Assyrtiko? Agiorgitiko? A sparkling Moschofilero-based minty cocktail? It’s all Greek—and delish—to me.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
Head on over to Penn Quarter’s mezze mecca Zaytinya (701 9th Street NW, 202.638.0800) from now until April 8, and you’ll be treated to scrumptious Greek Easter small plates from Head Chef Mike Costa. My faves among the ten course tasting menu ($49 a person, $99 a couple) are the Arnaki me Aginares (Grilled Lamb Leg Steak, Artichokes, Feta, Dill and Ladolemono) and the Sparangia Salata (Pickled White Asparagus, Green Asparagus Purée, Pistaschios and Lemon.) But with all that lamb (and I do mean all–including lamb belly, seared lamb liver and sweetbreads) and spring veggies (think asparagus, pea shoots, and fresh, al dente peas) you really can’t go wrong with any of the tasty dishes.
Just as scrumptious are the sips you can enjoy alongside, including two specialty cocktails. The refreshing Clean Monday ($13) was created “to clear both the conscience and the palate” after Easter indulgence. Mixologist Owen Thomson mixes rose and cucumber-scented Hendrick’s Gin, herbal Green Chartreuse, mint and cucumber, topped with Greek sparkling Moschofilero. Jill Zimorski, ThinkFoodGroup Beverage Director, explains the drink’s tingly secret—the mint is “flash infused” with the gin by adding both to a soda siphon, charging the siphon, pouring out the mixture, straining the mint and then letting the gin go flat. Why these extra steps? Why not just muddle the mint? Zimorski explains that the flash infusion method adds mint flavor without the bitterness. Pretty cool. Perfect as an aperitif, the libation also partners perfectly with the lamb and spring veggie dishes.
Those with more of a decadent streak may prefer The Last Sin ($13), a rich blend of allspice- and vanilla-infused Metaxa 7 Star Brandy, bitter orange, cream and a vanilla-rimmed glass. Zimorski aptly refers to this one as a “Brandy Alexander with Bacon”—perfect if your tastes are flip-flopping between sweet and savory. (It’s great as a liquid dessert…)
Zaytinya also offers an impressive selection of sparkling, white, rosé and red wines from Greece, available by the glass and bottle. (The entire wine list spans 110 bottles, and Zimorksi said she is in the process of adding selections to it.) Though it’s not listed on the menu, Zimorski said that requests for half glasses are also honored for all of the pours—which is perfect for the small plates menu here. The 2009 Argyro Atlantis Assyrtiko from Santorini ($9 a glass, $36 a bottle) will appeal to lovers of crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc or Vinho Verde; those who gravitate towards fruity reds will like the 2007 Skouras St. George Agiorgitiko from Nemea (also $9 a glass and $36 a bottle.) Many Greek wines are known for their easy drinkability and food-friendliness—grab a few friends and sample through the Greek Easter menu while finding some perfect wine (and cocktail) matches. But hurry—the menu and special cocktails are only available until April 8.
Oh, and Zimorski also mentioned to me that 2011 is going to be known as the “year of the bar” at Zaytinya: so check back soon for more creative additions to their cocktail list.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.