We were fortunate recently to have won a chef tasting though a school auction. My wife and I have dined all over the world at some pretty spectacular places, but this may very well have netted out as the best meal ever. Hard to ever say ever, but for those interested in some brilliant culinary work – you really do need to try Zaytinya.
We have long wanted to visit Zaytinya having enjoyed the other Andres restaurants. Since it was also a wedding anniversary for us, the auction and the anniversary presented the perfect opportunity. The staff (knowing it was an anniversary) was nice enough to start us off with a rose champagne from France (Billecart Salmon Rose - the one mid-east deviation of the evening). The meal commenced with delicious spreads on piping pita. These were excellent, but given what was about to follow, they were completely unnecessary. But…the roasted red pepper with feta was delicious, as was the yogurt/cucumber. Then a beautiful mix of beets and fennel with walnuts on an apple pure - gorgeous bursts of flavor. Instead of lobbing on those heavy dollops of goat cheese like many beet salads, the apple puree drew out the light sweetness of the beets instead of overpowering them - a real relief. Then a something pretty exotic seared Hallumi cheese - I love it when cheeses are seared. This one has that classic rubbery chewy tenderness that makes you want more with each bite into it. The Hallumi came with molasses dates, and orange that was just the right amount of sweet before the next spectacular course
Perhaps, for us, this was the highlight of the night - the seafood serving. We had octopus, soaked in red wine for days, then grilled to total tenderness on a bead of I think yellow pea puree and capers. Wow -the blend of flavors was delicate with some bite and smoothness from the peas. Shrimp in a buttery dill sauce (perfect for the extra pita). And then something very unusual, and the one flavor that will stay with me for a long time. It was a cured, salted carp roe. This was an intense flavor, but had a subtle sweetness that paired just beautifully with the oaky Lebanese Voignier that the manager selected for us. The seafood also came with a cauliflower roasted, with capers and small chips of fried okra (I think) it was placed on a pine nut puree. I love cauliflower, but this dish brought out smoky rich, butter flavors that were accented with the exact right about of salt that came mostly from the tart capers...I had many favorites last night, but this one made it into the top 2 for me.
Next (if you can believe it) came the meat dishes. Classic, juicy chicken kabob with a garlic and sumac soaked red onions and a garlic spread with yogurt and lemon...so tasty. A kubideh or kibbeh that was deconstructed into a tartar that was smooth and rich, it almost seemed like a fresh mousse with bursts of bright citrus I think, then a lamb tart in phylo on yogurt and cumin – the lamb has been slow roasted on the bone and then shredded – I think I could have had this as a meal by itself and the cool thing was how the philo complemented it, but did not get in the way of the rich meaty flavors and drew in the cumin. This was all served with a crispy brussel sprout with pomegranate and yogurt another amazing clash of cultures with the British brussel sprout and cardamom of the orient. And also a medley of wild mushrooms and dates which kind of felt the like the French/Mediterranean counterpoint.
The desert course included a pistachio chocolate cake with ice cream, a Greek yogurt apricot parfait and this walnut ice cream deconstruction of Turkish delight, so it had this rose water flavored gels and crunchy orange flavored elements that frankly we were too delirious to really figure out. But man was that transcendent. I have always liked Turkish delight and this was a whole new thing all together. The apricot was also incredible and a perfect finish. Even the Turkish coffee and espresso we had was a beautifully balanced.
We don’t get chef tastings very often, so this was an exception, but it was actually the quality and artistry of the meal was the real exception last night. And in the company of my beautiful wife – it really doesn’t get any better. There’s some really “no-kidding” genius in the Andres restaurants.
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