Thursday, May 1, 2008

Zola: Swank Restaurant meets Americana Diner

Since my post a week ago (woah, has it really been a week? Thanks for those who missed us, we feel loved!), much has happened. The mystery date took place: dinner at Zola's and a theatrical rendition of The Screwtape Letters at the Shakespeare Theatre (the general consensus was that it works better as a book than a play). Do fixed my camera (yay!!). We were extremely lazy on the food front. We've got a couple items to share with you over the next few days, but first I want to blog about the restaurant where we went for our date. There are very few reviews of it online, and the website is the ultimate in non-descriptive, so I feel it's important to throw in my two cents. The restaurant is in Washington D.C., near the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop.

Dinner was at Zola's, a self consciously hip restaurant that attracts the flashy, urbane crowd and puts up with the tourists that wander over from the Spy Museum (in the same building). Their approach to food mirrors the composition of their diners: some snazzy ideas executed with top-quality but down-home ingredients, generally riffs on American classics. Hamburger sliders made with ground lamb (amazing). Cheesy French fries using aged Gouda cheese, which you could dip in ketchup or in a sherry mayonnaise (I wasn't in love, but I was super full at that point). Our main courses included a ribeye steak with mashed potatoes and rabbit loin with a bed of asparagus and gnocchi. The chefs definitely treat their meat with loving kindness, as both of our cuts were perfectly cooked, handled, and seasoned. They weren't using any razzle-dazzle techniques, unlike solidly high-end, innovative places like Citronelle, but that kept them accessible as an "American" dining experience, albeit a high quality, very capable one. The vibe was "Just because we cook Middle-American food doesn't mean we can't be sexy."

A note to the wise: they are not super vegetarian-friendly, unless your form of vegetarianism allows you to eat fish. And ahem, not to be déclassée, but the $30/person pre-theatre menu is a steal.

Zola's is also known for their cocktails: in addition to the bartenders behind the too-hip-for-me bar (though I qualify as both young and urbane, my public-servant-business-casual apparel did not reach the right hipness level...), they have a list of 10 or so drinks with cute Spy-related names. Do got one, the Zola, that was really fun: transparent, not-too-sweet, with a raspberry at the bottom. Very sexy. Mine, the Jade, was, well, a mess. Syrupy sweet, highlighter green, without much else to say for it. Ah well. Their wine list was also impressive, and their by-the-glass options included a fantastic Australian Shiraz (a big compliment from us; we're super picky about hearty reds).

The vibe was kind of odd, with the tourist families in flip flops and the late 20s crowd in expensive suits. The decor echoed the mismatch by playing on the Spy Museum riff, walking a fine line between kitsch diner and upscale too-cool-for-you. To their credit, the waiters were extremely pleasant and appeared to treat all diners equally. I'm not sure whether the Zola's pulled it off almost-seamlessly or whether it remains a slightly awkward juxtaposition. I'm leaning towards the latter, perhaps because I could never entirely forget the mismatch and just enjoy my dinner (admittedly, this may be because I'm a girl and am consistently assessing whether my clothes make me stand out).

7 comments:

Ginny said...

I've never eaten at Zola just had this pink fruity drinks, passion? i believe...what did you think of the bathroom...that was my favorite part and I had to try the door a few times! haha! I hope you had fun!

Krysta said...

Yea! You back. You must have gone on a top secret mission! wink wink!

giz said...

Sounds like the ecclectic bar of the theatre district!! Once you got to the syrupy drink, that did it for me. Ruin my fries, but don't ruin my drink.

That Girl said...

I love pre-theater menus!!!

Ann said...

Hmmm... must try it next time I'm in DC. :-)

Lisa said...

Welcome back! Glad to hear your camera is fixed. I'd be crushed if something happened to mine. As I cannot afford a replacement, that would be the end of my blog for a while at least.

Johanna said...

Isn't it terrible how self-consciousness can affect how we rate a restaurant? It makes me think how much our world affects our attitudes to food - how the surrounding places and the clientele have such an impact on how you reacted! Interesting write-up!