Tag Archives: mediterranean

Lebanese Taverna: A Local Chain Done Right

23 Jun

We can’t believe we haven’t written about Lebanese Taverna yet given the number of times we frequent this Middle Eastern mini-chain. This past weekend my parents were in town, so we decided to treat them to dinner for Father’s Day at the Lebanese Taverna in Bethesda.

We have dined at the Woodley Park location several times in recent months, and when we arrived for our reservation last weekend, we almost forgot how beautiful the space is inside the newest addition to the LT family. The glass bubble chandeliers alone are stunning. Although it might be hard to tell that this location is related to the others, the expansive menu was the same and that’s mainly what we were there for.

Vegetarian Mezze Platter

We sat down and were greeted with their signature pillow-type bread and olive oil dipping sauce. We decided to split a half pitcher of white sangria, and right away we wish we went with the larger pitcher. Even my mom loved it, and she rarely drinks alcohol!

I knew we had to order one of the mezze platters to start out with, so we went with the vegetarian option. I have ordered this before as an entree, and for four people it is a great way to try lots of different mezze on the menu. I won’t name everything it came with, but trust me, if you haven’t ordered one of these yet, you definitely should.

Araydis Arak

Brett and I decided to split the mixed Mashawi dish, since I wasn’t too hungry and it was a nice way to try the chicken, lamb, and kafta kabobs. We also split the Araydis Arak (sautéed shrimp, garlic, onion, and arak) and the M’saka (oven roasted eggplant with chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, and garlic).

Mixed Kabobs

The only complaint we had was that the entrees immediately came out as soon as we finished our appetizers. In fact, we still had some food left on the table as there really was no lapse between courses, so I was already full while Brett (unsurprisingly) had the lion’s share of our entree. But what I did have was excellent as all of the flavors found on the varieties of meat blended well together.

My Mom had one of the specials, the crispy fried whole trout. She said it was good but didn’t care for the cabbage that it came with. My dad, however, was in love with his lamb loin (Sharhat Ghanam) and couldn’t get enough of it.

Crispy fried whole trout

Lebanese Taverna is one of those places that is so reliable that we almost forget about it at times. It’s a great place to bring a group to because there really is something for everyone.

Lebanese Taverna on Urbanspoon

Rioja - A Delight in Denver

21 Jun

With Rachel having her work’s summer conference in Denver last week, how could I turn down the chance to come along? After all, I had never been to Denver, let alone visited the state of Colorado, so we decided to make a mini-vacation out of it.

After spending the day in Boulder, we checked into our hotel in downtown Denver on Friday night. For the sake of spontaneity, I decided to keep our dinner plans a secret until we arrived at the restaurant.

Located on charming Larimer Street in the LoDo area of Denver, I had learned about Rioja after performing some online research on highly-acclaimed restaurants in the area.  Turns out that the Mediterranean-themed venue was tops on a variety of lists, and considering that Friday night was our one free night of the week before Rachel’s conference started, I figured we might as well do something on the fancier side.

Thai Scallops

Thankfully, Rioja took reservations as we were promptly seated when we arrived. Our waitress soon greeted us and asked for our drink order. I went with a glass of red wine while Rachel ordered the blackberry whisky sour, the restaurant’s most popular cocktail. After having a sip, I wish I had ordered one myself. Featuring blackberry whiskey, house made sour mix, soda, and lemon, it was one satisfying beverage.

As for dinner, everything on the menu sounded absolutely delicious, and unsurprisingly, we had a difficult time deciding what to get. After spending at least fifteen minutes reading over the list of options, at the bottom of the menu was an answer to our indecisiveness: “Tasting Menus Available. Please Inquire With Your Server.


Our waitress explained that the two of us could split smaller portions of two dishes from each category: starters, salads, pastas, and entrees (or at least that’s how we understood, but more on that later). Rachel and I immediately agreed that this was the best course of action not only because we wanted to try so many things, but that we initially couldn’t make up our damn minds if we went the a la carte route.

Handmade mozzarella, wrapped in smoked prosciutto, with grilled bread, oven-dried tomatoes, arugula, and green olive pistou

Before our first courses arrived, we were treated to a homemade selection of bread which alluded to how great this dinner was going to be. The selection included rosemary goat cheese biscuits, lavender sour dough, orange and fennel rolls, and olive loaf. All four varieties were simply fantastic, but it was the lavender sour dough that stood out the most.

We started with the handmade mozzarella, wrapped in smoked prosciutto, with grilled bread, oven-dried tomatoes, arugula, and green olive pistou. Although it was slightly hard to split this small sandwich into two, it was a great way to commence our tasting journey. The mozzarella and prosciutto combination perfectly complemented the tomatoes and arugula. The bread got a little soggy from the olive spread, and we thought it may have been more effective as an open face sandwich instead of two pieces. Nonetheless, we couldn’t wait for our next course.

Next up was the Thai scallops, made with lemongrass panna cotta, compressed pineapple, plantain tuille, coconut kiffir lime purée, and a Thai red curry vinaigrette. To put it in one word: wow. This may have been our favorite dish of the night.

Beet and Watermelon Salads

When we were first deliberating what to order from the regular menu, Rachel kept eyeing the salads. Normally we would skip salad and try more adventurous starters, but these salads seemed incredibly creative and delicious. For our tasting, we were served small portions of both the watermelon and beet salads.

The watermelon salad included baby heirloom tomatoes, organic red and yellow watermelon, Valbreso feta, compressed cucumber, sweet chilies, watermelon vinaigrette, and a micro lemon balm. This was paired on a single plate with the beet salad, composed of roasted candy striped beets, cucumber mint vinaigrette, snow drop goat cheese, crispy beet chips, pickled red onion, micro beets, and mint syrup.

While we thought both salads were excellent, I was more partial towards the watermelon while Rachel liked the beets. I’m not a huge fan of goat cheese (much to the chagrin of Rachel) but I could not stop raving about it while eating the beet salad. It was just incredibly fresh without its flavor being too pronounced that I couldn’t taste the other ingredients.

Artichoke tortelloni

Up next was the pasta course. The first dish was saffron spaghettini, which featured summer vegetables, roasted eggplant, La Quercia lardo, heirloom tomatoes, scallion, black oil cured olives, piquillo peppers, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.

The other pasta was an artichoke tortelloni, which was made with goat cheese and artichoke mousse stuffed pasta, artichoke broth, truffle essence, queso de mano cheese, and chervil.

The spaghettini was a light and delicate dish which was apt given the warmer weather. Meanwhile, I could have ordered an entire bowl of the tortelloni for myself. Between the goat cheese/artichoke mouse stuffing and the wonderful truffle sauce, this was a pure delight. I can see why this is one of the most popular pastas on the menu (all of which can be ordered as an entrée, by the way).

Saffron spaghettini

Our entrees soon arrived, but instead of them being presented in a sampling format, each person solely received their main course. We weren’t sure if this was the tasting menu portion or not as the serving size seemed rather large given the sizes of the previous courses we consumed, but neither of us thought it was enough of a substantial claim to make a fuss over of.

Anyway, I ordered the Colorado lamb two ways while Rachel got the halibut Provençal. The lamb arrived as a grilled t-bone as well as a house-made merguez sausage and was accompanied with a crisp couscous pillow, caramelized fennel, tomato coulis, and preserved lemon yogurt. Mediterranean flavors were brought to life in this exquisite dish. The t-bone was incredibly tender and flavorful while the sausage, which resembled more of a lamb slider, was packed with spice albeit a little too rare in the middle for my liking.

Colorado lamb two ways

But man, that lemon yogurt! It was a dream pairing between that and both pieces of lamb. Throw in the creative couscous pillow, which had a nice crunchy layer outside with soft couscous stuffed inside, and you have yourselves one breathtaking entrée.

For her entree, Rachel got the halibut Provencal, which came with grilled artichoke, artichoke mousse, tomato-feta-zucchini tart, black olive fennel vinaigrette, and crispy milk poached garlic. She thought it would be similar to the artichoke found in the tortellini but the waitress assured her that they would be completely different.

While all the components were incredibly unique and made for a beautiful dish and presentation, she was simply too full from the other courses to truly enjoy it. What really stood out was the poached garlic – it was sweet instead of overpowering, and was like nothing she ever had before.

Halibut Provençal

We passed on dessert as we were beyond stuffed and asked for the check. When we received it, it had turned out that the waitress had charged us for tasting size portions of our meal up until the entrees, which we were billed at full price!  There appeared to be quite a bit of confusion on both of ends as we had asked for a tasting menu while the waitress thought we still wanted regular-sized entrees. I mean, why would we order regular-sized a la carte entrees if we’re ordering from a tasting menu?

We explained to the waitress that we had never specifically asked for full-sized entrees, though it did explain why we received such large portions and could barely eat half of it. She was very apologetic about the misunderstanding and removed the scallop course from the bill, which we thought was very nice.

Despite the snafu, we had a lovely dinner and cannot recommend Rioja enough should you ever visit Denver. Chef Jennifer Jasinski marveled us with her talents as we unceremoniously dubbed her “the Bryan Voltaggio of Denver” while we savored each course. In fact, we loved it so much that Rachel went back a second night for dinner during her stay! The next time we’re in Denver, a meal at Rioja is clearly a must.


Rioja on Urbanspoon

Gyros at The Greek Spot

7 Jun

Marking the one year anniversary of our honeymoon to the Greek Isles, we felt that there was no better way to commemorate our adventures in Greece than with dinner at the beloved Greek Spot.

We have been to the Greek Spot in the past as it’s an ideal place to grab some dinner before a show at the nearby 9:30 Club. We were seeing Titus Andronicus and Okkervil River that evening, so Rachel and I were looking for something fast and casual so we wouldn’t miss any of the acts.


Without hesitation, I (of course) ordered the traditional gyro. The lamb was tender, flavorful, and nicely seasoned while the pita was warm and soft. It’s arguably one of the better gyros you’ll find in this city, and for under seven bucks, it’s a great value. The tzatziki is downright delicious, but once it blends with the generous portions of lamb stuffed inside the pita, it’s as if you’re walking down the streets of Athens.

I do have to admit that Marathon Deli (in College Park) might have the best gyro in regards to the entire metropolitan area, but Greek Spot comes in at a close second. How we haven’t posted about Marathon yet is beyond me, but rest assured, they’ll make it on here soon enough.

Rachel went with the vegetarian gyro platter as she had read good things about it on Yelp. She likes trying some non-meat options every once in a while and the soy steak strips sounded appealing.

Vegetarian gyro platter

The platter is a great deal since it comes with four triangles of pita, tzatziki sauce, a small salad, and lots of meat (err, fake meat) on a bed of orzo. It was a ton of food for $9.50, and an even better deal for me since I helped Rachel eat half the platter. It’s a nice way to build your own sandwich if you want the additional sides while not having to deal with a sometimes messy sandwich.

She enjoyed the soy strips and even I was surprised how well they went with the platter, but next time will probably stick to chicken souvlaki or a traditional gyro.

Between the two of us, we had a hearty, satisfying dinner for around $20, including two Boylan sodas. Among the quality of the food, the price, and the gorgeous weather outside, you could not ask for a better pre-show meal.

Greek Spot on Urbanspoon

A Surprise Dinner at Komi

12 May

With my 30th birthday coming up, I knew Rachel had something up her sleeve. I just didn’t know when, and importantly, where we would go.

We started this tradition of surprising each other back in ’09 when we got engaged with a dinner at CityZen which was unbeknownst to Rachel until we literally arrived at the Mandarin Oriental. From there, we took turns at who could one-up the other with surprise meals at Volt’s Table 21, Restaurant Eve, and Sushi Taro.

This time, however, I had let my guard down.

Considering that my birthday is May 19, I had no idea that Rachel’s plan would be executed a little more than two weeks prior to my 30th. As it turns out, she secretly collaborated with our friend Casey as her husband Keith also recently turned 30 in order to surprise us both.

Essentially, everyone was in on the plans except the husbands.

Birthday Greeting from Komi

Coincidentally, I had asked Rachel what I should wear Friday morning since she had mentioned about going to Hank’s Oyster Bar for happy hour later that evening. Considering that I typically dress down on casual Fridays, it fortunately turned out that my wardrobe choice was optimal for where we were eventually going to go for dinner.

Once we had met up with our friends at the Dupont Circle Metro, we made our way towards Hank’s. And then we passed it. Confused, and with the girls staying silent, I thought that maybe we were going to Agora instead. Once again, everyone continued walking until we reached the steps of Komi. And then we stopped.

Needless to say, I was completely taken aback. And then really, really excited.

Rachel and Casey just pulled one of the greatest coups by not only securing a reservation for four at one of the best restaurants in all of DC, but by keeping it a secret for well over a month! My wife and friends are so awesome.

Now that I’m already 300+ words deep without going into the food, I suppose I should talk about our absolutely wonderful meal…

Komi isn’t like most restaurants. They don’t even have a menu. Diners simply take a seat and are taken on a whimsical journey of some of the best food you’ll ever have in the District.

Considering that Komi disallows its patrons from taking pictures of its food, I apologize in advance for the lack of images as some of the plates they served were visually stunning. I also want to apologize if I don’t go into full detail about each of our many courses as there was simply too much to remember and, well, I didn’t write everything down.


Chef Johnny Monis and Co. - Image courtesy of www.komirestaurant.com


Anyway, our meal started off with several amuse-bouches, or small bites.

The first was a brioche bun with Greek yogurt, sea beans, and salmon roe. With one bite, I could tell that this was going to be an exceptional evening. It was only going to get better from here.

There were two other crudo dishes that followed, but I honestly can’t remember all of the details. I do recall that they paired one of the crudo with the freshest beets we have ever tried.

The scallop two ways was up next – one served in a shell, and one on a spoon. I preferred the one on the spoon over the shell in terms of taste, but they were both great.

The next course featured burrata cheese with asparagus. It’s hard to explain this dish given the complexity of the flavors, but somehow, it just worked. Chef Johnny Monis is obviously a master of his craft.

After that we were served salmon with crème fraiche and a toasted chip. Now we’re talking! It was like a deconstructed version of bagels and lox. An abundance of flavor found in such a small package.

The small, savory plate of smoked foie gras (served chilled) was terrific. Served with black trumpet mushrooms, pea shoots, and strawberries, it wasn’t a generous portion by any stretch, but it literally melted in your mouth. The foie gras that was atop the tuna at the Inn at Little Washington, however, holds a dear place in my heart.

Their take on Spanikopita was so creative – the ingredients were liquidly infused inside a crispy ball while rightfully acknowledging the original Greek dish.

The portions began to increase at this point. Up first was one of Komi’s legendary dishes – their take on a DC staple: the half-smoke. I have long heard about how Chef Monis’ recipe is an ode to the District, but let me tell you, this one knocked it out of the park. Using sausage, grounded in-house no less, tucked inside a housemade toasted bun, and then topped with tomato marmalade, the half-smoke was exceptional. But wait, along with a homemade pork rind seasoned with Old Bay, Komi paired the dish with a Lagunitas IPA! Just brilliant all around. It was at this point that we spotted the chef himself serving dishes in the dining room. Let’s just say, Rachel was swooning about as much as she did over Mr. Voltaggio at Volt.

The roasted dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese. Wow, just wow. Unanimously one of our favorite plates of the night. The sweet and salty combination was flawlessly executed with this dish. I could have eaten a table’s worth myself.

The egg yolk ravioli with shaved tuna kicked off the pasta course. My word was this delicious. While watching others cut theirs in half where the egg yolk drained out of the pasta, I instead ate the entire piece of ravioli whole. Granted I wanted to ration it, but this way I was able to enjoy every last drop of yolk stuffed inside.

Our waiter then served us tagliatelle with seafood ragu and fried caper berries. The pasta, prepared in-house of course, was fine and delicate while the cod added some nice flavor to the dish. It might have been lost in the shuffle coming off the high that was the half-smoke and ravioli, but the excellent pasta, as well as the ragu, stole the show.

Then, it was time for our main course. The table received two massive plates of meat: one was Katsikki, or roasted goat shoulder, while the other was suckling pig. It also came with four pieces of wonderfully prepared warm pita bread that were so fluffy that they nearly resembled the texture of pancakes. Additionally, we received two plates of “condiments” which included the best tzatziki we have ever tasted (and we’ve been to Greece!), picked radishes, olive horseradish spread, roasted red peppers, and lemon salt.

The four of us then concocted our own gyros using some of the finest quality ingredients courtesy of Komi and their kitchen. Based on Keith and Casey’s recommendation (they had been to Komi before), they suggested that I try the suckling pig skin first. Crispy, salty, and savory is all I can say. Meanwhile the actual meats, both pig and goat, were incredibly tender and so full of flavor that I almost felt bad adding any toppings. All four of us were in heaven while going to town on the two plates. They even provided an additional set of pita and condiments so we wouldn’t have to waste the small amount of goat that was still on the serving dish.

With the entrée being a hard act to follow, the cheese course featured a miniature biscuit stuffed with housemade Mizithra cheese. The cheese was light and mild and was a nice way to bring us down from the highs that we incurred from the previous course.

After the cheese course, our waiter presented a cardboard box (adorned with me and Keith’s names) which contained, as our waiter described, a homemade take on ROLOS. If only the real ROLOS tasted this good. I popped one of these cardamom-scented treats in my mouth and the caramel contained inside was of a caliber you typically do not find in Hershey assortments. On top of that, the chocolate used made Komi’s version all the more memorable.

What followed next was a dish composed of olive oil gelato, balsamic-glazed strawberries, and a lemon shortbread cookie that each couple shared. So refreshing and refined.

The next dessert, which was our favorite of the night, was the chocolate square infused with peanut butter, caramel, and sea salt. Holy moly, words alone cannot do this dessert justice. It was just that good. The crunchy, salty texture of the square was one of the best flavor combinations for a dessert I have ever come across. Simply heavenly. This alone would have been amazing, but accompanying the sinful dessert on the same plate was caramelized banana with coconut sorbet. While also delightful, it just didn’t compare to the chocolate/peanut butter/caramel/salty goodness.

Our final course, which was more of a take-home treat, was their elderberry lollipops – one for each of us.

We skipped on the wine pairings and instead got a bottle of white, red, and dessert wines throughout the evening. Komi even had Grande Reserve Naoussa by Boutari, a winery we visited while in Santorini during our honeymoon last year.

It goes without saying, but we have to mention how amazing the service was throughout the meal. The way Komi works is that there is no set waiter, but instead we were graced with several different staff members tending to us throughout the night. We seemed to have a main server who started off the evening, as well as a sommelier, but at one point we looked like we wanted another bottle of wine and within a minute someone else was on hand to take our order.

Our waters were refilled as soon as they were half empty, and a fresh napkin was brought out or refolded within seconds of someone leaving to go to the restroom. There was definitely a laid-back vibe and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing some of our favorite artists in the background during our meal.

Without a doubt, this was the best meal we have ever had in DC proper. After years of hearing about Komi being the top restaurant in the District, we finally have justification to backup that very same claim.

I am fortunate to not only have dinner at one of the most celebrated restaurants in all of Washington, but to also spend my 30th amongst my wonderful wife and close friends who conspired behind this great surprise. I cannot express my gratitude enough. Rachel’s birthday will be quite the challenge come November.

Komi on Urbanspoon

Acacia Bistro: A Bright Spot in Barren Van Ness

15 Feb

When I lived in Van Ness about five years ago, I was always perplexed that an area in Northwest DC, which was right on top of the Metro, with plenty of young people living in apartment buildings and condos, had such few dining options. It’s the reason why I have been itching to try Acacia Bistro ever since it took over the spot once occupied by Schlotzsky’s Deli.

Buffalo SlidersMy friend Erika and I decided to come here for dinner and we arrived just in time to take advantage of their fantastic happy hour. The restaurant itself was very cozy with a small bar area and tables stretching to the back.

We appreciated the fact that we didn’t have to sit at the bar in order to enjoy happy hour, and we each got a glass of wine for about $5 as well as a few small plates. I should note that they had an extensive beer list as well, and was pretty impressed that you could get beers such as Abita Amber, Troegs Hopback Amber, and Victory Prima Pils for a very reasonable $3.50.

We started with the grilled Turkish meatballs with tzatziki and buffalo sliders with blue cheese and chipotle ketchup. We liked the meatballs as the yogurt proved to be a nice complement instead of traditional tomato sauce. The sliders were decent but didn’t necessarily blow us away. They paled in comparison to the buffalo sliders I’ve had at Vinoteca.

Grilled OctopusWe ordered some more small plates off the regular menu, this time getting grilled octopus and Sicilian eggplant with tomato sauce and mozzarella. The winner here was the eggplant, but I wish there were more servings as it was the perfect comfort food on a cold night. I generally love octopus and usually order it if I see that it is grilled, but it turned out be a little too chewy for our taste that night. We also would have preferred if there was more of a char on them to bring out the flavor.

Erika decided to get an entrée too since everything looked appetizing, as she had planned to take the leftovers home for her boyfriend. She ordered the veal stew with grilled polenta, and I have to admit after seeing her plate, I wish I ordered an entrée too! I was already stuffed but made a mental note to try that particular dish if Brett and I return to Acacia.

Sicilian eggplantIt’s worth noting that Acacia Bistro offers a $25 gift certificate through Restaurant.com. You can usually find a promo code if you subscribe to their emails, so the certificate might ultimately cost $2 or $3. However, there are some restrictions and it is important to pay attention to the fine print as we learned that night.

I gave the waitress my certificate at the end of the meal, but we found out that it could only be used towards non-happy hour items. Since the certificate required a minimum of $40 ordered from the regular menu, we wound up getting some coffee to make up the difference. Also, according to the fine print, the offer cannot be used for OpenTable reservations, so keep that in mind as well. In the end it worked out, it was just a slightly confusing bill.

It was refreshing to see such an independent space in fairly dull and corporate Van Ness. For us, it’s just a few short stops on the Red Line (if it’s running on time, of course). I would definitely go there again for happy hour. With most small plates averaging around $6, along with an extensive, discounted drink list, it is rare these days to see a happy hour that runs until 8pm. It’s definitely a candidate to include in our regular happy hour rotation.

Acacia Bistro is located on 4340 Connecticut Ave NW in the Van Ness neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Acacia Bistro on Urbanspoon

First Look: Cava Grill in Bethesda

17 Jan

Rachel and I had the opportunity this past weekend to check out Cava Grill, the fast-casual offshoot of the popular Cava Mezze restaurants, scheduled to open this Tuesday in Bethesda Row.

Located in a prime location on Bethesda Avenue, Cava Grill is targeting visitors looking for authentic, freshly-prepared Greek cuisine in a time and budget-conscious setting.

Think of it as a Greek spinoff of Chipotle.

Cava Grill

Diners first decide how they want their meal constructed as they have a choice of their food being prepared in a pita, bowl with Basmati rice, three open-faced mini pitas, or a salad.

You then have a selection of dips and spreads to choose from, ranging from tzatziki to hummus to their contagious “Crazy Feta” (feta fused with jalapeno). Patrons can choose as many spreads as they want, although it is recommended to use two at most in order to avoid contesting flavors.

Cava Grill InteriorCava Grill MenuCava Grill Interior

The next step is selecting your protein. Options include chicken, ground sirloin, lamb, Loukaniko (pork sausage), or falafel.  All the meats are seasoned and grilled while the falafel is prepared in-house. Cava Grill also offers a veggie option without using any meat or falafel.

After that, you can top off your creation with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, shredded red cabbage, romaine lettuce, and of course, feta cheese.

Minis Platter

I ordered a chicken pita with hummus and eggplant & red pepper spread, and then topped it off with shredded cabbage, diced onions, and feta.

I took my first bite as the pita was overflowing with ingredients. While I may have overdone it on the spreads, it was still a very delicious wrap. Everything just tasted so fresh but didn’t leave me feeling full to the point of reaching a food coma like a burrito typically would.

Rachel ordered the minis platter, mixing and matching her lunch with chicken and hummus, falafel and tzatziki, and lamb and Crazy Feta. She felt the minis offered the proper balance of both variety and portion size.

Chicken pita with hummus and eggplant & red pepper spread

Meanwhile, it’s amazing how fast the space, previously occupied by Organic To Go, has been transformed. Cava Grill installed reclaimed wood which panels the walls and adorns the tabletops, while empty glass bottles are hung from the ceiling. Its modern interior makes the venue appear more upscale yet offers affordable selections.

Cava Grill has also embraced the composting approach used at other eateries such as Sweetgreen. Customers can place all of the restaurant’s disposable items, such as bowl and cutlery, for composting in designated bins.

Cava Grill ExteriorCava Grill InteriorCava Grill Wall Mural

Overall, we expect Cava Grill to be an instant hit when they open this week. Based on Cava’s already established brand in the area as well as their fast-casual approach, it’s hard not to envision them being slammed during lunch hour from nearby office workers in downtown Bethesda, or with families on the weekends.

Cava Grill is located on 4832 Bethesda Avenue and will open to the public this Tuesday.

Cava Mezze Grill on Urbanspoon

Cava: Here, There, and Everywhere

12 Nov

Cava Grill Storefront in BethesdaWe have always heard great things about Cava Mezze restaurant, and it took us way too long to finally dine at their Gaithersburg location this past summer. After going once, we were immediately hooked, and only wished their restaurants were a little closer to us. Well, it may not be the full restaurant, but Cava Grill, an offshoot casual eatery, will be opening up on Bethesda Avenue come this December.

The difference between Cava Mezze and Cava Grill is that, instead of a full restaurant with table service and various Greek small plates, the Grill will be more of a fast-casual place. Diners can choose in an assembly line fashion what they want on their pita and souvlaki sandwiches, similar to a Chipotle model. We, for one, are very excited about this, especially since it will be another nice, inexpensive lunch option in the area.

Cava HarissaYou also don’t need to visit the Cava restaurants in order to enjoy their delicious and unique dips. It is somewhat well known that Cava is now selling their dips at area Whole Foods and Mom’s Organic Markets. They offer selections of traditional hummus, spicy hummus, eggplant and red pepper dip, and spicy harissa.

As we mentioned already, we’re big fans of the Bethesda Central Farm Market, and this past weekend we were fortunate enough to stop by on a day where Cava had a table out. Some of the other vendors said how excited they were since about this as it was the first time Cava had been back since last year.

Cava HarissaWe were able to sample the different dips and, after some debate, decided to bring home some harissa. What makes this dip different is the combination of stewed tomatoes with the red pepper flakes, olive oil and other spices. Before you know it a wave of spice hits your mouth after the first bite. The flavor combination is great, but we’re warning you now not to eat too much of it at a time, unless you can handle the heat of course. Next time, I say we get the roasted garlic hummus and skip the spice.

Cava Mezze also has plans to open a Clarendon location in the next few months, and is also scouting more Cava Grill locations in DC.

Yamas Reintroduces Bethesda to Greek Cuisine

21 Sep

When we were living in our former apartment on Woodmont Avenue in “Old Bethesda”, there was a cute Italian place called Frascati that we loved, and more importantly, was one of the few places Brett’s grandparents actually liked. It was a Bethesda staple that remained in business for nearly three decades.

So, of course, it closed just a few months later after we first discovered it.

The space remained vacant for several years and left us wondering if anything was eventually going to replace it.

Flash forward to last month and we couldn’t help but notice a sign in the storefront announcing the opening of Yamas, a new Greek restaurant in Bethesda.

With the departure of both Levante’s and Athenian Plaka, this was a welcome addition among a sea of Lebanese and other Mediterranean establishments such as Bacchus of Lebanon, Lebanese Taverna, Moby Dick House of Kabab, and the new Bistro Lazzez.

Cava Grill has already announced the construction of their new casual space on Bethesda Avenue, but for now, it seems that Yamas has a jump on the action in Greek fare in the area.

The atmosphere at Yamas is fairly casual, with a menu on the wall by the ordering area, but there is also a seating space with waitstaff in addition to a bar area.

Happy Hour specials include a “Mezze ‘Opa’ Ωra” of $5 Mezze dishes, house red and white wine in a half kilo or kilo for $5 or $10, respectively, bottled Greek beer for $4, and drafts for $2.99. There is also a Yamas dirty martini that features Ketel One with olives stuffed with feta cheese.

One mezze dish that was particularly good was the zucchini fritters.  In fact, we were very excited about ordering this appetizer given that we recently went to the Greek Islands for our honeymoon.

Just to give a backstory: when we would drink champagne or other cocktails while in Greece, instead of toasting with “cheers”, it was tradition to instead shout “Yamas!”. One of our favorite dishes in Greece was the zucchini fritters (otherwise dubbed zucchini balls at most Greek tavernas) and was served with a tzatziki sauce.

Let’s just say that the dish we had at Yamas was the only one that compared to what we had in Greece, and trust us, we have tried several Greek restaurants since returning to the States.

zucchini fritters

The famous zucchini fritters

There is much variety found on the menu, listing typical Greek items such as marinated octopus, spanakopita, falafel, chicken souvlaki, and of course, gyros.

The restaurant also features items such as the Yamas lamb burger and a rotisserie chicken with fresh and unique sides to choose from. These sides range from “opa fries” (which consist of olive oil and feta cheese) as well as a house salad, roasted vegetables, green beans, and roasted vegetable orzo.

The second time we dined at Yamas, I went with two of my girlfriends while Brett was off working and eating his way through Kansas City.

We started off with some wine and, not shockingly, the zucchini fritters. The wine glasses were somewhat small, but they had a nice variety of Greek selections. My friends also agreed that the fritters were excellent.

The waiter was very attentive and came over several times to ask if we needed anything. This time around my friends ordered the house salad with falafel, the chicken souvlaki on whole wheat pita, and I got a quarter chicken with roasted vegetables.

Rotisserie chicken with roasted vegetables

Rotisserie chicken with roasted vegetables

Chicken souvlaki and house salad with falafel

Chicken souvlaki and house salad with falafel

The chicken was incredibly flavorful with a mixture of lemon, oregano, olive oil, and other spices. The vegetables consisted of tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, and red peppers and were a perfect compliment to the chicken.

Overall, we really enjoyed our meal and will definitely go back soon. The waiter even discounted some of the wines off of our bill which was a very nice surprise.

You can see that Yamas is trying hard to earn customer loyalty and we have definitely been won over. You can view their full menu here, and be sure to sample some of their Greek cuisine at Taste of Bethesda on October 2nd.

Yamas Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon