Hummus at Dizengoff

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Dizengoff is a new vendor in Chelsea Market that sells hummus in the manner of the hummusiyas or hummus stalls that are commonly found in Israel. The restaurant is named after a famous street in Tel Aviv and specializes in Israeli-style hummus, which blends chickpeas with tehina, a type of sesame paste. The hummus is very smooth, dense and nutty, definitely more flavorful and filling than the hummus that comes out of the tub you get from the grocery store.Read More

Mediterranean Throwdown with Bobby Flay at Gato

There’s no question that Bobby Flay knows how to cook. You don’t get to be Iron Chef or have several TV shows under your belt by being just ok. But I wonder if all those Throw Down challenges maybe impacted his palate a bit. Maybe he developed a propensity for really strong flavors after years of competing to make the best jerk chicken or cheesesteak or whatnot, all of which are not shy with flavors.

That was my issue with the food at Gato. The food at this Mediterranean Noho restaurant (France, Italy, Spain were all represented here) was very uneven. Either Flay hit it out of the park, or he put too much seasoning in something. You could tell that all the technique was there, but the flavors in the majority of the dishes needed to be scaled back.

scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast
scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast

The famous scrambled eggs, for instance, was one of the biggest offenders of overseasoning. I loved the texture of the eggs, which were the silkiest and creamiest scrambled eggs that I’ve ever had, and the hint of heat from the chili oil was a nice touch. But the flavors of the goat cheese were just so overwhelmingly dominant in each bite, so much so that I felt like they should have renamed this “goat cheese with scrambled eggs”. The small pieces of crunchy, golden toasts were great, but there weren’t enough of them to sop up the eggs, and they did nothing to offset the goat cheese.

burrata with black olive oil and beets
burrata with black olive oil and beets
eggplant with manchego, oregano, and balsamic
eggplant with manchego, oregano, and balsamic
mussel and razor clam salad with saffron pickled shallots
mussel and razor clam salad with saffron pickled shallots

Our trio of bar snacks suffered from the opposite problem–they didn’t leave enough of an impression. Which was interesting, because they were also a little overseasoned, yet I totally forgot about them the next day, unlike those eggs. The eggplants were warm and meaty, but the balsamic on them was a tad too sweet. The mussel and razor clam salad was light and refreshing, but the citrus notes were very strong. My favorite was probably the burrata, which was creamy and luscious as good burrata should be, but I’ve had better renditions of this cheese elsewhere.

At the end of the day, I didn’t really crave second servings of these small snacks. Maybe that’s the point–the bar snacks shouldn’t overshadow the appetizers and entrees, and they should just quickly whet your appetite with apertifs? But I think they play a pivotal role in serving as teasers for the good food to come, and based on the previews of these snacks alone, I would have probably skipped the movie.

Flay did make a comeback by throwing down an amazing kale and wild mushroom paella, as well as an excellent crab risotto. This man really knows how to work it with rice. I noticed on Wikipedia that he lost to some guy on an arroz con pollo challenge, but that must have been some bullsh*t, because there’s no way he’d lose. This is his thing, this is his jam. It’s like saying Morimoto lost a sushi throwdown challenge. I think he probably needs to “lose” some episodes so that he doesn’t alienate viewers and appears humble and likeable or some nonsense like that.

kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg
kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg

I would come back just for the kale paella. The crunchy, slightly charred bottom layer of rice, also known as socarrat, was glorious. The rice had this extremely satisfying, chewy texture, and the way the grains had locked in the flavors of the golden, pan-seared scraps was just incredible. The artichoke, which was indeed extra crispy, and the kale were both moderately seasoned, a nice counterbalance to all the excitement going on with the rice. There was also a delicious runny egg in the middle of it, which was meant for mixing and mingling all the comforting, hearty flavors together, a la bibimbap style.

crab risotto with garlic bread crumbs and calabrian red chile
crab risotto with garlic bread crumbs and calabrian red chile

While the paella was crispy and crunchy, the risotto was soft and creamy, as it should be. What struck me about the crab risotto was how strong and “crabby” it tasted. I’d definitely expect this from like a Singaporean street hawker, but not from a Western restaurant. I loved how briney each spoonful was, because it meant that there was real crab meat in there, and that the kitchen was being generous with it. It also reminded me of the awesome Korean crab soup jigage that my mother used to make for me as a child. If you don’t mind intense crab flavors, then this is definitely the dish for you.

Much like his show, Bobby Flay wins some and loses some at Gato. Unfortunately, I think the losses edged out the wins, and I’m really in no hurry to come back to the restaurant. That also played a factor in why I declined to order dessert. I wanted to leave on a high note with memories of the paella, instead of a potentially disappointing and overseasoned dessert. I’m going to tune out from the Throw Downs at Gato going forward, but I might be open to some reruns involving paella.


Gato
324 Lafayette St (between E. Houston and Bleecker St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 334-6400

Day 2 in DC: Greatest Hits at Zaytinya and Rasika

We had very ambitious plans for our second night in DC and decided to have dinner at not one, but two, restaurants. This sounds like the highly insane plan of two sick gluttons and reflects all that is wrong with excess consumption in America, but our logic was that we don’t come to DC very often, so we should try to maximize the limited time we have there by enjoying multiple dinners. We decided the best use of our time would be having dinner at Zaytinya, an extremely popular Mediterranean restaurant run by famed chef José Andrés, followed by a second supper at Rasika, another hot restaurant serving innovative Indian cuisine.

Zaytinya: The huge, slick interior of the restaurant made me feel like I was in a Vegas hotel lobby. Service was a little uneven, and the order in which they brought out the mezze or small plates was a little odd. For instance, they brought the tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip made with cucumbers and spring peas, without bringing out the accompanying pita basket, even when the waitress explicitly told us that the two should go hand-in-hand. And the highly anticipated wait for the bread was followed by…the crispy brussels afelia. Despite the annoying rhythm in service, the first two plates were delicious. The pita bread was warm, soft and billowy, with a slight yeasty taste, making it perfect to consume on its own or with some of the light, delicious tzatziki spread. The fried brussels sprouts as you can imagine were insanely good, as crispy, charred sprout leaves covered in creamy garlic yogurt are wont to be.

zaytinya's famous pita bread
Zaytinya’s famous pita bread
crispy brussels afelia
crispy brussels afelia
tzatziki greek yogurt and spring pea spread
tzatziki greek yogurt and spring pea spread

That culinary high came to a swift end when our other dishes, the lamb bahar and the octopus santorini, arrived with considerable delay. The spice-rubbed lamb kebabs in tahini sauce were cooked and seasoned perfectly, but the grilled octopus was frankly mediocre. It was rubbery and lacked that hearty, meaty flavor that well-prepared octopus should have. The pea puree didn’t enhance the protein at all and felt like a careless accompaniment. Maybe if Zaytinya had just killed it with the last two dishes than it could have made up for the inconsistent service, but its fate was sealed with that lasting impression of the disappointing octopus. There was no time to sulk, however, as we had a schedule to keep, and we made our way towards Rasika.

octopus santorini
octopus santorini
lamb bahar
lamb bahar

Rasika: The Penn Quarter restaurant was actually located pretty close to Zaytinya, which was quite convenient for our food crawl. Rasika was smaller and more intimate than Zaytinya. The interior was outfitted in rich shades of dark reds and oranges to enhance the exotic atmosphere. The service was much more attentive than at Zaytinya. Waiters were prompt with delivering meals and appropriately checked in with us throughout the duration of our dinner.

Based on the Yelp recommendations, we ordered the fried spinach or palak chaat, along with the chicken green masala and the butternut squash bharta. The palak chaat was absolutely incredible, and there were actually a lot of similarities between this dish and the crispy brussels sprouts at Zaytinya. Ultimately we declared Rasika’s palak chaat the winner in the fried green vegetable battle, awarding the former more points for its intriguing and complex blend of flavors. There were hints of sweetness from the chutney in the palak chaat, which then gave way to a savory undercurrent provided by the tamarind and yogurt, and then some sharpness from the red onions would cut in.

palak chaat or fried spinach
palak chaat or fried spinach

At this point, there was a lot of pressure for the other dishes to measure up to the palak chaat, but unfortunately they did not. The sauce in the chicken green masala was extremely watery, and the mint and coriander almost tasted muddied in the mixture. Normally my favorite part of an Indian meal is drizzling the rice in the amazing sauces and gravies, but after one bite of chicken I was done. The butternut squash was much better, and I liked how the cumin and tomatoes brought some meaty depth to the squash puree. At the end of the day, however, I would not order these dishes on a return visit.

butternut squash bharta
butternut squash bharta
chicken green masala
chicken green masala

I was frustrated by how both of the dinners were characterized by an inconsistent mix of highs and lows.  I really wanted to like them, and the glimmers of genius in certain dishes made me hopeful, but the letdowns tipped the scales in the other direction.  To be fair, we are not DC natives, and perhaps with the help of an informed local we could have hit a home run with every dish we ordered. On the other hand, there are new restaurants that I have blindly tried where everything we ordered was pretty remarkable. Overall I preferred Zaytinya to Rasika–the food was generally better, even if the service wasn’t. I’ve had better high-end Indian dinners at places like Tamarind and Junoon in New York, whereas Zaytinya is on par with other small-plate or Greek restaurants like Pylos or Tertulia. Now it’s off to my next culinary journey, which is a juice cleanse to take a break from all these fried vegetables and roasted meats!


Zaytinya
701 9th St NW
Washington DC 20001
http://www.zaytinya.com/

Rasika
633 D St NW
Washington DC 20004
http://www.rasikarestaurant.com/