Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Zola Wine and Kitchen

A few years ago, we told you how a turkey from Zola Wine and Kitchen saved our Thanksgiving. Recently, Zola Wine and Kitchen's daily lunch specials saved us from another blah sandwich.

The sibling of Zola Restaurant around the corner, Zola Wine and Kitchen is part wine shop, part cooking school, and part lunch counter. Each day during the lunch rush, chefs take over the cooking school kitchen and serve a selection of rotating daily special entrees such as scallop risotto or chile rellenos, along with a full menu of sandwiches and salads.

Many area office workers can be seen grabbing their food to go, but seating is offered at communal tables complete with cloth napkins and pitchers of ice water. The atmosphere is a nice upgrade from the usual deli or fast food joint.

B and I were very impressed with the sandwiches. I ordered the roast beef on focaccia with the insalata mista on the side. I appreciated their willingness to let me swap out the standard flour-dusted bun for the fluffy focaccia bread because I have a serious aversion to flour-dusted foods (it's a texture thing). The perfectly rare roast beef was paired with a creamy brie, sweet garlic aioli, carmelized onions, and arugula. This was near sandwich perfection.

One bite into his braised leg of lamb sandwich with harissa on a ciabatta roll and B was ready to dish out high fives. It was a high class sandwich with a very reasonable $12 price tag (including a generous helping of upscale pasta salad). It may not be the $5 foot long deal from the shop around the corner, but this ain't your average deli sandwich. This easily could be served for $10 more as a lunch entree in a fancy restaurant.

Even though Zola Wine and Kitchen has become popular with the Penn Quarter lunch crowd, it still feels like it's a secret shared by nearby office workers relieved at having a quick-service fine dining option. I hesitated to try the lunch at Zola Wine and Kitchen because it had the look of a private party being held in the cooking school. Don't be afraid to open the door and check it out. This is a public fiesta, but don't go telling too many people . . . we'd like to keep the lines down.

Second Thoughts from B

My lunch options are limited to a government cafeteria and whatever I bring from home. So, being downtown for lunch is an extra special treat (not to mention getting to share it with J rather than eating at my desk). What that means is that anything made fresh by someone with the title of "chef" is going to be pretty exciting for me. Still, I have a sneaking suspicion that Zola Wine and Kitchen is a real gem.

My sandwich elicited two responses. The first was the eye-rolling groan of satisfaction that accompanies any great first bite. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the Food Network for 5 minutes and you'll see it. The second was an inquisitive look as I stared at my lunch and questioned, "What was that?" This reaction is what separates the men from the boys... or should I say the chefs from the line cooks?

As a card carrying sports fan, I watch my fair share of SportsCenter on ESPN. For those of you not familiar, the highlight show usually ends with a compilation of the day's best plays. Without fail, each of these top 10 plays has that wow-factor. But only on the rare occasion does a highlight get rewound on the DVR over and over to answer the question, "How'd he/she do that?" This sandwich was worthy of a DVR rewind. In other words, we'll be back.
Zola Wine & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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