11 December 2005

José's Disciple

I'll follow anything José Andrés does just about to the ends of the earth. Someone wrote, I think, that anything he touches turns to gold. I'm pretty sure that person's right.

He does food. He does restaurants. He does modern culture. Somehow, his restaurants are the smoothest, most personable, most thoughtful, and most contemporary. They speak to us, right now. At least to me.

I was working in Penn Quarter when the first Jaleo opened. It was a little oasis of Europe in a neighborhood that was pushing through puberty. My lunch break could take me back to the jamon my Spanish friend's dad shipped to us for Christmas in Bremen, Germany. And the sangria wasn't bad, either. Tapas had arrived in DC.

Then Café Atlantico. A little "cooler," a little more modern interior.

Then Jaleo spread to Bethesda. And to Crystal City. It's the most beautiful space of all three locations. Wide open and soaring. Mosaics with clean-cut warm wood. Windows to the sky make what's cozy and Old World in the other two locations very "now" and fresh. A victory against the black hole of good food in the underground world of Crystal City.

But in between all of this, quite possibly my favorite restaurant in the world opened up. Zaytinya - apparently a twist on the Turkish word for olive oil - takes tapas East - to Turkey, Lebanon, and Greece. First time I was there was for drinks with colleagues. I was so excited for the apricot organge blossom martini. Devine inspiration - with an apricot in the bottom of the glass (love the "new" martinis, but could they please find another glass? They look great, but I can't hold one sober, let alone after a few) and a mist of orange blossom essence on top...in my mind, pure, sophisticated, elegant heaven.

The martini is only the beginning. The place is just different. I wish I could live there. It's how I would design my house if I could start from scratch. Ceilings that don't stop, white, and blue all over. Warm wood floors, clean, open lines that make groups of tables intimate. The wall of candles is simply striking. It's the kind of place where everyone looks their best. Nevermind the food. Each dish is a twist on something classically Turkish, Greek, or Lebanese. Each dish is fantastic. Never had even a blah dish.

And I think I'm in love with Steve Klc, the pastry chef. Like José, he takes classic things to an absolutely new level, and pairs tastes us normal people couldn't imagine. Beets in a dessert? Uh huh. Haven't had it yet, but I trust him implicitly. I will. The man is a maestro of spuma.

Mecca for me right now is Minibar. If I'm reading the reviews right, it's the closest food can come to couture. 30 teeny courses for six people. Fois gras with cotton candy, they say. I can see it walking down a Paris runway. Fanciful, yet rooted in knowledge of the craft. The finest designers at work.

I can't wait.

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