Sunday, June 17, 2012

Zest Bistro

This neighborhood American bistro "with a twist" is the creation of Capitol Hill resident Amanda Briggs. Amanda and her husband had long dreamed of creating a hip, warm and welcoming space in the neighborhood that caters to the diversity of Hill professionals while remaining friendly and accessible to families. Add great food and exceptional service to the equation and Zest Bistro fills a niche for creative American food on the Hill. Closest Metro is Eastern Market.

February 2011: It took us a while to get to this new neighborhood restaurant, but I am glad we came and was not disappointed. Located on the very end of the Barracks Row strip, this little bistro is overlooked by most tourists, allowing for slightly less crowds and a more enjoyable dining atmosphere. The decor is very minimalistic, teetering in the bland side, especially for the restaurant's bright name. However, service was wonderful and very fast - almost too fast, as our appetizer and bread was brought out before our drinks arrived. All in all, the ingredients were very fresh and the portions size was very decent for the price. I really enjoyed my meal and was even convinced to order the special dessert of the evening, even though I was full. I would definitely come back to this new welcomed addition soon.

November 2011: I saw a tweet last week about Zest hosting a Long Trail Beer Tasting menu, so we decided to give it a try. Advertised as 6 courses paired with a different Long Trail Beer for $55 plus tax and gratuity, it seemed like a fun twist on the average dinner out. We arrived several minutes before the tasting was to begin and the place was already buzzing with patrons. The hostess escorted towards the very back of the restaurant where they had tables reserved for the 20 or so guests who signed up for this tasting. We waiting a good twenty minutes before beginning, which was a little awkward. It would have been nice to have a menu of the night's pairings for each person and perhaps even a small sample of beer to get the night started. We did each receive a Long Trail logo souvenir glass and bumper sticker, as well as a pamphlet describing each variety of beer - but again, it would have been nice to know ahead of time which ones we would be tasting this evening. (The menu was available online via Zest's website, but they should have provided paper copies on the dinner table for each person as well).

Before we began, Zest's General Manager said some welcoming words and introduced the Long Trail beer representative as well as the Executive and Sous Chefs. The first course was advertised as a chicken liver pâtè, but the chef described it as duck and it was served "communal style" with one plate for our shared table of four. I am all about sharing - but it was not very cool that the guy next to Keith ate 5 pieces of the crostini before I even finished one. Oh well, you snooze - you lose, right? I was concerned each course was to be presented this way, but we each received our own plates for each course after. The pâtè was tasty and paired very well with the blackberry wheat beer. The second course was by far my favorite - the seared scallop paired beautifully with the citrus salad and picked up the hoppy notes of the pale ale. This dish should be a staple on the Zest menu, as it represented their style to a tee. The third course was my next favorite as the ginger spice dominated the delicate squash, yet was cooled down by mapley harvest ale. Very warm and a perfect seasonal touch. The fourth course was a bratwurst made with beef, veal, and chicken and so the chef was able to substitute it out for a vegetarian option for me. Keith ate the original and thought it was just ok - the beans were too undercooked for the cassoulet style. The fifth course featured a very nice mole sauce that paired well with the super hoppy double bag beer. Lastly, the bitter coffee overtones of the porter was paired with a cheesecake-like dessert featuring a chocolate sauce made with the beer to bring out those dark flavors. I listed each course below the dashed line with its paired beer.

Overall, the tasting was pretty good - you could tell it was their first attempt at this sort of event, but the service was handled very well and they get extra points for taking dietary needs into consideration. I also appreciated that the chef came out to describe each course and their inspiration behind the specific pairing. A few suggestions for improvement include serving the beer at colder temperatures (the first three or four courses, the beer was warm and I felt would have highlighted its notes better if they had been served much colder); serving each course a little faster (there was a lot of lag time between courses, so that it took two-and-a-half hours to complete the dinner service); and greeting us with a sample of beer or something to start with a full paper menu to read, as I mentioned before. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the evening and found the beer tasting to be quite enjoyable. Before we left, the GM made sure to let us all know that they were planning a wine pairing in the similar style for sometime in the end of January 2012.

June 2012:  We returned to Zest this Father's Day for brunch with my parents before heading over to see the final Yankees vs. Nationals game.  We made reservations ahead of time in anticipation of the crowds and I am happy we did.  Traditional breakfast items were available as well as regular lunch items.  My parents each ordered the "Make It Your Way" Omelette that came with a side of home fries and fruit.  My Dad got ham, mushrooms, and cheddar in his omelette while my Mom ordered ham, spinach, and feta for hers but recived chorizo sausage instead. Either way, they both enjoyed the large omelettes, stating it was lsightly salty but a nice portion.  Keith ordered the Chesapeake Benedict, that was an eggs benny with crab meat instead of ham.  He thought it was really good but thought they were a little skimpy with the homefries.  For some reason, I was not in the mood for breakfast food so I ordered a Spinach Cobb salad instead and it came prettily presented with the avocado, apple, manchego cheese, bacon, and egg each cut up small.  I ordered it without the pickled onions and found the creamy vinaigrette to be very flavorful.  Overall, service was just as good as before and the place was much more busy this morning.  I enjoy the fresh food items at Zest.

Total Rating: 3.95
Food: 4, Price: 4, Service: 4, Ambience: 3, Accessibility: 5

What I ate:

Spinach Cobb
egg, granny smith apple, manchego cheese, bacon,
avocado, sherry vinaigrette

Spicy Ahi Tartare
avocado & mango salsa, fried ginger, wonton chips

Spinach Fettuccine
grilled asparagus, roasted eggplant basil, in an orange butter sauce

Coffee Cake Bread Pudding
served with a cream cheese filling and bourboun brown butter sauce
Duck Liver Pâtè
served on crostini
paired with Long Trail Blackbeary Wheat

Seared Scallop
arugula, fennel, citrus fruits
paired with Long Trail Pale Ale

Lemongrass Squash Soup
fried ginger garnish
paired with Long Trail Harvest Ale

Grilled Portobello Mushroom
white bean cassoulet, balsamic
paired with Long Trail Double IPA

Trio of Empanadas
beef*, turkey, roasted vegetable, mole sauce
*(mine was substituted for another vegetable)
paired with Long Trail Double Bag

Homemade Cheesecake
paired with Long Trail Imperial Porter

Plus Keith ate:

Chesapeake Benedict
poached eggs, lump crabcake, toasted sourdough with applewood smoked bacon,
spinach and basil, hollandaise, served with homefries

Braised Lamb Shank
served with creamy parmesan polenta, roasted garlic, 24 hour tomatoes
Local Virginia Bratwurst
white bean cassoulet, balsamic
paired with Long Trail Double IPA

Zest Bistro on Urbanspoon

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