosalata salad; Brussel sprouts; seasonal mushrooms; sautéed shrimp with dill; grilled chicken; grilled sirloin; Greek-yogurt-and-apricot parfait|