Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Beguiling Zola

800 F Street NW
Washington, DC

Perhaps it was Zola's location next door to the International Spy Museum, "where nothing is what it seems." Or maybe I was a little light-headed, as it was lunch time and I had not yet eaten that day. Somehow, I had no idea what I was actually ordering at Zola, yet my meal turned out remarkably well.

Perhaps chef Bryan Moscatello wants Zola diners to be caught off guard. Zola's menu underwent a "rejuvenation" in November, resulting in a prix-fixe evening menu, served in the Chef's Tasting Room, and an a la carte menu for the Bar Room, an "innovative bold American mix of casual and heartier fare." I was seated in the bar, an elegant, comfortable space with floor-to-ceiling windows.

When I chose the Baby Green appetizer, I was expecting a layered pastry structure filled with vegetables. The menu described the dish as "candied endive-pecan strudel, roast shallots, pomegranate vinaigrette." What I received was a salad, and I almost told the waiter that he'd made a mistake. But then I looked closer.

The "strudel" was actually a novel take on a crouton, nutty rich bundles of phyllo with a slightly sweet filling. The overall color of the salad was unfortunately brownish gray, rather like gravy, due to the thick dressing, but the roasted-shallot flavor was very tasty. Pomegranate seeds added welcome color and crunch, so important in a winter salad.

There was something for every taste in the bread basket. The pumpkin bread was flavorful but undistinguished. I preferred the chewy olive rolls and the spicy paper-thin seeded flatbread. (The little pyramid in the picture is butter, flavored with pink salt.)

As I ordered my entree, I managed to overlook both the term "orata" and the menu heading that clearly stated "fish and meat." All that registered was "sunchoke tortellini, lemon sabayon, spinach garlic chips," and I was looking for a plate of pasta. The tortellini did turn out to be the highlight of the dish, but I also enjoyed the nicely cooked fish and its rich and buttery broth, which was delicious with the spinach.

When the dessert menu appeared, I was tempted to order "peanut butter and jelly daggers," described as "mini air baguettes filled with peanut butter mousse and house made jam." Curious! Alas, I couldn't do any dessert justice that day.

The cocktail menu was alluring, too, featuring locally produced mixers such as almond-based orgeat syrup and cinnamon-infused Grenadine.

I plan to return some evening and investigate both menus further.

Zola on Urbanspoon

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