Thursday, February 26, 2009


Zola, located next door to the Spy Museum, extended its Restaurant Week pricing through the end of the month. We got together with a group of friends to take advantage of the $35 three-course special. We had all been to Zola before (this was my 4th meal there) but returned because the restaurant makes its entire menu available for Restaurant Week with no upcharges. I love Zola's swanky interior that carries the espionage theme over from the Spy Museum with dark wood, red velvet booths, and code written all over the walls. Our waiter was knowledgeable but made no mention of the special RW pricing. I wonder if we would have been charged full price if we hadn't asked? Also, the waiter was almost too friendly and informal. He made fun of our friend several times and asked "am I going to have to interrupt you every time I come?" While it fit the fun mood of the evening, I can see how he may offend others.

I Spy Appetizers

I started with the Hiramasa Tartar which was raw yellowtail served atop a slice of grilled chorizo and finished with crispy shallots and a pineapple/jalapeno foam. I wouldn't be too sad to see the foam trend end in D.C. I don't think it adds much flavor and often makes the texture of the dish a little strange. I did like the raw fish/crispy shallot combo but the hot piece of chorizo underneath the cold fish sort of made the whole dish lukewarm. It was an appetizer that was trying to be too many things at the same time.

B started with the lamb meatball sliders on house made sticky buns, with grilled romaine and pepper slaw, and goat cheese aioli. I think the buns are fantastic but lamb isn't my thing.

I Spy the Main Course

For my main course I had the Hand Cut Semolina Noodles with Three Meat Bolognese. The bolognese sauce was made of veal, pork, and braised short rib meat. It was a tasty sauce but tasted a bit like the sauce in Stouffer's frozen lasagna. The stars of the dish were the hand cut noodles. I love fresh pasta and these noodles were just the right consistency for me (doughy without being overly sticky).

B had the veal and I remember it looking a little over-cooked but he'll have to tell you more about the flavor.

We shared a side of lobster mac and cheese for the table. Zola is famous for its lobster mac but this is a dish that seems to be better in theory than in practice. It was creamy but lacking flavor. Also, they used orecchiette pasta instead of macaroni and the noodles stuck together in clumps.

I Spy Dessert

I opted for the Pumpkin Pecan Roll with brown sugar - sour cream ice cream and chocolate sauce. The roll was a moist blend of pumpkin cake and frosting rolled in crushed pecans. I loved the scoop of brown sugar - sour cream ice cream that added a tart kick to the very sweet pumpkin roll.

B had the Key Lime Cheesecake with tequila anglaise and a cinnamon churro which he described as uninteresting. He noted that the dish wasn't committed to being either tangy or creamy and as a result, the flavors were kind of muddled.

I Spy a Return Visit?

I've been to Zola twice for dinner and twice for lunch. I've been more impressed with their lunch menu than the dinner experience. While we had a nice meal with a fun waiter, nothing was remarkable. I think the beautiful dining room, convenient location and excellent Restaurant Week menu keeps me coming back.

Second Thoughts from B

It is interesting that J mentioned that she likes the lunch at Zola more than the dinner. I've only gone for dinner, so maybe that is why I've never seen what she likes so much about it. As J said, there are many things to like about Zola. However, I think that the food is best summed up as a missed opportunity. Dishes tend to be imaginative and each look good on the menu. However, in my limited experience, it seems like there is always one thing that is missing that could have made a good dish an outstanding dish. For example, the sliders had a well developed sour (almost mustardy sauce) that complimented the lamb. However, this flavor was a bit overwhelming and would have been improved with a counterpoint of sweet or savory. As for my veal, it was overcooked, and therefore a little dry and tough. And my cheesecake was non-committal. (J says: nobody likes a non-committal cheesecake!) I think it needed to be braver and let the tartness of the lime shine.

Zola on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Budak said...

As a random reader of your blog (I found it just by serendipitous Google Search), I have to say I very much enjoy your reviews. I do hope, however, that you will try out some cheaper, but perhaps even more delicious cuisine. May I suggest Julia's Empanadas? I'm not sure if you've ever been there, but I highly recommend it. Keep up the good work B and J!
-Random fan of twodc