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Zatinya - still good?

I'll be in DC this weekend and have a reservation at Zatinya for lunch on Sunday. I haven't been there since it first opened (2004-ish) and am starting to worry that it might have slipped since then. Does anyone have an update? I didn't see many recent comments using the search function, although a few seem to think it's overrated. I am interested in Zatinya because of the pan-Mediterranean menu (Turkish, Greek, Lebanese). Is the food still solid? The review in the Washington Post is old - 2006.

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  1. I went a few months ago. First time for me and...it's not worth the money, imho. I went with my sister, so maybe it's better with a bigger group or something. I've had better hummus and middle eastern sides at "lower-end" places, and the lamb dish we got was disappointing, at best. I heard it used to be tons better, but for the serving and the price, I say check out someplace else (Lebanese Taverna?).

    1. I went on Saturday and had a very good experience. We had:
      Dip Trio (Tzatziki, Labneh, Htilpili (sp?))- Excellent, each person had their favorite, mine was the Htipili (roasted red pepper, feta ...)
      Crab Cakes- Yummy, especially with the sauce
      Squash Blossoms - stuffed with vegetables and cheese, then fried, I loved them
      Bean Salad- Great flavors
      Two lamb dishes - I do not like the taste of lamb, so I cannot comment personally but my companions loved them
      Red Mullett - The dud, could not taste the fish for the batter
      Shrimp - sauteed, very yummy
      Desserts - uniformly good, personally loved the labneh sorbet
      It was a really good and fun experience. (Was less than $30 per person at the end)

      1. Mari, you used a very interesting word in your question - "solid". I guess it really depends upon three subjective elements - appetite, budget, and culinary expectation. I think Zatinya is great - as long as someone else is paying. (I end up going there about 3-5 times a year, on someone else's dime.) The flavors are definitely interesting and the preparation is exquisite. However, it will definitely leave some big eaters hungry. It will also leave simpler eaters under-whelmed. (I'd never take a pre-teen there.)

        If you've been there before and liked it, I'm sure you'll still be impressed.

        1. I normally go every couple months, I think the last time we went was a few months ago. We took SIL who is a slightly picky eater, but getting better. I wasn't sure if she would like it, but I had taken her to Lebanese Taverna and she liked it. I thought it was just as good as before. I really like the zucchini dish, the flatbreads are forgettable though, also they have some great chicken and lamb dishes, and I like many of the seafood dishes too. The only thing I haven't been thrilled with was the flatbread because it was too normal. Yes you can go to the Lebanese Butcher for less, but I really like it. I am trying to think of more of the exact dishes we had: soujok spetzofi is good, the skirt steak, shish taouk, the morrocan tagine... I am sure there are others I just don't remember.

          1. Zaytinya used to be one of my favorite places in DC. It no longer is. I can notice a change with every visit. The grilled octopus is usually overcooked, the short ribs are over seasoned, etc...

            I think Jose Andres is too focused on his new LA eatery.

            1. The food is better than solid, in my opinion. It's good with two people, but more fun with more.

              1. Zaytinya.

                I've been there recently and it is a very fine choice. Go for the chickpeas roasted in their shells, the olive oil poached salmon, the carrot-apricot fritters, the kibbe, and the potatoes with tzatziki.

                There was a point, a couple of years back maybe, when it slipped, but I am sure you will be very pleased to return.

                1. i actually just had dinner at zatinya tonight and it was TERRIBLE --- DO NOT GO TO ZATINYA.

                  1. the host was awful. we had made a reservation for 5 people at 8:45pm. everyone got there at 8:45pm, we informed the host, and he turned around and handed us our buzzer while telling us we still had to wait. 30 minutes roll by and we're still not seated. the organizer of our party goes back to the host and he claims that he never gave us the buzzer or told us to wait any longer and that our table has been ready all along. never apologizes for the misunderstanding, never tries to ameliorate the situation, and seats us at the our table in a huff.

                  2. the food has indeed significantly decreased in quality. i've been to zatinya multiple times before and have really enjoyed it, but this time the food was greasy and sloppy, and nothing was really fabulous. mediocre at best.

                  if you need to go for turkish or mediterranean food, just go somewhere else, anywhere else except zatinya. it's not worth it anymore.


                  1. Thanks everyone. I ended up not going to Zatinya since the Wimbledon match went on much longer than we anticipated and we ended up going to Bistro du Coin for a late lunch. Bistro du Coin fit the bill perfectly for a late Sunday lunch.

                    1. IMO they have lousy service and fairly mediocre food but some of the dishes are quite good, and overall the interesting menu and fun experience of the place makes it worthwhile occasionally.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: masonuc

                        I have to agree with masonuc. I think the food is a little above mediocre but I've never been very impressed. I tried going back in November after hearing people rave about it and I guess I just don't get it. Nothing was awful...somethings were actually quite good. But it was nothing special.

                        And the place is just a loud scene it turns me off (and I sometimes don't mind that type of environment).

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          Go for items you can't find elsewhere. Jose Andres extensively researched the food of the pan-Hellenic region and he offers traditional cooking that is otherwise difficult to find elsewhere. Chickpeas roasted in their shells, Carrot-Apricot Fritters or squash-raisin fritters, two kinds of kibbe, (both unique), Plaki with tomatoes and mint, fried mussels in a walnut sauce, the list goes on.

                          I agree that Zaytinya has had its ups and downs, but he has some items that have withstood the test of time.

                          1. re: Steve

                            its only worth going to if someone else is paying the bill- that way you can explore the hit or miss menu without taking a hit to your wallet.

                            the kitchen seems to have issues with oversalting...thats my biggest gripe about the food.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Thanks for the recommendations. If I ever return I'll check those dishes out.

                              I imagine it's going to be ever more crowded than ever once the new season of Top Chef starts up. I think the head chef there is on the show.

                        2. Oh yeah...don't forget the "1000 pound elephant in the room" which no one ever seems to mention. It is nearly impossible for two people to get out of Zatinya for under $100. (This includes multiple small plates, wine, & tip.) Very small portions.

                          Like I said, I go when someone else is paying.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Sean D

                            You must eat a lot more than we do! Four of us went and spent around $120.

                            1. re: Sean D

                              I dispute this. I've gone with three people before and it was only $75.
                              Like any place if you order the most expensive dishes, of course -- that's accounting for personal taste, but if you're saying that then it's impossible to get out of ANY decent restaurant in this area for under $100. If that's an issue, then I would think harder before ordering on menus (or going to restaurants) if price is a problem!

                              That aside, I like Zatinya. It's a great go-to place for people in the area that are interested in trying a lot of little things instead of just one entree. It's great to go as a couple and share dishes, and even more with three or four people. Sure, the price adds up, but thats because there are so many great dishes to try and share! Plus $50 a person (at the extreme of things), and if you take away wine, is actually quite competitive in DC.

                              I don't think people need to get like 3 or 4 dishes per person. I would get 3 to 5 dishes to share with a couple -- no more is needed.

                              1. re: discojing

                                Disco, you're stating three things here.

                                1) The average meal can be had for about $25.
                                2) Even if it costs more, it's reasonable for the area.
                                3) Whatever it costs, its a great place.
                                4) The portions are always sufficient.

                                All four things you write can be true, depending upon your assumptions. If the people dining there have light appetites, or essentially want only cocktails and appetizers the portions are fine. If you accept that all "decent" food must cost over $33 per person - sure. If atmosphere/ambience is something worth paying a premium for - OK. But, these are very subjective assumptions and they simply don't apply to everyone.

                                On the low-income end (ex. many tourists, families, people, visitors, and even locals), the $60-100+ is a big deal. The value proposition that comes with the variety, ambience, etc, may often times not exist.

                                On the higher-income side (ex. businessmen, conferences, etc), the price may, or may not be relevant. I was present at Zatinya dinners for both U.S. and international business guests. While most were impressed with the ambience, we frequently had people who were not bowled over by the food or the portion sizes. Many left hungry and in cases where they came back on business, they opted to go to other restaurants.

                                My point here is simple: Don't assume that everyone is going to be satisfied with a share of a few small plates and a couple of glasses of wine.

                              2. re: Sean D

                                You've never gotten out of Zaytinya for under $100 and only 2 people were eating? What were you ordering?

                                I think my checks (with food, 1-2 drinks, tax and tip) have been roughly around $60 or so (total for 2 people) if not slightly higher if we had multiple drinks.

                                1. re: Sean D

                                  I have to disagree with this as well. Went last night with a friend for his birthday and our bill with tip and several drinks was $110. That's the most I've spent at Zaytinya for 2 people EVER. We ate a lot of food... 7 dishes plus dessert. Again, this was a special occassion and we didn't limit ourselves to food or drink. My past experience has been dinner for two is more in the $60-75 range.

                                  1. re: naptownlady

                                    I agree with this. Once as three women our party spent under forty for food (not including drinks which are expensive, but not more than anywhere else around there).

                                    1. re: naptownlady

                                      So, are you saying that you have to "limit" yourself to stay under $75?? What if you just want a good, satisfying meal without the special ocassion? We've already established that portions are small at Zatinya (especially when sharing small plates). Now, are we saying that drinks and dessert don't count, as part of a regular meal?

                                      Folks, there is still a big rift between reality and fact here. I have no doubt that some have spent less than $30 per person, but let's be real. We're talking about dinner (appetizer, salad/soup, entree, & dessert), drinks (at least 1-2), and the proper tip (minimum 15%) for two adults (use the worst case/hungry business men scenario). Try fitting that into $13 per person, folks.

                                      I see a lot of glossing-over when it comes to basic, fundamental realities (such as the fact that drinks and tip are part of the dinner bill). I'm not sure why people feel compelled to be defensive, or apologistic about the prices at Zatinya. Let's just state the facts. (Some of which can be found in the menus at Zatinya's website.)

                                      1. re: Sean D

                                        "We're talking about dinner (appetizer, salad/soup, entree, & dessert), drinks (at least 1-2), and the proper tip..."

                                        Actually, your including drinks in your definition of the meal is disengenuous. It certainly muddies the issue that is causing so much controversy: Can someone eat a delicious and sufficiently filling meal in the $37.50 range including tax and tip?

                                        Drinks add to the over-all dining experience; however, this is not unique to Zaytinya. A person who orders "at least 1-2 drinks" with his/her meal is going to do so regardless of where he/she eats. Therefore, the price of drinks will drive up the price of a meal regardless of restaurant and should be disregarded for the purpose of evaluating a restaurant.

                                        For the sake of putting some facts on the table, let's work with a couple of meals at Zaytinya with prices taken from their menu:

                                        MEAL ONE:
                                        Appetizer: Hummos $6.50
                                        Soup/salad: Chicken Soup Avgolemono $6.50
                                        Entree: Grilled Octopus $10
                                        Dessert: $8 (full-dessert option) $4 (mezze-style option)
                                        Sub-total: $31 or $27
                                        10% DC tax: $3.10 or $2.70
                                        20% tip food only: $6.20 or $5.40
                                        Total: $40.30 or $35.10

                                        MEAL TWO:
                                        Appetizer: Roasted Cauliflower $7.50
                                        Soup/salad: Fattoush $6.50
                                        Entree: Hunkar Begendi $10.50
                                        Dessert: $8 (full-dessert option) $4 (mezze-style option)
                                        Sub-total: $32.50 or $28.50
                                        10% DC tax: $3.25 or $2.85
                                        20% tip food only: $6.50 or $5.70
                                        Total: $42.25 or $37.05

                                        Anyone who looks at the Zaytinya menu will notice that I've deliberately chosen from among the more expensive meat options. Someone who is trying to spend even less can economize by ordering Zaytinya's equally delicious but less expensive mezze. (Choosing less expensive mezze would let someone order more food and still stay in target range.)

                                        Bottom line: If someone wants the Zaytinya experience, a cost-effective and stomach-satisfying meal is possible.

                                        ETA: When I posted this message, the neat columns I'd worked so hard to achieve disappeared. For the sake of clarity, on lines where two numbers appear, the first is related to the $8 dessert and the second is related to the $4 dessert.

                                    2. re: Sean D

                                      I did a quick check and my last bill for 2 was $52.17, which is no where near what you've said. This, and I always make sure I get my fill.

                                      Yes, we don't drink, but that's the premium you have to add if you go out. Otherwise, you can brown bag it or go to a BYO joint.

                                    3. Went fairly recently and enjoyed there happy hour food and drink specials. Also they had some great Basterma.

                                      1. Went over Labor Day and thought the food was tasty. It was my gf favorite place after Central.. the other two places being Obelisk and Jaleo.

                                        1. I unfortunately can't comment on the food. I went with a friend a few months ago, but it was so uncomfortably loud we turned around and walked out.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Garlic Guy

                                            The noise level is probably the main reason I don't go to Zaytinya anymore. I've never been wowed by the food or the service either. The only aspect that impresses me about Zaytinya is its gorgeous decor, but that's not enough to influence me to eat there--not with so many better restaurant options in Penn Quarter and elsewhere. My two cents.